One of the outstanding landmarks of the Steel City of Jamshedpur is Jubilee Park, dedicated to the people of Jamshedpur on the occasion of its Golden Jubilee. There’s a life size bronze statue of Jamshetji Tata, the Founder of Tata Steel and Jamshedpur. Below the statue is an inscription on a brass plaque from Virgil’s Ovid, “Si monumentum, requiris, circumspice” in Latin, which when translated into English, means, “If you are looking for a monument, look all around”. The same could be said of Fr. George A Hess, a Jesuit from Maryland Province, USA, who spent 61 years in Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and Bhubaneswar. He passed away on 30 July 2013 at the age of 94. If you “look all around”, you will see the quadrangular structure he put up in 1954 for Loyola School, Jamshedpur, three years after his arrival in India and which became a land mark in years to come. Knowing the dire need for quality staff and to attract the right kind of teachers, he put up two blocks on Straight Mile Road that served as family quarters for a dozen heads of families and another block for a dozen bachelors and spinsters. A man of foresight! Today it is home to the Provincial’s Curia and a myriad of guests.
Having spent 10 years as Rector-Principal of Loyola School, Jamshedpur, he moved on to the coalfields of Dhanbad. There too he felt that the time had come for a Science Block cum Library cum Canteen built with the help of Misereor, a funding agency in Germany, and a separate block for the Junior School. To attract qualified teachers to the coalfields, he put up two blocks for family quarters and another block for bachelors, not to mention smaller quarters for the support staff. By the time he had put in 17 years in Dhanbad, he had multiplied the presence of De Nobili through 6 branch schools which he set up at the invitation of various companies but at the expense of sending his top teachers to head those new units. It looked as though the branches were about to strangle the parent tree! His work with the “branch schools” is one of the finest and most original contribution to the educational efforts of Jamshedpur Province and, which a decade later, would be viewed as a venture into “lay collaboration”. When it was time for him to move on, he took up the challenge of the Teachers Training College in Jamshedpur started by Fr. Kenneth M Judge and affiliated to Ranchi University. Only a person of the caliber of Father Hess could dream of a separate building on a leased property from Telco, which later on came to be known as the Loyola College of Education.
“If you are looking for a monument, look all around you”. It was not so much by way of building structures that Fr. Hess made his contribution to the educational system. His influence as an educationist went deeper. Along with Fr. Richard Pereira of Delhi, he formed the Association of ICSE Schools. It was the answer of the minority schools to the CBSE pattern of education. Whether while heading Loyola School and De Nobili School as its Principal, he always believed in the principle of delegation in getting competent lay teachers to be at the helm of affairs. It was the same with the Association of Schools of ICSE. He may have helped to frame the MOA, but always preferred to remain in the background, allowing lay people to carry the value system of an English medium education forward. The Annual Elocution and Extempore Competition was his brainchild with an elaborate set of guidelines for external Judges to base their discernment with regard to pronunciation, enunciation, intonation, gestures and so on. It began on a small scale in Jamshedpur and over the years it turned out to be an Inter Jesuit affair that brought in the best from other Jesuits Schools from Darjeeling, Kolkata, Ranchi, Bokaro, Santal Parganas and Hazaribag. It has been on for 55 years or more and still counting.
Even though he retired from the school scene way back in the late 80’s, the Association made it a point to invite him for their Annual General Body Meeting, and always trusted his guiding hand and presence in the election of office bearers. Such was his worth – in molding others to take charge and carry the idea forward, changing with the times. He was especially successful with the lay teachers in his work as Principal. He had a calming effect on them and did not react to their excitement or emotional states. He was able to put things back into perspective. He was also successful with educational authorities. Despite road blocks and frustrations caused by bureaucratic incompetence and inertia, he never seemed to lose his cool but outlasted passive resistance and usually got what he wanted. He had the quality of “perseverance in difficult enterprises” an inherent quality for Jesuit leadership.
For a number of years George smoked a pipe, but in a very academic manner. The image generated – of calmness, reflection, judicious deliberation – mirrored the reality. The pipe smoking gave him time to formulate and savour decisions that gave him an executive’s “unflappability”. Speaking of him a former Provincial wrote: “The one thing that impresses me about George is something that is invisible – that is – an incredible grace of bearing up with the tensions and strains that come our way. His reaction of full obedience and patience gave me a most salutary lesson. He may have suffered from some provincial policies, from situations of misunderstanding, yet I never heard any reaction of bitterness or non-cooperation”. George, as we all know, was a man who could out-wait anyone: parent, students, father superior, and mother superior. His patience was legendary.
You could set your watch by his regular appearance on the tennis court and for morning assembly. How often did we hear him clear his throat at the morning assembly and say “Good morning. Let’s say the morning prayer …” and be able to check the time of beginning a new day. And yet, he always had a good sense of humour with a stock of recycled jokes and anecdotes – a story teller par excellence.
Over the years in Jamshedpur, as well as in Dhanbad, George was very active in the Lion’s Club. When Friday came along, for others it was TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) but for George we always could say “The Lion roars tonight” for Friday was always a day for a Lion’s Club meeting. In Dhanbad, he developed a great care and concern for the School for the Blind which he nursed along for umpteen years. The “Old Boys” Alumni Association found in George an engaging and pleasant link with the best of their recollections of “school days”. He had become something of an expert in photography and did a great deal of work for the Province and for extracurricular concerns. Is it any wonder he went on to open the Loyola Jesuit Media Centre when he was in Bhubaneswar. Though others may have faulted him with such a daring step, he always said it was AMDG (ad majorem Dei gloriam, the Jesuit motto meaning: to the greater glory of God). There was a time when he was interviewed over Odisha TV News Channel where he displayed all of his collection of 14 cameras going back to the early 19th century. For those who knew a thing or two about photography, it was mind boggling!
Besides, the media centre which travelled with George wherever he was transferred, he displayed great insight into breaking new ground in Odisha, especially when he enjoyed a personal rapport with the then Chief Minister. Not only did he get the Chief Minister to lease forest land at a throw away price for the proposed English-Odiya medium Loyola School, he also came up with something which apparently no Jesuits in India were involved in – a hospital, named Loyola Hospital, in Kalinga Vihar, Odisha, with the collaboration of the Holy Spirit Sisters of Jharsuguda. One must not fall into thinking that by hospital to mean that it was something huge but, believing in the principle, ‘small is beautiful’ Loyola Hospital began its existence and after more than a decade, it is picking up and, who knows, a few decades down the road, it will be a hospital – great in size and in worth.
One could conclude this obituary and eulogy on George Hess with a few lines from Robert Browning:
Grow old along with me!;
The best has yet to be,
Our times are in His hand.
Trust God, see all, be not afraid.