Chapel

Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre in Pickering
2325 Liverpool Road
Pickering, Ontario L1X 1V4
Tel: (905) 839-2864
Fax: (905) 839-7289

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A Short Biography

 



FATHER MARTIN J. ROYACKERS, S.J.
14 NOVEMBER 1959 -– 20 JUNE 2001

Martin was born in the farming town of Parkhill in southwestern Ontario. It was only after Martin’s death that many Jesuits learned he was born on the feast of a great Italian Jesuit, St. Joseph Pignatelli; also it was the birth date of another famous Jesuit, Father Pedro Arrupe. Fr. Arrupe’s body lies next to Fr. Pignatelli’s tomb in the mother church of our Society, the Gesú in Rome. The only other space in the small side chapel is already occupied by Father General Jan Roothaan, the Jesuit responsible for the Society after its re-establishment by Pope Pius VII. Martin would have been in excellent company here but then he made it quite clear a few weeks before his death that he wished to be buried amongst his people of eastern Jamaica.

Much has been written and said about Martin since his brutal murder in front of the door of his parish of St. Thérèsa in Annotto Bay. Here are excerpts from the writings and sayings of others.

The National Post, a national Canadian news-paper on June 23 reported: "It was not unusual for Reverend Martin Royackers to work well into the night at one of the five parishes he oversaw in a poor Jamaican farming town. The 41-year-old Jesuit priest from southwestern Ontario had a seemingly endless supply of energy, and no shortage of residents to help in Annotto Bay, on the Caribbean island's eastern shore. But when Deacon Anton woke up Thursday morning and saw no sign of his housemate, he know something was wrong. He jumped out of bed and ran the 200 metres to St. Theresa's parish, where he had last seen Martin the night before. "I saw his feet sticking out from in front of the door," he said. "I yelled for him to get up, but he just wouldn't move." Only when the 34-year-old deacon, set to be ordained as a priest in less than a month, cradled his friend's bloody head did he know he was dead. He had been gunned down as he locked the church door sometime Wednesday night. His wallet was still in his pocket; the keys to the church were clenched in his hand. The autopsy, performed yesterday, concluded that the he died from a single bullet wound to the chest, and Jamaican police are investigating a possible connection between the slaying and a serious threat made two weeks ago against Fr. Royackers' superior, Fr. Jim Webb. The threat -- and now Rev. Royackers' death -- are believed to be related to his tireless efforts to find land for homeless farmers."

Martin’s family presented this tribute on the memorial card: "Martin grew up on a farm in West Williams township and attended school at Sacred Heart in Parkhill. Before he graduated he knew he was called to be a priest. He attended Regina Mundi College when it was still a boy’s high school and took many academic awards. After looking into different orders, he chose the Jesuits and in 1978, he joined the noviciate in Guelph. After ordination, he enjoyed six years working at the farm and the University of Guelph.

"In 1994, Martin went to Jamaica and became pastor of St. Theresa’s in Annotto Bay. He also ministered to parishes in Tinsbury/May River, Islington, Pleasant Hill and Long Roads. As part of his work with St Mary’s Rural Development Project, he helped establish a co-operative for local farmers that is now becoming self sufficient. Martin put a lot of energy into ensuring and improving education for the children, both in administration and building. He also taught church development at St. Michael’s Theological Centre. He was a strong believer in supporting the local economy and empowering people to self-determination. Local culture and customs were also important to him. He loved Jamaica passionately and he will be deeply missed by both his home peoples."

In a homily at the memorial Mass at Guelph, Monty Williams concluded: "Martin was tireless. He worked long and hard at what mattered. What didn't and here I may refer vaguely to certain academic requirements, he had a certain patrician distain.... But for what was important he spent his life with passion and commitment. He was passionate for the Jesuit magazine Compass, for Manresa Retreat House in Pickering, Ontario, for the farm community here, for the people of his parish in Jamaica, for that cooperative working out of St. Theresa's. And Martin was cunning, cunning with the cunning of Christ and with the cunning of the innocent. He was not cunning with the cunning of the world. He could not as Hamlet says: Smile and smile and be a damnable villain; he could not wait politically for the winds of the world to change; he could not be accommodating and read it as flexible; be silent as read it as prudent; be cowardly and read it as humility.

"Martin was also fiercely intelligent. He loved the passion of Insight, he loved knowledge, he loved literature -- Jane Austen, and George Eliot in particular, yet he gave up the joy of that world of knowledge to live in a overly hot cinder-block shack in a poor section of a little known place between Kingston and Montego Bay among a people whose wisdom was not from books but from the soil and from generations of suffering. Like the Christ of Philippians 2:1-11, Martin entered a poor place of this world, filled with turmoil and despair. He sought to live there as a person of hope and integrity, as a person who knew what it was to be poor, and what it was to love and to be loved in the midst of the boredom and the malice of that world. It was there he was killed on June 20 at Annotto Bay.

Martyrs are not perfect people. In fact nobody is perfect... and maybe martyrs are less perfect than most because they are so filled with the passion for God, and with a passion of God, they do not tolerate easily, or at all, the values the world might hold as useful. I would say Martin was less than perfect from this stance. His smoking scandalised the Jamaican people for whom it was a sin greater than adultery. His signal indifference to clothing and the occasional bath was of concern to his congregation. He could be blunt, arrogant, stubborn, cynical, withdrawn. He knew he was a sinner. But Martin could also be sensitive, discrete, prudent, joyful, a good friend, a perceptive spiritual director, a man of prayer and at times of simple devotion. He said the rosary. A martyr is one who witnesses not to his goodness but to the goodness of God."

Philip Shano, who entered the Society with Martin, attended his funeral Mass in Jamaica and sent out a long memorial previously published. In part he recalled: "After the funeral liturgy we processed with Martin’s coffin in the back of his pick up truck. For the sake of visitors to Annotta Bay, Jim Webb explained that Martin has often used his truck to take the bodies of the poor to their final resting place because they could not afford any other route. It was a long procession to the May River Cemetery. The road is not in good shape, so we walked the last section. The cemetery is no longer in active use, but it is the one Martin loved so much. It is a short distance from the small school.

Just up over the hill is an old teacher’s cottage which Martin has renovated for use as a small retreat house. The locals refer to it as the "Jesus house". It has three bedrooms. Martin renovated it using a $1,000 grant from our province a couple of years ago. I placed half the soil from Guelph in Martin’s grave and half around the outside of the little retreat house. The rite of committal was beautiful. Again, there was chanting and singing. We stayed until the grave was sealed with Martin’s body inside. His grave is on the edge of the cement floor which is all that remains of an old church. He couldn’t have picked a better site for his resting place. The view is spectacular and it is in a setting to which he gave so much energy in these past few years."

Jim Profit who entered before Martin, but lived with him in Jamaica wrote to many that: "It was clear that Martin was deeply loved. The love shown was not simply that shown out of respect for the dead. I was struck by Martin's accomplishments. Martin had succeeded in inculturating the Eucharist in ways that I, and probably we, had only hoped for. Sunday Masses now included revival music, testimonies and dancing. Martin's preaching style was Jamaican, an accomplishment which I desired but was incapable of delivering. Martin was being invited to preach at crusades in other parts of Jamaica -- a wonderful compliment. I am not aware of any other white foreigner who was in demand in this way. Each of the church communities had some recent construction done, a basic school in Pleasant Hill, an extra classroom at Tinsbury, a sacristy and washroom at Islington, and so on. The co-ops and the other work with the farmers have continued to grow in various ways. Besides all this, Martin taught a course in Kingston, wrote homilies for Bishop Dufour, and was the chairman of two school boards. It is no wonder why he was so loved by the people! One of my first reactions to Martin's death was anger about the violence, so rampant in Jamaican society. I was surprised about the extent of my anger. During the first wake ceremony, I realized that all the people gathered were victims of this same violence. They cannot escape it as I can. They cannot get on an airplane and fly away. I found my anger dissipating into a feeling of solidarity."

Provincial David Nazar, in a letter to Jesuits, wrote: "Martin rose to the occasion in splendid fashion. He was superior of the community, devoted pastor of the parish at Annotto Bay, staff member of St. Mary’s Rural Development Project, instructor in social ethics in the local seminary, popular revival preacher in the Jamaican style, chair of two school boards, key resource person for many Jamaican episcopal documents, and at times he rolled up his sleeves, put on his boots, and helped his parishioners in various agricultural tasks.

As we have known for a long time, his tongue was silver, but as we now clearly know, his actions were gold. He allied concern for social justice and a deep commitment to preaching basic Gospel values. Indeed in him faith and justice were inseparable: an ideal to which Jesuits aspire but which few attain to the extent he did. He was unflinching in his commitment, not afraid to wear the mantle and bear the risks of the prophet, which in a context of violence and oppression can be very costly."

 

Come sleep my beloved
Sleep and take your rest
Lay down your head
Upon your Saviour’s breast.
We love you but Jesus loves you best.
Good bye, good bye, good bye.

Jamaican Burial Chorus

Jesuit Sources

 

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