by Fr. William C. Russell, SJ
Fr. William C. Russell, SJ, a native of Winthrop, MA, entered the Society of Jesus in 1952 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1965. After completing his studies at Boston College and Harvard University, Fr. Russell studied philosophy and theology in France. When he returned to the United States he served as rector of the Jesuit Community at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley in California, president of Cheverus High School, director of admissions at Boston College High School, province assistant for development, province vocation director, and superior of the Patrick House Jesuit Community in Kingston, Jamaica. He is now retired and is a member of the Boston College Jesuit Community.
In one of her many who-done-its, Agatha Christie wrote:
“Much of life is recalling past memories. Real happiness is when we find someone to remember them with. But when we grow old that’s not always easy to do, because we’ve outlived our contemporaries. But just to sit there and remember somehow—in a strange way—makes us come alive again.”
Thank you for inviting me to share one of my memories with you…
He was the one who taught me how to swim when I was barely taller than a tennis racket, holding me in the shallow of the lake, close to the shore. I was frightened by the cold of the water on my skin, frightened that I might sink to the bottom, frightened that I might cry, but he held me in his arms, telling me over and over again that he would never let me go.
He was the one who taught me my prayers, reading them from a book, because he couldn’t remember them, understanding little of what he asked or heard because he wasn’t even Catholic.
He was the one who asked God’s blessing on the food my mother set before us at table.
He was the one who blessed us each night before we went up to bed.
He was the one who let me drive the car, turning the steering wheel and honking the horn, as he held me on his lap.
He was the one who drove me to my first summer job and picked me up at the end of the workday, explaining to me that now that I was a man—what was I? 14?—and earning a salary I would have to pay $25 of the $27 I earned each week for board and room…even though I was living in my own house.
He was the one who, years later, gave it all back to me with interest, telling me that it was mine to spend any way I wished.
He was the one who helped me carry my footlocker up four flights of stairs, and who sat on the edge of my bed and told me how proud he was to have his son in college and how he knew that I would work hard at my studies because he would be spending 1/5 of his income on 1/8 of his family, but that I was worth every penny.
He was the one who, 62 years ago, drove me to the Berkshires and hugged me one last time as I began my life as a Jesuit and watched as he wiped tears from his eyes…the one and only time I saw him cry.
He was the one who, when my mother died, told me that there would be no marker on her grave, that she had always been too frail to support a stone, and that she wouldn’t be there anyway, that she would go straight to God.
He was the one who, at the end of his life, told us what we already knew: that there would be no inheritance, that whatever he had had long since been spent, and we knew that it had been spent on us.
He was the one who loved our mother with a passion, and whose love was returned in kind.
He was my father, and I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am to be his son.