We pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. Eugene Francis Hattie, SJ, who died on Saturday, June 12, 2021. Father “Gene” Hattie, as he was fondly known, died at Karen Hospital in Nairobi. He was 98 years old, a Jesuit for 80 years, and a priest for 67 years when he received his final call.
Father Hattie was born July 18, 1922, in Canton, Ohio. His mother was Mrs. Mary Hattie, his brothers Mr. Donald P. Hattie and Mr. “Bim” Hattie, and his sisters Mrs. Charles J. Michel and Mrs. Robert Bheringer.
Father Hattie attended elementary school at St. Joseph in Canton, Ohio, and grade school and high school at St. John.
He entered the Society of Jesus on August 31, 1940, in Milford, Ohio, and pronounced his first vows in 1942. He did his juniorate at Milford, Ohio (1942-1944), and studied philosophy at West Baden, Indiana (1944-1947). He had joined the former Chicago Province, was put into the former Detroit Province when Chicago was divided, and later joined the Patna Province (lndia) after his final vows, before coming to the Eastern Africa Province. That profile, already, points to the missionary character of Fr. Hattie’s life as a Jesuit.
The missionary journey for Fr. Hattie began immediately after philosophy. In November 1947, he left the United States for India where he did his regency and theology, was ordained a priest, did his tertianship and much of his active ministry, as follows:
- Studies in Hindi Language (1947-1948) at Mokameh Junction, Bihar, India, and passed a matriculation exam in Hindi Language from Patna University in Bihar, India.
- Regency (1949-1950) as a teacher and hostel superintendent at Bettiah, in India.
- Theology (1951-1954) at St. Mary’s Kurseong, India.
- Ordained as a priest (November 21, 1953) at St. Mary’s Kurseong, India.
- Tertianship (1955) at St. Stanislaus, Hazaribagh, India
- Taught in various schools in India, notably in Bettiah (1956-1959)
- Pastor, school principal, and teacher at Bar Bigha, Bihar, India (1959-1961)
- Assistant principal at St. Xavier’s in Patna, India (1961-1963)
While in India, he was ordained a priest on November 21, 1953, and he professed his final vows on February 3, 1958, before continuing with his ministry there until the end of 1962.
In December 1962, Fr. Hattie received an assignment that would send him back to the United States as mission procurator in Cleveland, Ohio. He assumed that office at the beginning of 1963 and performed it with great success until the end of 1969. Those six years were to become the only time Fr. Hattie was ever in active ministry in his home county.
After completing his term as Mission Procurator in Cleveland, he returned to India where for six years (1970-1976) he worked in Jamshedpur Province teaching in St. Xavier’s High School, Lupungutu (a Hindi medium school).
Fr. Gene Hattie spent twelve years teaching in Hindi medium high schools in Patna Province, during which he was principal in two schools and hostel superintendent in two other schools. He spent two years at Xavier’s High School (an English medium school) in Delhi, and two other years at yet another St. Xavier’s High School (an English medium school) in Patna, India.
As he continued with his mission in India, the Lord showed Fr. Hattie another field where “the harvest was plentiful, but the laborers were few” (cf. Mt. 9:37). In his own words, “When I read in Jivan of the needs in Sudan, I decided that with 1,000 Jesuits (plus countless other diocesan and religious priests in the State of Bihar alone, I would not be missed. I felt that the need in Sudan was greater, since Patna how has so many Indian Jesuits to carry on. I wrote Fathers Paul Besanceney and Tho Toppo asking them if I could be of help, and they welcomed me with open arms.”
That way, Fr. Hattie left Bombay on May 2, 1984, headed for Juba via Nairobi. At this time, when he volunteered to go to the Sudan, he was already 63 years old, no longer young, although, for sure, still very young at heart. This is because he felt there was a greater need there. While in the Sudan, he taught at the major seminary (1984-1985) and at senior seminary (1985-1986), both in Wau. That was to be only the beginning of his “second missionary journey” after successfully accomplishing the first in India. Henceforth, he was to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19) on Eastern Africa soil for the next and last 37 years of his life as a Jesuit.
Thus, in 1986, Fr. Hattie was transferred from the Sudan to Mwanza, Tanzania, where he taught at Lake Secondary School, before he was sent to Uganda. There he taught at a minor seminary in Moroto (1987-1990) and then at another minor seminary in Tororo (1990-1991). From 1992 to 1993, he taught at St. Peter Secondary School in Kampala, before going for a sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB) in August 1993.
In 1995, Father Hattie returned to Kampala, Uganda where, apart from engaging in Pastoral Ministry, he was the chief correspondent with benefactors for the work of the Society in Uganda. To that responsibility, he added teaching at Nyenga Minor Seminary in Jinja (1997-1998), St. Paul’s Minor Seminary in Kabale (1999), and Moroto Diocesan Minor Seminary in Moroto (2000).
In 2002, he returned to Kampala and worked with street children, notably raising funds for them (2001-2010). This dedication to serve street children in Kampala by establishing a home for them was an anticipated response to the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, decades ahead of their promulgation. The street children trusted and loved him mainly because he was always “young” like them. They taught him to remain young, and he always advised younger Jesuits never to grow old at heart. No wonder, despite having prayed the Suscipe for more than 80 years, Fr. Hattie’s memory never faded away until his death.
Despite his advanced age, despite living with cancer and despite being handicapped with near deafness and physical impairment for several years, Fr. Hattie wrote and submitted between 40 and 60 letters every month, using a typewriter, to raise funds for street children and orphans aged between two and 16 years old. He did extremely well in transforming the lives of poor, marginalized, and orphaned children in Kampala, and many people who worked with him recognize his commitment and dedication to the cause of those children.
While doing all this, he was also entrusted with vocation promotion to the Society of Jesus in Uganda from 2003 to 2007.
At the end of 2010, having worked for 30 years in India, two years in the Sudan, one year in Tanzania and 25 years in Uganda, Father Hattie was missioned for light ministry and praying for the Society and the Church, as he moved to Pedro Arrupe Community in Nairobi at the age of 88.
As we have noted above, apart from the first years of his Jesuit formation in his home country, and a few more years as Mission Procurator in Cleveland, Fr. Hattie spent the whole of his life as a Jesuit in India and Eastern Africa. A missionary par excellence!
Adverse conditions that afflicted the poor and marginalize were his “portion and cup” by his own choice, for all the years of his life. The letter of Father General, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, to Fr. Hattie on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee in the Society of Jesus, which he celebrated in 1990, states, referring to his mission in the Sudan: “Only you and others who shared the ordeal with you know how much you had to put up with in the hardship post, an area that is still torn apart by civil war and where we can only hope to start anew as circumstance allow.”
Father Hattie had a jovial relationship with fellow Jesuits and spiced up the community in many ways. His great sense of humor was the most precious gift that he always shared with his guests. No one met Fr. Hattie and went away sad. The most difficult thing was to resist laughing at his jokes. He must have attended some training on how to tell great stories and crack hilarious jokes. He knew how to make you laugh even if you had had a very bad day.
He was known for his frank and straightforward conversation with companions. Whenever something needed to be addressed in the community, he would not mince his words, but never lacked in charity.
He had a profound faith to Jesus Christ, and a great sense of justice for the poor, the underprivileged, and the marginalized, for whom he spent his energy, time, creativity and, indeed, emotions, to uplift their life. The choice of mission that he made very early on as a young Jesuit is a proof of his preferential option for the poor.
Father Hattie excelled in obedience as well. Not only would his Superiors attest to this, but also the nurses and doctors who took good care of him. His desire and request to die and be buried in Africa (among the people he loved and served) has been granted. He gifted us, his companions, with the privilege of celebrating his 80 years as a Jesuit, possibly the first companion in the province to do so. At 98, he was still young at heart, and always joyful.
The only thing we failed to teach Fr. Hattie is the use of computers, and the only thing we failed to learn from him is the use of typewriters. We will certainly miss his jokes, great sense of humor, dedication, and diligence. Father Hattie, teach us to remain young, dedicated, diligent, and happy!
Father Hattie has returned to the Lord just after we have celebrated the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a confirmation of what many who met him always believed, experienced, and knew about him. He was a companion with a great, beautiful, joyful, and loving heart.
A funeral mass for Fr. Hattie will be offered Saturday, June 18, in his home community in Nairobi.