Memorial Mass for Fr. Felipe Ortiz, S.J.

The following homily was delivered by School President, Fr. Aristotle Dy, S.J., during the memorial mass for Fr. Felipe Ortiz, S.J., last May 19, 2016 at the Mary the Queen Parish.

Three years ago, as I completed my PhD studies in London, I asked permission from my Jesuit superiors to visit the Ignatian places in Spain before returning to Manila. It was a very meaningful trip, not least because I included Bilbao in the itinerary just so I could visit Fr. Ortiz. I spent a few days with him, seeing the Jesuit university where he lived, the church where he served, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Begoña that is so special to Basque Catholics. Fr. Ortiz was born on her feast day, October 8.

After praying at the Basilica, we rested at a small café, exchanging stories and reminiscing about his days in the Philippines. In his early 20s, he volunteered for the China mission and after pronouncing first vows as a Jesuit, arrived in Manila in 1951 to be prepared for the China mission. By that time, many of the Jesuits in China had already taken refuge in Manila. The young Felipe Ortiz continued his training for the China mission, learning Chinese for three years and teaching for a year in Taiwan, not knowing that he would never be sent to China. He studied theology at Mirador in Baguio and after ordination, began his priestly ministry at Sacred Heart School in Cebu. After fourteen years there from 1963 to 1977, he came to Xavier School where he served for 18 years until he returned to Spain in 1996 to do pastoral work there.

As has often been said, China’s loss is the Philippines’ gain because the China-bound Jesuits turned their attention instead to evangelizing the Chinese in the Philippines.

Father Ortiz was many things to many people—pelota and football player, guidance counselor, CLC moderator for both students and faculty, spiritual adviser to the Mary the Queen Youth Circle and the Alay sa Diyos community–but perhaps most of all, friend and spiritual companion to so many. Someone shared on Facebook that he felt truly listened to whenever he conversed with Fr Ortiz, and many concurred. Fr. Ortiz spent a lot of his time with people, giving himself so generously to the communities he was asked to shepherd. He was a classic missionary, unencumbered by baggage from his native family, friends, and community; such that he could give himself totally to his mission.

For Xaverians a generation ago, we can only appreciate in hindsight what a gift it was to have foreign Jesuits like Fr. Ortiz as our mentors in school. I always felt that he took us seriously in his own unique way. If he ever thought or felt I was being young and silly, he never showed it. I will never forget the time when I was Prefect of the CLC, and we had a scheduled meeting to review our statutes. It was a Saturday morning and I was biking to school when I had a little accident and fell from my bike while cruising downhill on M.A. Reyes Street. I sustained injuries in my arms and face, and had to walk home, where my mom attended to me and kept me at home. Well, before I knew it, my CLC officers had found out and proposed to push through with the meeting… in my bedroom! In no time at all, they were in the house, and no less than the Moderator, Fr. Ortiz, was with them!

I don’t remember at all what was so important that we had to discuss it that very day, but in my heart I have an enduring image of Fr Ortiz sitting by my bedside, facilitating a meeting where my presence and input was deemed too important to miss.

That was the kind of attention Fr Ortiz was capable of, but he too was also the subject of much attention. I learned later that the ladies thought he looked like Robert de Niro or Al Pacino, so they took an interest in the Retreat in Daily Life that Fr Ortiz organized for the teachers. I say this tongue in cheek, but I guess they enjoyed talking to him, and that served as an entry point for him to teach them Ignatian prayer. To this day, I still meet people who share with me that they did 19th Annotation or 8-day retreats with Fr Ortiz, and what a difference it has made in their lives.

Both students and faculty learned Ignatian prayer from the sessions with Fr Ortiz. He even trained some in the Alay sa Diyos community to become retreat guides themselves. Fr Ortiz kept himself abreast of the new insights in Ignatian spirituality that were beginning to spread in the late 80s, and readily shared it with the people around him. That, I would suggest, is his enduring legacy. He was also a tough administrator in his final years at Xavier, but we remember him best as our spiritual mentor and friend.

It must be said also that our time with Fr Ortiz was never only about praying quietly in the comfort of our chapels. He was with us too for youth assemblies in Baguio or Cavite, and most importantly, as Campus Minister he was with us in our outreach projects. We had an annual Christmas drive for the poor, visits to charitable institutions, disaster relief work, and he was always there, modeling the mercy of God for the poorest of the poor.

The Jesuit value that for me best exemplifies Fr Ortiz is magis, because he gave himself so totally to the mission that he understood to be God’s will for him; he strove for excellence in all that he did; and he always pursued the more that could be done to bring people closer to Christ.

Let me end with a prayer of gratitude for the gift that Father Felipe Ortiz was to our community:

God of endless ages, from one generation to the next you have been our refuge and strength. Before the mountains were born or the earth came to be, you are God. Have mercy now on your servant Felipe, whose long life was spent in your service. Give him a place in your kingdom, where hope is firm for all who love and rest is sure for all who serve. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

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