It was sad to hear of Fr John G’s (as he is more fondly known as) passing a few days ago. It does not feel like a page has been turned over, or a book is now closed.
It is more like a block of time has been removed that now, there is a space… a void.
Looking back, it is a volume of books that has been filled, a shoebox of memories that has turned into a treasure chest.
The CHOICE programme, a programme for single adults; have brought thousands of people together – new friends or old friendships strengthened or rekindled. I know it has for me. The list of new friends is long. Among them was the late Fr Moses and Fr John G. Which therefore translates to me as being from one of the earliest groups. I was in Choice 7.
The time I got to know Fr John G best was on a couple of retreats we, as the CHOICE team, went on in the mid-1980s. I served on the Editorial team. One such retreat was when we held it in Port Dickson. (1)
On this trip, there were about 35 – 40 of us (I can’t remember the exact number. I can’t remember many of the team participants who attended, too. It was a long time ago.) who participated. Among them was Sharon Fredericks, Veronica and Susan Dragon, Hendry, Jeanne, Yvonne James, Damian, Bruno and Esther Boey. Besides looking at how best we could serve the CHOICE graduates and future participants; we spent a lot of time on reflection and quiet time.
If any one knows Fr John G., it is in times like these. He is always smiling, ever willing to listen, to console, to comfort. He always seemed to have a lighted “WELCOME” sign, with another one “OPEN” above him, as he never turned anyone away.
He was walking, talking “peace”; always. Hence, his trademark – his “smile”. His gentleness is like the soft, soothing breeze blowing and the calm of the sea as its gentle waves come to shore.
When the retreat ended that weekend; he invited all of us to his family home in Seremban. I don’t think they were overwhelmed by seeing so many of us visit them. I think they were used to Fr John G. often bringing people home.
Not too long after that, I left the Choice editorial team to serve on the Church of the Assumption (my parish), P.J.’s; (2) editorial team – to help revive it. Our parish promoted CHOICE regularly. After some time, I moved over to St Francis Xavier, PJ; (2) to serve on the RCIA team.
Many years went by, something like over 25 years… My wife, daughter and I were on a short 3 days weekend holiday in Cameron Highlands. I think this was in mid-2019.
We attended mass on Sunday morning. When I saw the priest who presided at mass, I told my wife that he looked very familiar. He looked like Fr John Gnanapiragasam. But “it can’t be”, I said; as this priest looks the same as the one I knew over 25 years ago. Then, I saw his trademark – his smile. I knew it was him.
We met after mass was over and I brought him up to speed on what I had been doing all these years since we last met. It was a memorable time of recollection.
I bid you farewell Fr John G. I know your trademark smile is over all of us from heaven.
- Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan, Malaysia
- Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
- While writing this article especially about the CHOICE retreat in Port Dickson, I kept thinking of this girl that I spent quite a lot of time with there. After 35 / 36 years, I had forgotten her name. But not her face. Not the full of life and smiles. Through a new Whatsapp chat group I was introduce to by Hazel Ong-Archibald, the ‘CHOICE IN TOUCH”; I saw Loraine Waterson’s name in the group. She looked like that girl in P.D. I met Loraine a few years back at my late sister, Jen’s house. It so happens that Loraine is the cousin to Jen’s husband, Raymond Arnold. I contacted and asked Loraine if she was the one in P.D. She said it was her sister, Sharon. Loraine said that Sharon is in this Whatsapp group, too. We have reconnected after more than 35 years. I think it’s amazing.