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May 20, 2020
May 21, 2020
He was on his way to the EAPI (East Asian Pastoral Institute) to teach, when I first met him along the Reilly pathway while I was myself walking to the Ateneo campus. I was in College at the San Jose Seminary at that time when the charismatic rector, Fr. Juan Sanz, SJ, had filled up San Jose with new vocations from all over the country, beyond capacity.
The College Seminary community, which could no longer fit at the main building of San Jose Seminary, was accommodated at the left wing of the Loyola House of Studies. Fr. Adolfo Nicolas SJ, or Fr. Nico as we fondly called him, was residing at the right wing of the same building. And so we usually bumped into each other along the narrow Reilly pathway behind the Loyola House, next to the Covered Court each morning after breakfast, whenever he walked his way to EAPI, and we, to the Ateneo campus.
I was amazed that he still remembered my name when—fast forward by around four decades later—we met again in Rome, at the Jesuit Generalate. It was actually the then Bishop of Imus, Chito Tagle, who asked me to tag along in order to say hello to Fr. Nico. We were both serving as delegates to the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Fr. Nico was himself also a Synod delegate, being the Superior General of the Jesuits.
He was not around yet when we were welcomed to the house by Fr. Joe Quilongquilong SJ. Fr. Joe explained that I was going to stay in the former room of the previous General, Fr. Kolvenbach, who had passed on already. I remember calling Fr. Joe later that evening to report to him that there was no hot water in my bathroom. He quickly dispatched a handyman to check and have the water heater reset. Fr. Joe would later tell me with a tone of amazement that he had just found out that the late Fr. Kolvenbach probably took cold shower as an act of penance. He could think of no other reason why he had deliberately turned off the hot water control valve! Apparently no one had used his bedroom for several months after he passed on because they still had to sort out his documents.
Later during the day I would bump into Fr. Nico in the corridor of the Generalate. I still had my back on the corridor as I locked the door of my room when I heard someone behind me saying, “Welcome, Bishop.” I turned around and, lo and behold, there was Fr. Nico, with his signature bespectacled and bedimpled smile, holding a laundry basket with his soiled clothes in it. He was wearing a white undershirt and a dark pair of trousers. He put down his laundry basket on the floor when I greeted him and said, “Good morning, Fr. General!” He came forward and shook my hand firmly. I said, “Hope I can still call you Fr. Nico?” He smiled and said naughtily, “Only if I can still call you Ambo.” And we both laughed.
When he learned that I was going to have some coffee, he said he was going to join me if I could just allow him to quickly load his laundry in the washing machine. In my head, I found myself saying as I watched him walk briskly to the laundry room, “Where on earth would you find the Superior General of one of the most influential religious congregations in the world, the so-called “Black Pope”, doing his own laundry?
Today we lost a great man. A saintly man too, I must say. In my mind I see him smiling with his eyes behind his spectacles and his bedimpled cheeks. Heartfelt condolences to all brother Jesuits.
Rest in Peace, man of God.

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