Father Gregory Jordan SJ has been, for many years, chaplain to the Latin Mass community in Brisbane. Yesterday morning he offered Mass for that community, as he does every Sunday morning, at Brisbane’s “Jesuit parish,” St Ignatius’ Church, Toowong.
As he was proclaiming the Gospel, Fr Jordan suffered a massive stroke and collapsed. Among the congregation there numbered four doctors, who rushed to his aid. In the meantime, the rest of the congregation knelt and prayed several rosaries for him. As he was carried by stretcher from the church into a waiting ambulance, the assembly stood in prayerful silence.
Over the next several hours, the number praying for Fr Jordan grew considerably, and extended far beyond the Toowong church. A text message first alerted me to Fr Jordan’s situation at 1pm. In a short time, my Facebook newsfeed was swamped with requests for prayers and updates. It was clear by now that Fr Jordan was dying. He turned 85 only last Tuesday, and his parishioners had planned a birthday party for him at 3pm yesterday afternoon. But it seemed a much greater celebration was planned for him elsewhere.
I met Fr Jordan when I was at university. He was instrumental in reviving and reforming Australia’s peak body of Catholic tertiary students — an effort I was heavily involved in. A confrere from those days remarked how sad she was that he was dying. “I knew Fr Jordan couldn’t go on forever… but… I think I kind of hoped he would!”
At that point though, I felt nothing but excitement. Fr Jordan was so evidently in love with God that I knew he must be relishing these moments. Very soon he would be face to face with the Lord himself. Only a short time later though, when news of his death was confirmed, I was overwhelmed with sadness. A selfish sadness, focused on my own loss. I suppose it’s analogous to that moment at the airport, when a dear friend or relative walks through customs and is lost from view. After that there’s only one’s personal loss to dwell on.
Although he lived in Brisbane, and I lived in Melbourne, Fr Jordan had a formative influence on me at university and in the seminary. The seminary enrolment process involves several interviews which explore a candidate’s view of the priesthood. I recall invoking Fr Jordan’s example of joy and piety, and his extraordinary preaching ability. I said I would like to preach as well as did, but doubted I could. I simply didn’t have his wit and erudition. I did not know then what I know now: the impact of Fr Jordan’s preaching did not derive from human talent. It was a manifestation of habitual prayer and intimacy with the Lord.
Seven years later, Fr Jordan graciously agreed to preach at my first Mass. I regret I remember little of that homily. His wit was on display of course. He drew laughter from his reference to the supposed rivalry between the Jesuits and Opus Dei. He spoke about the great strides in ecumenism, which would see a son of Ignatius preach at the first Mass of a son of Josemaría, or something like that.
He spoke too of the renaissance of Catholic faith and culture which was occurring on university campuses all over Australia. He credited me and my peers for that accomplishment, though it is in fact Fr Jordan who deserves all the credit. Typically, he preached ex tempore, so there was no copy of the text I could keep and re-read.
I caught up with Fr Jordan earlier this month, at the ACCC Conference in Hobart. I was shocked at his physical decline. Nonetheless, he could still command the attention of an entire room. I sat at his table during dinner the first night. It was a large round table, which did not lend itself to conversation across its vast expanse. It was easier, and more natural, to limit conversation to those in one’s immediate vicinity. But when conversation turned to Pope Francis, other conversations stalled, and everyone strained to hear Fr Jordan’s opinions. He spoke as a brother Jesuit, and as an exorcist priest, but really it was his wisdom and holiness which gave his views authority.
For the same reasons, this hour long interview is well worth watching:
Fr Jordan’s last Mass on earth celebrated the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, in accordance with the liturgical calendar of the 1962 Roman Missal. But in the Maronite calendar, yesterday was the feast of St Charbel, whose death parallels Fr Jordan’s. Both suffered strokes while offering the Holy Sacrifice, dying “with their boots on.”
Meanwhile, according to the calendar of the 2002 Roman Missal, we yesterday celebrated the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The readings were evocative of Good Shepherd Sunday, a pastoral motif which suits Fr Jordan very well. But the Gospel is especially pertinent. Having ministered far and wide, preaching the Word and exorcising demons,
“the apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.'”
And so it was.