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Robert Purcell S.J. 1919–2009 RIP

When I was fresh out of high school I joined the Society of Jesus, Jesuits. At the Jesuit College, a seminary in a rural area of Minnesota, I had for four years a speech teacher, Fr. Robert Purcell. I went there as a shy, quiet, introspected youth and after four years left as socially conscious, extrovert adult. Part of my being so quiet and introspected was a speech defect that I had when I entered the Jesuits. Fr. Purcell not only taught us all how to be public speakers but he worked with me individually on my speech defect. He even went to the point of taking a special course on summer at Northwestern University so he could return to Jesuit College and tutor me. So there I started to talk, and some would say I have never stopped.

Father Purcell also taught us the power of seeing deeply, of how to make a small observation and really see into it. We all kept “observation diaries”. I have my original one and have kept many in the years since. This ‘Diary of the Worm’, connecting organic growing and nonviolence in my daily life is a result of this lesson in seeing deeply into small things. Another teacher once told me that if we could see deeply enough into any one thing we could find God. Father Purcell was a teacher of deep seeing and finding God in all things.

I kept in contact with Father Purcell over the years, and when we he went to Jesuit retirement home visited him regularly. Another old friend Gordon Zahn, teacher of nonviolence, was in the same health center and I would visit one and then the other. I told Father Purcell about my web page the “Diary of the Worm”, an observation diary he had inspired. He was proud of me, as he was with all his students over the years.

As Father Purcell got older his retreats, prayers and thoughts got simpler. He used to give month, week and weekend retreats, but in his later years developed a one-minute retreat. As he got older words were less necessary and he could say a lot in a few words or just a glance at you.

Tonight was the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Purcell, S.J. One niece and one nephew talked about their “Uncle Bob”. Father or Uncle Bob had no more words for us and nothing new for us to see. However, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to this one person for teaching me how to talk and see.

(On the whole World Wide Web I could not find a picture of Father Bob Purcell S.J. so am using this Jesuit symbol along side this post)

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