Farewell Fr Ninu, India misses you already

Fr. Jos. M. Gaudi Sacco, S.J. writes from India

Fr. Anthony Gatt, S.J.       20.01.1939 – 21.03.2017

On 21st March we heard the sad news that Fr. Anthony Gatt, fondly called Fr. Ninu, passed away to meet the Lord whom he loved so ardently and served most faithfully. I said the “sad” news, but actually it should be “good” news for us, because he is even happier now than he was when still with us.

It is customary that with such an event we recall who this remarkable Jesuit was, for our edification. I personally came to know Fr. Ninu after his coming to India. We soon became great friends as all those who came in contact with him. Providentially I went to visit him with Fr. Provincial and Fr. Xavier the day before his passing, and though he could not speak clearly he was smiling as usual and accepted his sickness with great resignation from the Lord. During his conversation he expressed that he has always been happy in life. And that is how we remember him. After all, that is why God created us, to be happy, and we can find our happiness only in Him.

Fr. Gatt was born on the 20th January 1939 in the village of Zebbug, Malta. His father’s name was Philip, after the patron saint of his village and his mother’s name was Teresa. His father was a merchant selling wheat. Fr. Ninu studied at St. Albert’s College at Valletta. He passed his General Certificate of Education, after which he worked for three years with the government in the Housing Department. 

On the 10th October 1960, Fr. Ninu heard the Lord’s call and joined the Society of Jesus at the Jesuit Novitiate, Loyola House, Naxxar, Malta. He was full of zeal to eventually come to serve in the Santal Mission in India and so wrote to Fr. Provincial in Malta asking to be sent as a missionary. His dream was fulfilled and he reached India on the 27th July 1963 along with Fr. Cecil Azzoppardi. They both went to Ranchi to study Hindi, after which he was sent to Pune for his Philosophical studies. He had one year Regency in Guhiajori High School where he could practise his Hindi and then one year in St. Xavier’s Sahibganj. For his theological studies he was sent to Kurseong on the Himalayas. He was ordained priest in Malta when he went for his first home visit along with Fr. Cecil on the 19th March 1972. He made his final commitment in the Society of Jesus by taking his final profession of four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and obedience to the Holy Father on 31st July, 1977, feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, our founder. 

From 1972 to 1977 we find Fr. Gatt as Asst. Parish priest in Rajibpur mission in Bengal, N. Dinajpur. From 1977 to 1983 he was Principal and Rector at St. Xavier’s Sahibganj. From 1983 to 1985 he was Minister of the Community and Hostel in Charge at St. John Berchmans’ High School at Mundli, Tinpahar; again from 1985 to 1990 he was Hostel in charge at St. Xavier’s Sahibganj; then he spent 2 years in Asanbani mission as Asst. Parish Priest after which he was Superior of the Jesuit Community and Parish Priest at Majlispur mission. Ten years later he was shifted to Nichamari as Father in Charge of the new mission. After this he was sent to St. Xavier’s Raiganj as Superior of the community.

On the occasion of his Golden Jubilee as a Jesuit in 2010, Fr. Adolf Nicholas, Superior General of the Society of Jesus had this to say about Fr. Gatt:

“He was open to any ministry but he was mainly in the Educational and Pastoral ministry. He saw the will of God in every appointment. He proved to be a good leader, a good Pastor and a good Educationist. During his tenure as Principal of St. Xavier’s, he was instrumental in getting St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata on the 28th February 1982 to inaugurate the Silver Jubilee of St. Xavier’s. His warm personality and readiness to work with his companions and others and his balanced judgment made him an integrating factor of his community.” 

Like St. Francis of Assisi, Fr. Ninu loved nature. His practical knowledge in agriculture, animal husbandry and technical aptitude enabled him to run efficiently a mission comprising hostels for children and a farm to sustain them. Fr. Ninu had a “green finger”, as they say. Whatever he planted, whether vegetables, trees or flowers, flourished and bore fruit. His farming was an example and encouragement to the mainly poor farmers of his mission to find increasingly productive ways to make a living as farmers.

Fr. Gatt was proficient in languages. Apart from the European languages, Maltese, his mother tongue, English and Italian, in India he also mastered Hindi, Bengali and Santali.

Fr. Ninu was a lovable person and people also loved him. When he was sick and taking treatment in Kolkata his former students visited him regularly as some of these who are present here today also testify to this. 

Fr. Cecil Azzopardi, who is now Spiritual Director of Jesuit Scholastics at the Gesu in Rome, when he heard yesterday of Ninu’s passing away had this to say about him:

“Ninu was one of the three Jesuits who were very much part of my life as a Jesuit. We joined the Novitiate together, went to India together, studied Philosophy and Theology together and were ordained priests together. We celebrated together in Dumka 50 years of our Jesuit life when I went back in 2010. He was an extraordinary man, being able to handle different responsibilities with a certain peaceful ease. But his most outstanding quality was his zest for life. Nothing, absolutely nothing would dampen his inner spirit, and this was seen very tangibly as he went through his last sickness. The two hours we spent together when I met him at Loyola House, were, as I shared with many, the most beautiful gift he had offered me. This is why this morning while prayerfully thanking God for him, I felt very strongly that after sharing in and witnessing to such a life, it is really true that “not even death can imprison life. I know the face of God shines on him.”

Yes, Fr. Ninu accepted his present sickness with a smile and surrendered himself to Jesus his faithful Master and to God his heavenly Father. Yesterday morning, the Lord called him to a better place. As he crossed the river to the Promised Land, he found his Master waiting for him telling him: “Come you whom my Father blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.” Whatever you did to others, you did to me.

May his soul rest in peace!

Fr. Jos. M. Gaudi Sacco, S.J.

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