“Natura non facit saltus” — in memory of the Reverend Ismael Zuloaga, S.J.

by Edward H.M. Wang, MD (XS ’75)
Photo by Martin Gomez (’99), XS Next Lab Moderator

“Natura non facit saltus” — in memory of the Reverend Ismael Zuloaga, S.J. (Nov 2 1927-Oct 8 2012)

I never did become very familiar with Fr. Zuloaga, not the way I got to know Fr. Barbero, Fr. Papilla, or even Fr. Clifford.  Ever since I can remember, he was always someone from administration, someone I would see at opening and closing ceremonies, and someone whose signature would appear on all my report cards and mimeographed letters to parents.  In Grade School, I would shake his hand on special occasions and I would notice a balding Spaniard peering at me through spectacles perched on a distinctive parrot beaked nose.  High School was little different except I clearly remember a faint hint of a smile as he watched us march up the stage during graduation to receive our diplomas.  Throughout my Xavier years, many teachers had come and gone but this priest was omnipresent, whether in person or in signature—almost as if he had patiently waited and watched each of us grow over a dozen years from unruly toddlers to rowdy teenagers.

After Xavier, I did not hear much anymore about Fr. Zulo except that he had returned to China to continue business left unfinished when the Jesuits departed in 1949.  On one of my personal forays into China, I bumped into him queuing at the counter of an airport terminal.  We asked about each other and I observed he moved on with a lightness of step and heart.  I thought to myself, here he was, entering China again after so many decades away, on a new but equally daunting mission to resurrect almost from dust what his forefathers had taken centuries to build. Like Matteo Ricci, he obviously knew this mission was not going to be accomplished in a lifetime.  Was that stubbornness or was that patience?  Maybe it was a little of both.

Several years into orthopaedic practice, I received a call from the Xavier infirmary asking for an appointment for Fr. Zuloaga himself.  He had broken his arm in an accident.  Luckily, his humeral fracture did not require surgery and I treated him with plaster and sling.  On follow-up I told him the bones had good alignment but almost apologetically, I also informed him the fracture did not yet show signs of full healing—Medicine tells us these fractures unite in a few months’ time.  As if to appease my unfounded anxiety, he wrote down the words “Natura non facit saltus” and continued to translate this Latin phrase:  Nature does not make jumps.  I nodded in agreement.

I saw him a few more times, once because of a hip fracture and then another time, because of several osteoporotic compression spine fractures.  Eighty-four years and a chronic kidney ailment had taken a toll on his now frail body.  When I saw him in his room, he could hardly sit without help.  Every movement was excruciatingly tender.  He looked emaciated as a result of his debilitating condition.  In agony, he pointed out to me the unrelenting soreness.  Haltingly, he described to me the intractable pain.  Very gently, he told me about the inauguration of Xavier Nuvali. I knew then it wasn’t about the pain.  Propped up with a brace, supported with analgesics and armed with a steely resolve, he braved the trip to Sta. Rosa.  That evening, his nurse informed me that Father Zuloaga had beamed with pride even as he courageously sat through the opening ceremonies for Xavier Nuvali.  I can almost imagine again that faint hint of a smile on his lips as he sat through the inaugural event of what was another long and yet unfinished journey to expand Xavier School.

In the morning of October 9, 2012, after lighting three sticks of incense, I sat in the quiet of the Xavier School Multi-Purpose Center, alone with the remains of Father Zuloaga.  I could not help but remember the words he spoke to me many years back, “Natura non facit saltus”.  I knew it was congruous with the basic tenets of Medicine and I had used the phrase myself to allay the apprehensions of many a nervous patient.  But reflecting on Father Zulo’s life, I realize that it was not only Medicine he was referring to.  “Natura non facit saltus” was a universal truth, a basic tenet of life, a golden rule by which he had lived:  watching us grow through grade school and high school, taking the journey back into China, awaiting the healing of his broken bones, anticipating Xavier Nuvali, and knowing full well he might not be around for the next big Xavier affair.  We had never talked much but the one Latin phrase he had instilled in me was symbolic of his own quiet inner strength—a well lived visionary life of patience and waiting.

When the school bell rang, two young Xavier boys, obviously more curious than they were serious, trotted into the hall, excitedly lit their incense sticks, tried their very best to stay still in front of Fr. Zulo’s photograph for 10 seconds, then giggled their way out.  I stood up, knowing how, like me, these two boys had been lucky enough to have been part of this man’s deliberate patience.

Thank you, Father Zulo.

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