Fr. Danny Huang, S.J. on the Death of Fr. Thomas H. Green, S.J. (1932-2009)

Remembering Tom Green
(March 19, 1932 – March 13, 2009)

When I woke up this morning, I was shocked to discover—from Facebook updates, of all things—that Fr. Tom Green had passed away. I had known, of course, that he was sick; but the suddenness of his passing away still came as a sad surprise.

Soon after I had texted my condolences, the present Rector of San Jose Seminary, Vic de Jesus, kindly called me up long distance to inform me of the details of Tom’s passing: how Tom had come home from the hospital last night; how one of the seminarians had peeked into his room this morning and found him sitting in his chair, with his pipe on his chest. He went very quickly, which is a real mercy.

I first met Tom Green thirty years ago. In my senior year at the Ateneo, school year 1979-80, I was in Fr. Green’s philosophy of language class. It was a wonderful course, and thirty years later, the fact that I can still remember so much—of the logical positivists, of Wittgenstein, that language is inescapably metaphorical, that some concepts are essentially contested—is surely testimony to the outstanding clarity and excellence of Fr. Green’s teaching.

My second encounter with Fr. Green was through his books. Opening to God, which I read twice—once as a college student, and more seriously, as a novice in the Society—was a deeply influential book in my life. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that it taught me how to pray. I read all his other books too, but my personal favorite, the book which I think is his best and wisest, is When the Wells Run Dry.

Two key insights from that book have remained with me through the decades. The first insight: that darkness happens, not just in prayer, but in life, to move us, in his words, from “loving to truly loving.” I still recall, more or less accurately, a sentence from the book, in which he reflects on a married couple’s promise to love each other “for better or worse”: “The better, the good times are there to teach us the joy of loving; the worse happens to teach us to love truly.”

The second insight: at the end of the book, Fr. Green uses the image of floating (as contrasted with swimming) as a metaphor for the mature life of faith. You give up control over your life (“swimming”); you remain active (otherwise you would sink), but you allow yourself to be led; you let go and entrust yourself to the unpredictable flow of the sea of love that surrounds you, and you let it take you where it wills.

My third and most lasting encounter with Tom Green happened in the eight years, from 1996 to 2004, when we lived together in the same community and worked on the same formation team in San Jose Seminary. At that time, we were also co-faculty members of Loyola School of Theology. From 2000 to 2004, the years I served as Rector of San Jose, Fr. Green was my Vice-Rector. He had the room right above mine in those years.

For eight years, we shared meals and attended many staff meetings together. With the rest of the Jesuit team, we processed hundreds of applications to the Seminary; sat through hours of semestral and yearly evaluations of seminarians; discussed and occasionally argued over Seminary policies. Almost every Monday evening, for eight years, we had common prayer together in the BVM chapel on the third floor of San Jose, and after prayer, shared a special meal in the Jesuit community recreation room.

When you live that long with another Jesuit, you get to know him quite well. I got to know about Tom Green’s legendary regularity of life. He followed the same schedule or cycles almost every day, every week, every year. If it was 130 PM, he could invariably be found in his rocking chair on the fifth floor reading the papers. If it was the third (I forget which, actually) Sunday of the month, he would have Mass in Balara or for the L’Arche community. If it was summer vacation, then he would be giving a retreat somewhere in the United States. And woe to you, if you moved that rocking chair, as one unwitting minister did!

I remember pleasant and witty Jesuit banter from those rec-room meals involving Tom Green. Once, Roque Ferriols was talking about Jesuit Bishop Honesto “Onie” Pacana, but kept on referring to him as “Honey Pacana.” The rest of us—Art Borja was there, I remember—corrected Fr. Roque and told him that the bishop’s nickname was pronounced “Onie” not “Honey.” When Roque said that he had always thought the bishop’s nickname was “Honey,” Tom Green quipped in a deadpan way: “Oh, I thought you were just close.” That brought the house down.

Tom was not perfect, I discovered. (His devoted lay friends, “the Golden Girls,” who took such good care of him, also knew that.) He tended to want things his way. He got cross and cranky when things did not go the way he wanted them to. He could express his opinions a bit too dogmatically. He did not admit his mistakes easily.

And yet, I appreciated his presence in the community and on the Seminary formation team. He was a very generous (he had so many directees!) and wise spiritual director. He was a man of very good and balanced judgment where persons were concerned, and I always valued his perceptions of applicants or seminarians. When I consulted him as Vice-Rector on issues of the Seminary, I usually received very sensible counsel.

By the time I got to San Jose, Tom was a grandfather figure to the seminarians, and his cheerful and easy manner of dealing with them, and the personal witness he gave of a man who had grown old—and happily so—in the priesthood was something, I think, of inestimable value for San Jose. Having been part of San Jose for over three decades, he had become for generations of Josefinos, an icon, a living link between the past and the present, a symbol of their happy years in the Seminary. With Tom’s passing away, an era in the history of San Jose comes to an end, a presence that cannot be replaced has been lost forever…

In all my years as Rector and as Provincial, Tom always told me that he hoped he could die in San Jose. He got his wish. I am glad for him. Now, I trust that he is in the presence of the One whom he wrote about, spoke about and served so faithfully and generously for so many years. Now, I trust the darkness has become light for him, and, with a joy no words can describe, he can let go and, at last, float.

FR. THOMAS H. GREEN, S. J. died on Friday morning, March 13, at San Jose Seminary. Fr. Tom would have been 77 on Thursday. He entered the Society on 7 September 1949 and was ordained a priest on 19 June 1963. Requiescat in pace.

San Jose Seminary Chapel
Ateneo de Manila University
Loyola Heights, Q.C.
Daily wake Masses will be celebrated at 8:00 p.m.

Funeral Mass:
Thursday, 19 March at 8:00 a.m.
University Church of the Gesù, Ateneo de Manila University

Sacred Heart Novitiate Cemetery
Novaliches, Quezon City
immediately after the Funeral Mass

Source: The Philippine Jesuits

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

9 Responses to Fr. Danny Huang, S.J. on the Death of Fr. Thomas H. Green, S.J. (1932-2009)

  1. Michael says:

    Thank you for the comments, Father Huang. I feel like I know Father Tom better through what you said. As a relative of Father Tom’s on his mother’s side of the family I can see that Father Tom had both some of the common strengths and weaknesses that run in the family. May he rest in peace.

  2. dondee says:

    i was googling fr. tom’s name, and was not surprised really to find a great number of entries under his name. but i felt happier to finally see one fresh article written about him, by no less than fr. danny.

    fr. tom used to call us, his sd’s and almost everyone in sanjo, “boss” during our time. we have a lot of great stories to share, to be told about the “old man”, as he used to describe himself to me (and to many others) during sd’s, i remember, before we part ways, he’d use to say: “and pray for the old man!”, and always quips, asking me to stay for a second to have his PC checked for some minor troubleshooting (i would always have a hard time walking through his PC, using his mouse, the boss was a lefty).

    last night, actually, way past midnight, i dropped by sanjo, and said happy birthday to him, the last time.

    thanks fr.danny for the heartwarming article. i hope the jesuits, or the sjs alumni gets to publish a book, soon, and we get to read more about the great “old man”.

    finally fr.tom continues to write more, and maybe still smokes his pipe, this time with the Boss (i’m sure, the Boss brought his “bonifacio” chair up there).

  3. Pingback: May adlaw sa March 19: Thomas Green, SJ natawo « Dako Nga Mansanas: Ang Bag-ong Syudad

  4. Doris Goddard says:

    I had an letter all written inside an Easter card, and came to the computer to google the address of the San Jose Seminary, and found that I was too late, and three weeks ago, Father Tom had died. I never met him, but discovered his books twenty five years ago. I took one book on retreat, and only on nearing the end of that book discovered that it had been wrongly bound, and that I had in effect read the first half twice over!It didn’t matter, I felt as though I was hearing the wise words with more emphasis, but decided to write to tell him, the first time I’d ever written to any author. I didn’t expect a reply, but was thrilled that he took the time to write me a personal letter. We slipped into the custom of writing a Christmas letter each year, and it was good to tell him of my struggles and my triumphs. I wondered how he’d react to me telling him of my calling to the priesthood-me an Anglican and a woman! I felt affirmed and uplifted by him always, and on the day I was ordained deacon and the following year priest, he offered up a Mass for me. How humbling that he should be with me in spirit from half a world away.
    He will never know now the news of my retirement from teaching my teenage boys, nor of being offered two parishes of my own, after fourteen years of assisting in parishes, and the excitement of looking forward to serving the Lord in this way.
    I don’t hope that he rests in peace, I know it- and that he has gone ahead to be with the Lord we both made the centre of our lives.
    As I celebrate Communion Maundy Thursday, tomorrow,
    and on Sunday I will remember him with gratitude and affection.

  5. ariel says:

    He was my spritual director way back some times in 1996 -1998.

    I met L”arche community through him.

    A friend of mine, Toting (a former Jesefino) told me that one rainy Sunday while on his way home from Lárche, his taxi was caught in a traffic jam. Fr. Green then decided to walk the remaining part of his journey. Whilst walking he tripped onto something and fell. The injury he got from that could have caused the deterioration of his health.

  6. Genaro says:

    I first learned the death of Fr. Tom in the fall of 2009 through my former House leader/Community Leader, Keiko, in L’Arche Punla. I met Fr. Tom in L’Arche Punla, which he eventually became my spiritual director for over a year. That was in 1996, since moving to Canada in 1998, we kept in touch through emails and letters. I still have and kept all his dozens of letters– from his travels, how things are with the seminarians at San Jose seminary and from his retreats he gave from all over the world!

    And I got a collection of his books, at least 8 of them, including “When the Well Runs Dry” and the sequel, “Drinking From a Dry Well”. All gems for maturing towards my own spiritual journey.

    As I write this, I am thinking of Fr. Tom, as he is with the Lord, whom he ardently love, adored and faithfully serve over the years. This is timely, as I, myself, is preparing for my own 30-day retreat this coming fall!

  7. Arturo says:

    I read Fr Green’s lecture on St John of the Cross. I asked my wife to locate Fr. Green’s email! Due to her failure I searched the intermet! To my great dismay and sadness, though I do not know Fr Green, que lastima! At least I admired his lecture that impelled me to look for him! May he rest in peace. Amen!
    Now I have to look for his book, Opening to God which Fr Huang admired so much! Where to find the book! Even an old one! I like to learn more on prayer!

  8. Xoli says:

    Great send away, m a beginner in theology studies , I really need his book ,’opening to God’ where can I find it, m in South Africa

  9. Miland Joshi says:

    It’s been 5 years since Fr Tom passed on, and I continue to pray for his soul, and seek his intercession in turn. The last two sentences of the obituary above now seem more believable, though they were scant comfort then..

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