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Home » Library News and Events » A Tribute to Fr Jose T Bacatan, SJ

A Tribute to Fr Jose T Bacatan, SJ

January 22, 1931 – September 9, 2021

About Fr Pepe

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Fr Jose T Bacatan, or Fr Pepe as he is lovingly known, is one of the pillars of Ateneo de Zamboanga University. Since his arrival in AdZU in 1975, Fr Pepe has created long lasting legacies both in structures and in people.

When I arrived in Zamboanga eight years ago, Fr Pepe was already retired and infirm. I learned later that he had been in that condition for eight years already, since 2005. This means that Fr Pepe had been retired and ill for sixteen years. Last Thursday afternoon at past 4pm he finally said goodbye to us.

Prior to this, Fr Pepe had been fighting hard. Fighting hard to continue living amid the ups and downs of his lingering illness. Until around two years ago Fr Pepe would still join our Jesuit community for meals, prayers, and masses. In our traditional bingo game on Christmas eve, he and his caregiver of many years, Marlon Aspacio, would win consistently. And of course he would still engage in his favorite past time, mahjong, until around five years ago, something that gave him much joy, playing with his faithful diocesan priest friends, among them Monsi Pete Garces, Monsi Boy Dayondon, Fr Filmore Calibo, and Father, now Bishop Moi Cuevas, and his long-time friend Pete Taguinod. But what remained constant until shortly before the pandemic started was his regular emails to me, to other Jesuits, and I am sure, to you his family and friends. His mind remained very sharp and lucid. It was his body that was failing, and it failed more rapidly these past two years.

In 1975, 46 years ago, Fr Pepe started his mission in Ateneo de Zamboanga. He did a lot for this university. He used his superior intelligence and enormous talents in Ateneo. He was guidance counselor, teacher of various subjects, library administrator, college dean, founder and chair of the Mass Communications Department, Graduate School Dean, graduate school faculty and editor for research, research office consultant. In 2012, the University Library was named after him. His passion for library advancement extended beyond AdZU, as he also served as president of the Academic Libraries Book Acquisition Systems Association, and board member of the Philippine Library Materials Project. In addition he had been credited for contributing to the formation and success of the University Brass Band through the acquisition of musical instruments through his benefaction and fundraising initiatives.

But more significant than these many positions and achievements, Fr Pepe was a friend, mentor, and spiritual father to so many. He inspired many to be who they could be, to love and serve to the best of their abilities, to commit to something bigger than themselves, what we Jesuits call and teach as mission. He cared for so many people, and he was much loved and respected. His love and service was powerful when he was strong, healthy, and active in his ministry and works. But this became even more powerful when he became inactive, confined to his bed and his room, thrust into the quiet life of embracing one’s long and lingering illness, with only a computer to use to keep in touch with us, when you would visit him at the Jesuit Residence, and would cherish his occasional appearances in university events. Fr Pepe has been very much part of our community in his active and inactive years, in his many years of strength, and in his many years of weakness, ever watching over us, ever teaching us, ever inspiring us to excellence and faith, ever supporting us in this mission we have in Ateneo.

Hence, losing Fr Pepe is painful to us. It is very sad for our AdZU community. It is like losing a pillar, and with a pillar gone, we feel diminished. It is like losing our connection with the past, the past that has so defined our present. It is like losing a flame that lights our path and warms our hearts. It is like losing a quiet, gentle, and constant presence that assures us that all will be alright, all will be well, amid all the crises we are facing. It is like losing an Ateneo eagle who has led us through so many decades of joy and struggle. It is like losing a father, making us all orphaned.

But we can take comfort in many things that we learned from Fr Pepe. We are consoled by the many things he taught us about life and service. And these things shall last more than his and our lifetimes. One of these learnings is that you do what you can with the gifts God has given you. Whether that will make you build a library, the best in the region, or create long lasting academic programs, or form many generation of students and graduates steeped in English and communications, or establish the best concert band in town, all and everything are really up to God. What you do is to make yourself available, free, constantly listening, constantly discerning. What you do is to commit as much as you can, with all your heart, all your mind, all your spirit. What you do is to pray hard that you remain faithful to that mission. For Fr Pepe this commitment and faith led him to establish his family here in Zamboanga. In 1984 Fr Pepe invited a nephew to come to Zamboanga and live here. That was followed by other nephews and nieces, studying here, starting their families, and now numbering 13 relatives, five of whom are still studying in AdZU. Zamboanga, the Ateneo, the place of his long Jesuit mission, eventually became his real home as well.

Second lesson is this, your time is not yours, but really, your time is God’s. Time will come that you will surrender to God’s time. When it is time to slow down, even stop, and just be, you embrace your weakness and your infirmity, you just let go, you trust, and you just let God. And this itself is also part of the mission. You continue to obey every step of the way, until God says time is up and it is time to go home. The many years of Fr Pepe’s long illness is a powerful witness of this, surrendering to God’s love and God’s will, to “let it be done according to Your will.”

Third lesson, all these are fired up by nothing else but faith, faith in the God. He loved and followed as a young Jesuit and priest, and the faith that matured as a retired, infirm, and powerless Jesuit, like the humble yet great faith of the centurion we read in the Gospel today, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

In 2016, Fr Pepe went to Manila for the ordination of his Jesuit grandnephew, Fr Patrick Nogoy. In this visit, his Jesuit superiors showed him the new Jesuit infirmary in the Ateneo de Manila University campus, showing him the possibility of transferring there, so he can be better taken care of. He begged and said no, and through the years, through his increasing health challenges and hospitalizations, Fr Pepe has always chosen to stay in Zamboanga, in the Ateneo, with his Jesuit community, his friends, and his family. This was where he has taken root as a Jesuit, this was where he bore so much fruit, this was where he witnessed the hundredfold that His Lord promised, and this was where he will die and be buried. Last Thursday, that desire was fulfilled, after a long and blessed journey. Tomorrow, he will be buried in the Jesuit cemetery in our Ateneo Tumaga campus, to stay with us forever.

Goodbye, Fr Pepe. Thank you for everything. Please pray for us in heaven, especially as we continue to face the difficulties of this pandemic. May your great faith, powerful in strength and weakness, continue to inspire us, in the mission that you taught us. Goodbye for now, and till we meet again. Amen.

Wake Mass Homily, September 13, 2021

His Early Life

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I don’t remember, when I was growing up, of being anything else but a priest.

A Short Vocation Story, from Fr Salvador Wee, SJ’s Homily during Fr Pepe’s 50th Anniversary
of the Ordination to Priesthood

Born in Paranas, Western Samar in January 22, 1931, Fr Pepe was a child of faith. He knew he was born to serve and he worked for and took the opportunities showed to him. He studied at the Sacred Heart College in Catbalogan Samar where he finished with flying colors before moving to the San Jose Seminary in Ateneo de Manila University for his 4 year of high school.

In 1951, at the tender age of 20, Fr Pepe started his Novitiate at the Sacred Heart Novitiate where he also finished his Juniorate. By 1956, he continued his studies in Philosophy at the Berchmans College in Lahug, Cebu City. Fr Pepe would go on to finish his Tertianship and Special Studies at prestigious universities, all for the pursuit of the Jesuit mission.

A testament to his academic prowess, Fr Pepe speaks 7 languages including English, Latin, Spanish, Filipino, and more. He can also read Greek, Italian and French.

His first missions were here at home, where he shared his knowledge and skills and kind heart to schools “where one can work for the kingdom of God.”

His AdZU Mission

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Since his assignment in AdZU in 1975, Fr Pepe has performed many roles in the service of his Jesuit mission. For over 40 years, Fr Pepe was a guidance counselor, a teacher, a librarian, a dean, a researcher, Jesuit House Minister and Treasurer, founder and chair of the Communications Department; he was a devoted pillar of the AdZU community.

In 2012, the Fr Jose T Bacatan, SJ Library was inaugurated in honor of his invaluable contributions to library developments not only for the university but beyond, as he served as president of the Academic Libraries Book Acquisitions Systems Association and a board memeber of the Philippine Library Materials Project.

Additionally, Fr Pepe has also contributed to the creation and success of the University Brass Band, providing musical instruments and drumming up support for the band through fundraising initiatives.

His Legacy

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More than his achievements in the academe, Fr Pepe is, first and foremost, a spiritual father to many. His legacies are punctuated by his family’s achievements.

In his journey with AdZU, he has invited relatives to live here, studying in the university, reaching their dreams. His ever-gentle, ever-encouraging presence guiding his family members in reaching their dreams.

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He has also fulfilled the role of friend and mentor to his fellow Jesuits. Living and serving with his brothers, he has not forgotten to keep in touch and offer encouraging messages even as he was confined to his bed and his room.

When Fr Pepe passed away on September 9, 2021, the entire community mourned for him but remained inspired and hopeful because of him.

His strength, his presence, his contributions and his undying devotion to his mission will remain with us.

His lasting legacies will always be remembered and celebrated.