Fr. Francisco O. Montecastro, SJ (1933-2012): Shepherding even while bedridden

Shepherding Even While Bedridden
by Florge Sy, S.J.*

Fr. Francisco Montecastro, SJ

Fr. Francisco Montecastro, SJ

Fr. Monte was born on May 5, 1933.  He died about a week before his 79th birthday. At the age of 21, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1954), was ordained when he was 35 years old in 1968, and took his final vows in 1977.

Looking at the curriculum vitae of Fr. Monte, we can say that he lived a very active life before he joined our community in the infirmary. He had been to various apostolates and ministries in the provinces.

He was in Davao for 11 years as assistant director of the Mindanao Development Center.  He was in Cagayan de Oro for 6 years and served as a parish priest in Lumbia and director of regents and pastoral activities in St. John Maria Vianney Seminary.

He spent 9 years of ministry in Zamboanga del Sur, where he was a pastor in the parishes of Kabasalan, Margosatubig, Naga, Bayog, and Buug.

He then spent a year as a parish priest in Kalilangan, Bukidnon, another year in Sacred Heart Parish-Cebu, and another year in the Philippine General Hospital as acting chaplain.

Those were active years indeed, but then he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer and was brought to the infirmary in 2001.  His stay in the infirmary was one of the longest periods of his Jesuit life in the same community.  He was in the Lucas infirmary for 11 years.

In order to give us a glimpse of how Fr. Ben was during his stay in the infirmary, I have asked some of the present and former members of the infirmary staff about what they remember about Fr. Monte.  Here are some of their recollections…

A former member of the infirmary staff has this to say:

“Sometime in February 2003, on my first day of duty, I asked Fr. Montecastro’s permission if I could call him Tito Ben.  The other members of the staff asked me why.  I said he reminded me of an uncle.  Fr. Montecastro has been my Tito Ben since then.  A caregiver’s life isn’t easy.  But Tito Ben’s smile after every task made it a lot less difficult.  Even during bad times, there would always be a trace, a hint of a smile.  That
is what I would miss most about Tito Ben.”

Another one who is still with the infirmary recalls:

“Maybe two or three months ago, as I accompanied Dr. de la Vega in her rounds, she said, “How strong he is!”  I replied, “Maybe even in his condition, he still has a mission.”  She agreed, “But what is his mission?”

I answered her, “Training ground for our caregivers and nurses.  They learn patience while taking care of him, while feeding him through his PEG, while cleaning his tracheal tube, and in being careful in turning him when he had bedsores.”  It was quite an achievement for our staff when we saw Fr. Monte’s  bedsores healing.  Thanks to him we were able to train and
produce good and dedicated caregivers and nurses.”

A head-nurse in the infirmary also shared his recollection:

“Fr. Montecastro was already bedridden when I came. The earlier staff  remember when he could still speak and could be transferred to the  wheelchair.   He was bedridden for a long time but the caretakers did not cease taking care of him.  They gave him a bed bath twice a day, fed him using the PEG, kept monitoring him in case he needed to be have the phlegm  suctioned so that
he could not have difficulty breathing and kept turning him so bedsores would not develop.”

“When I had finished my other duties,  I would go to his room to read to him a book on reflections for every day, and on Sundays we turned on the radio or TV so he could hear the mass.  I am so grateful I took care of him for I learned how to be patient, how to value life and strengthen my faith.”

And a more recent caregiver has this to share:

“Above all, , Advanced Happy Birthday, Tatay Ben.  My sadness is mixed with joy for you.  I knew you when you were very sickly and I know you hear what I am saying.  You hear when we call you Baby Ben for that is what you are to us.  – a baby who needs constant  care.. Thanks, Tatay Ben for being a listener when I needed to talk. Though you did not answer, I know that you are praying for me.  Thanks for giving me the experience that I may be skilled in my profession.   Tatay Ben, thanks for showing me that I can carry on in spite of the problems that may come.  Like you, however many the problems, there will be no giving up.”

On a personal note, it amazes me how someone who was bound to his bed, who could no longer walk and talk, and who was seemingly unaware of his surroundings could still continue to be an inspiration for people around him.  Perhaps, what we are, our being, is still much more important than our “doing” or what we can do.

Last Monday, at Mass in the infirmary, in the middle of Fr. Balchand’s homily on our Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd who knows his flock, who calls his flock, who leads his flock, and who lays down his life for his flock, someone whispered to me to immediately go to the room of Fr. Monte.  Sensing that something was not right, I left the chapel and proceeded to the room of Fr. Monte without delay.

I was too late.  I was no longer able to catch his last breath. It was 6:20 in the evening when he joined the Lord.

I have very little idea about how Fr. Monte was as a shepherd before he joined us in the infirmary.  But these accounts from the caregivers and nurses who had the opportunity to be of service to him tell me he must have been a great shepherd when he was still on his feet.  He was a good shepherd to them, you see, even when he was totally limited to his bed.

I do not totally understand the why of the long years of waiting, of being in bed for 11 years, before Fr. Monte finally heard the voice of the Good Shepherd calling him to join him in heaven.  But there is one thing I am sure about:  The Good Shepherd of us all, who also refers to himself in the Gospel as the Light of the world so that everyone who believes in him might not remain in darkness, is now leading Fr. Monte to the kingdom of his Father.

While I was writing this homily, I was reminded of a song based on Psalm

Shepherd me O God,
Beyond my wants beyond fears from death unto life.
God is my shepherd so nothing shall I want,
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.
Gently you raise and heal my weary soul,
You lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
My spirit shall sing the music of your name.
Though I should wander the valley of death,
I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
Your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope.
You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred,
Crowning me with love beyond my power to hold.
Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life.
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forevermore.

Thank you, Fr. Ben.  May you enjoy the bounty of eternal life in heaven
where the Good Shepherd is leading you.

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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