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Fr. George Hess, SJ

Fr. George Hess, who was the Principal of Loyola School from 1953-62, passed away this evening around 5:30 pm. He was suffering with a respiratory problem and was admitted at the Tata Main Hospital on July 19, 2013. He was being moved to the Mercy Hospital when he died. He was 94.

Besides Loyola School, Jamshedpur, Fr. Hess was also the Principal of De Nobili School, FRI, from 1963-79 and thereafter the Loyola College of Education, from 1979-96. He was also associated with XLRI; XIMB; Loyola School, Bhubaneshwar; De Nobili School, Bhuli, Dhanbad, in his 61 year stay as a Jesuit in India.

Fr. Hess was born on 10 October, 1919 in Bayonne, New Jersey to David and Julia Hess. His Father, was a self-made civil engineer and a consultant to J. P. Morgan. David Hess was also a close friend of Mr. Rayens, the Chairman of AT&T and in the good old days, the young George Hess would visit the estate of Mr. Rayens on Long Island with his parents. It was this privileged lifestyle that Father Hess gave up to make the journey to Bihar as a Jesuit in 1952.

Fr. George Hess, SJ, in his office.

He came to India in 1952 at the age of 32 at a time when India had just become independent from colonial rule in 1947.

After his initial schooling at the Gonzaga College High School, in the USA, from where he graduated in 1937, Father Hess went onto study Physics and Philosophy at Georgetown University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1943. He subsequently earned an L.Phil. From Woodstock College, Maryland in 1944 and a Master of Arts degree in Teaching from the same institution in 1945. In 1976, Father Hess graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Education from Stanford University. He was honoured with a Doctor of Humane Letters (Honorary degree) by Gonzaga College in 1987.

His first assignment was to set up Loyola School in Jamshedpur, which he took up in 1952 with 285 students. Loyola was given 3.5 acres of land which once housed the Chotanagpur Regimental Club (CNR). Hindi classes were held in a small school bus while the CNR Club hall housed several classes at the same time. 

On the Red Stage witnessing a school function.

Under Fr. Francis MacFarland’s supervision, the construction of the new building began and by the time Fr Hess left in 1963, it housed about 900 students. Today Loyola School, Jamshedpur accommodates over 3000 students.

Father Hess was the Principal of De Nobili School from 1963 to 1979. After leaving De Nobili School, Father Hess spent 17 years as the Principal of the Loyola College of Education in Jamshedpur from 1979 to 1996. He simultaneously served as a Professor of Communications at the Xavier Labor Relations Institute (XLRI), Jamshedpur which is one of India’s premier business schools. In 1996, Father Hess moved to Bhubaneshwar where he was a Professor of Communications at the Xavier Institute of Management (XIMB) until 2001. He was also the Founder-Director of the Loyola Communications Center in Bhubaneshwar and despite being 86 years old, he was tireless in his efforts to promote education in India, build new hospitals and schools and spread goodwill, happiness and love around him.

Father Hess became a Jesuit in 1937. Several years before that he had weighed many professions including engineering, music, acting and decided upon aspiring to become a priest. The Jesuits with whom he came into close contact with in high school lead to his requesting permission to join them. He chose to come to India in 1952 because Jesuits from the Province which he joined were assigned to India rather than to any other country. It was the beginning of a memorable joumey that would eventually lead to Father Hess making India his own home.

In his own words “My reason for volunteering was that without doing so I would be shutting the door on a primary aspect of being a Jesuit, that of universal availability. When offered a choice between that and doctoral studies in Physics for which I showed high aptitude I pointed out that volunteering precluded the making of a choice.”

Fr. George Hess, SJ, in front of De Nobili School, FRI

Father Hess went to Stanford University in 1975 and studied Education in order to fit himself more professionally for writing in that field, especially when younger men would take over the positions which he had held.

Hess moved to take over the Loyola B.Ed. College, Jamshedpur, when its founder, Fr. Kenneth Judge, had to return to the U.S. due to ill health. He master-minded its move to the huge 15-acre plot on the outskirts of Telco Colony. After establishing the college in its new premises, Fr. Hess moved on to Bhubaneshwar to help in XIMB, teaching communication.

The Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar, was setup on the invitation of Mr. Biju Patniak, the then Chief Minister of Orissa. Once the management school was ready and running, he invited the Jesuits to start a high school. Fr. Hess interacted with the Government, identified a 12 acre plot and negotiated it's 90 year lease . Besides Loyola School, Bhubaneshwar, Fr. Hess, also help start the Loyola Hospital in that capital city.

Fr. Hess in the photography studio he setup at De Nobili, FRI.

Fr. Hess was also responsible for the founding of De Nobili School, Bhuli, Dhanbad, with a generous assistance, among others, from one of his ex-students, Anurag Dixit, an alumnus of De Nobili, FRI.

Fr. Hess' work and influence extended beyond his schools and students. The Council for the Indian School Certificate which was formed in 1949 to take the place of the high school certificate examinations conducted by Cambridge University of England. Fr. Hess founded the Association of Schools for the Indian School Certificate (ASISC), intially to represent the independent schools like those run by the Jesuits and Carmelite Sisters on the Council. He was the Association's Secretary for the first 23 years. It grew from the founding 5 members to 200, its representation on the Council to 6 seats, during his tenure "strongly influencing the development of Indian education". Today ASISC has a 1000 members of the 2000 affiliated to CISCE.

Fr. Hess had his share of disappointments and failures. His long-lasting regret is that he was never able to establish an institute for communications to train students for the emerging media like television. This would have rivaled Xavier Institute of Communications, established in 1969 by Fr Francis Macfarland in St Xaviers College, Mumbai. His experience also gives us a glimpse into the emphasis of the Society of Jesus towards a common goal, directed by a single authority and bound by the Vow of Obedience.

Fr. George Hess, SJ, in his room at the Tome Residence, XLRI, in June 2012

Many who knew Fr. Hess also knew that he was a good photographer. He took to it in 1935 when his father gifted him a camera. This hobby helped him to photograph and record Loyola and De Nobili and other intitutions he was associated with. His knowledge came in handy when he setup the Loyola Center for Communication & Culture, Bhubaneshwar. Along the way he continued to collect photography equipment, still and video cameras, about 45 in total, the earliest dating to 1917. The Loyola alumni has planned display them at the school's Knowledge Centre, the new library. He was a member of Photomission, Inc., U.S.A. since 2002.

Before being hospitalised, Fr. Hess was busy readying material for a book, a compilation of selected articles he'd written for various newspapers and magazines over the years. He had already published, One Upon a Time, his book of memoirs in 2011. Despite his advanced age he had no known serious ailment, was able to manage himself near independently. He kept himself busy and productive, socially and intellectually till the very end.

A remarkable man; a remarkable life.