‘Happy Birthday Priest’ has gone Home

Fr. John D’ Mello, SJ, went to his eternal reward at 07.30 a.m. yesterday (24th August, 2022) at Xavier Bhavan, Patna. He was 89 years old, had spent 65 years in the Society of Jesus and a priest for 56 years. The funeral took place on 25th August at 04.00 p.m. at the XTTI campus in Patna.

In keeping with his wishes, his body was not buried, but gifted to Patna Medical College Hospital

In this piece, Jesuit Brother Tony Dias SJ, recalls the gift of Father John D’Mello, known to hundreds of Catholics as the ‘Happy Birthday Priest’

My gut feeling right now is to invite you to sing “Happy Birthday” to John for the last time.

This happy birthday greeting we all know became his second nature and part of his daily routine. This happy birthday greeting sent out a message that every new day is a gift from God and we need to gratefully celebrate it. In the recent past, John transformed this birthday greeting to “Joyful Birthday” because John was convinced from his own personal experience that there is joy in giving rather than in receiving and secondly, he believed that happiness comes mostly  from creatures and Joy from God.

While he was with us at St. Xavier’s, he would spend most of his time with me in my office. He used to offer me practical and valuable suggestions to function effectively. He would also walk into my room after dinner just to have some personal sharing from the heart. We were quite comfortable with each other and there were times he would celebrate the Eucharist for me and I looked forward to such occasions. I realized John becomes quite emotional when he shares about his life with others.

He enjoyed good rapport with all kinds of people and kept in touch with them both in India and abroad. Many would support him financially, and he spent the money for the needy and deserving poor. He had a special affection for the Medical Mission sisters not because he was a liaison officer for more than 30 years at Kurji Holy family hospital, but the MMS sisters used to visit his mother in Bombay (now Mumbai) on a regular basis, and assist her whenever she was in need.  Many would come to visit him with gifts.

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In one of our sharing sessions, he talked about his medical record book from the hospital and asked me to keep a copy with me. This is what he had written in the first page:

Please: Do not add days to my life but only life to my days. This means:

  1. No external intervention i.e., injection or no I.V. fluid
  2. I must recover with my immune system
  3. I must be admitted only in PMCH – Patna Medical College Hospital
  4. My Mortal remains are donated to PMCH
  5. Let me go to my Father, Just So!

John believed in “Hair therapy” and would consult the doctor for any of his medical ailments.

John, while conversing with people, often used convincing statements and quotes which penetrated their hearts. For example:

  1. We expect, demand and believe in miracles but we must rely on miracles.
  2. Beauty is the shadow of God on the Universe.
  3. There is no such thing called “Luck” “Fortunate” but believe in God’s Providence.
  4. Speaking of prayer, he would say – prayer is when you talk to God, Meditation is when you listen to God and no prayer is small to the Lord. Prayer is not an attempt to change God’s mind but it’s an attempt to let God change our mind.

John had the humility to take the first step to make up with the person with whom he had either arguments or disagreements. He would even shed tears while talking and requesting the other to forget and forgive him. It was hard for him to celebrate the Eucharist when he was disturbed with an event or persons. It was another conviction of his that when you choose the most difficult, it will lead to humility.

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May 18th was an important day in his life; It was his mother’s death anniversary, his brother – in – law was born, His sister got married, his nun sister expired, Fr. Chamberlin, the Jesuit who brought him to the Society died and many others either born or died whom he loved and cared – all on this same day. He would often say that losing a loving one is hard, it’s the distance that makes the heart harder.

John had the poor in his heart – though sometime he was selective to certain people, but if approached he was God sent for most deserving cases.

He was a jovial and loving person. His witty practical jokes were spontaneous and apt for the occasion and all sprang from his personal experiences.

Thank you, John, for sharing your life with me and helping me become a better human, better Jesuit. Every day you made me feel special, every day you opened my eyes with a new understanding, every day your warmth touched my heart. I want to say that it is a tremendous honour to be called your brother, companion and friend, you are one of the most caring people I have ever met. You are loving, kind, and everything I could want in a person. You are my God-sent from heaven when I needed support; you made a good man out of me! My feelings for you are too deeply engraved in my heart ever to have the chance of disappearing.

John was truly a God-fearing person and we have lost a good human being and many a good friend. Kindly keep him and his near and dear ones in your valuable prayers. May his soul rest in peace!

3 thoughts on “‘Happy Birthday Priest’ has gone Home

  • August 27, 2022 at 8:21 am

    This is such a beautiful memory. I can so relate to all that’s been written about the Happy Birthday priest who was dearly loved by all of us in our family. I’m sure the angels must have been singing Happy Birthday to dear Fr. John on 24 August.

    • September 1, 2022 at 6:32 pm

      It will always be a farewell to remember. As the mortal remains of Father John D’Mello lay in state at the XTTI chapel on Patna, the entire congregation, led by Archbishop Emeritus William D’Souza SJ broke out in song, “Happy Birthday to You, Dear John’!

      This funeral will be remembered by all who attended, because the happy birthday Priest wasn’t interred in the grave. Instead, after the funeral mass, his body was transported to the Patna Medical College Hospital. It was his wish that his body be donated to serve the educational purposes of future healers. A box of relics was interred at the XTTI Jesuit cemetery.

      John’s personal faith and optimism touched many. He was the administrator of Holy Family Hospital, where I have undergone treatment several times. I’ve had some interesting conversations with him that at times gave me food for thought and reflection. He certainly wasn’t enamoured of the new media, and believed that straight talking did more good than public relations.

      No doubt, we’ll miss him, but his mantra, ‘Rely on miracles’ has proven to be effective many a time.

  • August 26, 2022 at 6:31 pm

    Thank you Tony. All you shared resonate with my experience of John.

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