Father James McDonough: A Jesuit’s Life

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By Father James McGrath
For the U Matuna Si Yu’os

Editor’s Note: The following article first printed in the U Matuna Si Yu’os in Oct.2011, when Father McDonough celebrated his 100th birthday. Known by many as Father “Jim” or Father “Mac,” he died in New York on Dec. 31, 2012, at the age of 101. This is an edited version of the original article.

“Well done by good and faithful servant” are the words which echo down the days and years for Jesuit Father James A. McDonough, as he celebrates his 100th birthday on October 17, 2011. He has been a Jesuit for 82 years and nearly half of them, 36 years, were lived on Guam.

He was a professor, an administrator, a scholar, and an author at the University of Guam. In addition he assisted at parishes on weekends, served as confessor to the Carmelite Sisters in Malojloj,  a counselor and guide for Micronesian  university students discerning a vocation and residing at St. Ignatius House, and  was a member of the Rotary Club.  His service on Guam began in 1969 and concluded in 2005 when he became a member of the Jesuit Community at Fordham University in the Bronx ,New York. His journey has come full circle since he was born at Fordham Hospital (now closed) a century ago. Today he is the longest living member of the New York Province.

Father “Mac” as he was affectionately known by so many, held a Ph.D. in Classical Philology from Harvard, and was a professor of language and literature. He also took special care to offer  Elementary English Composition for students of English as a second language. He wrote the Literature and Art Volumes for use in the Humanities course for these same students. Modern language also attracted his attention including French, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. On two occasions he offered a special course in the roots of Latin and Greek terminology used in medicine. At that moment he was the oldest man still teaching in the New York Province.

The University of Guam over the years invited him to be the Acting Dean of the Graduate School and Research, the Acting Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the acting Academic Vice President. I seem to recall his saying that at one time for a brief moment he was even the Acting President. During many summers in collaboration with other scholars he labored in the libraries of Europe which contained ancient Greek manuscripts.

As a scholar during his sojourn on Guam he co-edited –  along with the late professor emeritus Sister Felicia Plaza and  professor emeritus Marjorie Driver –  the final translation of “The Life and Martyrdom of Diego Luis de San Vitores,” by Jesuit Father Francisco Garcia. This 2004 publication of the Micronesian Area Research Center is derived from the original official reports and letters sent by the Jesuits from the Marianas to Spain and Rome.

At Santa Barbara Parish and Astumbo, Dededo, he was remembered for fine homilies. In this way his gift of teaching continued to serve the community of the faithful. I recall a short homily at campus ministry when he told the story of a hard working immigrant man who was near death.  Though Father “Mac” knew many languages he wasn’t quite sure what the man was saying. Then he said to him, “Do you want to be with Jesus?” A brilliant smile came over his face and Father “Mac” knew how to proceed from that moment onward.

I once gave him a directed eight-day retreat on Saipan at Maturana Hill during Holy Week and came away appreciating his deep and abiding relationship with the Lord. He was favored by the presence of God in the same way he favored us by his presence.