How many of us are open and honest enough to admit that we have second thoughts about most of the important choices we make and have made in life? How many former spouses sometimes wonder in a quite moment whether they made the right decision to separate and divorce, how many of us former priests wonder whether our decision to leave and evolve was the correct one, whether it was more self-serving than personal integrity directed? How many moments of regret do any of us allow ourselves? Thankfully, God finds us where we are now and takes it from there, and for that we can all be grateful. But if we are honest, we must admit that there are times when we muse about the ‘what ifs’, I certainly do.
Last week I confronted one of life’s rare moments of awe and wonder. I attended the funeral of a friend who was most assuredly one of God’s faithful remnant. He walked his talk, and was faithful to the end to his calling as a man, a Jesuit and a priest of and for the poor. Ideologically and politically, he was a man of the far Left, and we never agreed on much; but as he grew older he grew less intolerant of those like me not so ideologically inclined, and more simple and giving. He was faithful to his social gospel charisma, and he was most assuredly consistent. I admired that about him, and in these last years we found peace in our friendship. I will miss his not being there, even when like his predecessors Ezekiel and Jeremiah, he confronted all of us with uncomfortable truths.
It was the second time this year that a core person in my life has died, and I was comforted that many of the remaining core were there to say goodbye. The Church was full, the Jamaican choir more enthusiastic than refined, the tenor that rare amalgam of sadness and joy. I was present when my friend Jim pronounced first vows of perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience in the Society of Jesus, I was there when he was ordained a priest and when he said his first mass in Antigonish, and I was there to say goodbye. When the Church emptied, the lights were dimmed, and the candles extinguished, I remembered my own first vows, and my own ordination as a Jesuit priest. I celebrated Jim faithfulness to the very end, and I also remember the immortal words of Martin Luther, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’. Thankfully God finds us here and now, and takes it from there.
Webb chose to live among the poor
Written by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
Thursday, 09 August 2012 22:06
Every Jesuit chooses poverty. They all vow to live their lives poor, chaste and obedient. But Fr. Jim Webb kept choosing poverty – over and over.
The former provincial superior of the Jesuits in English-speaking Canada died 6:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 9 surrounded by his Jesuit brothers in Rene Goupil House, the Jesuit infirmary in Pickering, Ont. A long dormant cancer came back and metastasized, forcing him to resign as provincial superior and enter palliative care in May, 2012.
“One of the things that was most amazing about watching him the past few months was that, regardless of what was going on with his body, there was a radiance in his face. He was very much at peace,” said Jesuit Fr. Philip Shano, the director of Rene Goupil House.
As provincial superior Webb moved out of the six-bedroom home in a leafy west-end Toronto neighbourhood which had once served as home base for the Jesuit leadership team. He and his socius moved into a small apartment in St. James Town – Canada’s most densely populated neighbourhood and one of the poorest parts of Toronto.
Living his vow of poverty among poor people was important to Webb.
“If you say that material things are not important but then there’s no sign of it, it lacks credibility,” Webb told The Catholic Register in 2009. “Our commitment to social justice and solidarity with the poor is very strong. In terms of vocations, I think that is one of the things that is attracting younger people to the Jesuits.”
But moving into St. James Town wasn’t the first time Webb chose a more unambiguous sort of poverty. In over twenty years of service in Jamaica, the elegantly educated Canadian chose to spend every minute he could with the poor. Between 1986 and 2008 he was pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in Kingston, chair of the St. Mary’s Rural Development Project, founding director of Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections and regional superior of the Jesuits in Jamaica. In 2009 he received the National Union of Co-operative Society Award for helping to found the St. Peter Claver Women’s Housing Co-operative.
He always believed there was more that could be done, however difficult it might seem, said Shano.
“Where others saw missions impossible, Jim was eternally optimistic about how things could work out,” he said.
As superior in English Canada, Webb responded generously to the request for a greater Jesuit presence in Vancouver. It was a decision that may yet stretch Jesuit resources thin elsewhere, but thin resources and trusting in God make up a good portion of what it means to be poor.
Webb chose to live among the poor and work for the poor as soon as he was ordained in 1973. He and Jesuit Fr. Michael Czerny moved into South Riverdale just east of the Don River, long before gentrifiers began installing wine cellars and stone countertops in what had once been crowded boarding houses. There he helped found the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice, became a founding director of the Taskforce on Churches and Corporate Responsibility, helped get The Catholic New Times newspaper up and running, worked to bring the South Riverdale Community Health Centre into existence and founded the Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative.
Of his 68 years, Webb spent 48 living the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He was born in Halifax to J. Hilus Webb and Mary Somers July 29, 1944. He earned a B.Sc. from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. before entering the Guelph, Ont. novitiate in 1964. He made final vows in 1979 and along the way studied philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., taught high school at Brebeuf College in Toronto and studied theology at Regis College in Toronto.
In January of this year, as his own cancer spread, Webb was at Fr. Bill Addley’s side when Addley died.
“He said that in those few minutes in the hospital as Bill died he realized that Bill was teaching him how to die,” said Shano. “I noticed this Sunday, the (Feast of the) Transfiguration, you could look at Jim and see him being so, almost literally and physically, transparent because he was so thin. But his face still shining.”
Webb was consistent his whole life long, said Fr. Michael Czerny – one of Webb’s closest friends for 50 years.
“Jim understood that the Gospel drove us out into those worlds where, by being honest and helpful, we could encourage others to know God’s love in their lives. This he did, his life long, and this he inspired many young Jesuits to do, too,” said Czerney in an email to The Catholic Register