LIVES OF GREAT MEN…
*Fr. Hedwig Lewis, S.J.*
Fr Arthur Pinto
The Ahmedabad Missionary (TAM) February 2004
As I flipped though the pages of India Today, March 1, 2004 – The High and Mighty – I was hoping to find some familiar names and faces in the Power List 2004. The Ambani brothers and others among the fifty Power People were familiar names. I was missing Power People from our own religious community, “men and women who exercised their clout behind the scenes either visibly or quietly but always effectively”. But they were absent; a note from the editor states, “we have eliminated godmen and spiritual leaders of any kind”.
I was inspired, then, to look around for Power People in our religious communities, precisely here in Gujarat: men and women who have made a lasting impact, while remaining away from the limelight. The lead article in the February issue of The Ahmedabad Missionary highlighted the contributions of one such man of substance, Fr Lopez de Pariza Jose M. As the author pointed out: “Zeal was interwoven in every sinew in him and hardships were accepted on the stride because his sense of service knew no bounds” (TAM February 2004)
My search for another in this category was not difficult. After talking to a few people I zeroed in on Fr Hedwig Lewis. I myself knew him a little, but I had heard much about him, so having decided to write this piece I thought that it would be best to interview Fr. Lewis himself. When I told him of the purpose of my visit he reacted: “Why waste your time!” but soon obliged by displaying on his computer screen some biographical information from his own website (http://joygift.tripod.com).
Fr Lewis completed his S.S.C. in Bombay, then joined the Society of Jesus in Gujarat (1964). It was during his Jesuit formation that he equipped himself for the “magis” in his life. He did exceptionally well at college (MA at MSU, Baroda).
He was appointed to the Arts Faculty at St Xavier’s College as lecturer in English after his priestly ordination in 1977. He also took over as Director of the Xavier Institute of Languages. Given his multifarious talents, he initiated several activities for the students. He started the Saturday cultural activities, Culfest, Value Education, Career orientation programmes, campus interviews, and counselling. More, he spent his evenings and late-nights in offering Spiritual Direction to mainly prenovices, but also seminarians (for several years he would come to the Minor Seminary at Mirzapur every Friday evening for Spiritual Direction), and religious. Fr Lewis never cribbed his time and was available to all and sundry. He spent several of his summer vacations substituting for Parish Priests in Anklao, Nadiad, Jhagadia. He also directed several retreats during the year, including one for non-Christian Arts faculty members, and conducted Personal Growth Labs for managers in corporations.
In 1984 he was appointed Vice-Principal of the College. He took a two-year 'sabbatical' (1985-87) in the U.S., where he enrolled for his second Master's degree (in HRD), but also served as assistant pastor in two parishes, and taught a course on The Art of Prayer at a Catholic College. In 1988 he was given an additional responsibility: Rector of the College community. In 1991 he was appointed Principal of SX College.
As Principal, his approach was "people oriented". He encouraged lay-staff participation. He got the office-staff to work more efficiently. He sought to inculcate the "Xavier's spirit" by publishing a booklet entitled The Xavier Character (also in Gujarati) which was given to each new student with the admission form. This booklet was later integrated in the "Prospectus" of the College. He organized seminars on The Jesuit Characteristics of Education for the reaching staff, and had follow-up meetings.
Fr Lewis was honoured in 1993 by the All India Association for Christian Higher Education (AIACHE), with the Rev T. A. Mathias Award for Innovative College Teachers. The citation read: "This prestigious national award is a mark of AIACHE’S recognition of his devotion to academic excellence, introduction of educational innovations, concern for the integrated development of students and commitment to high standards of professional ethics."
Fr Lewis' life took a drastic turn in 1995. He underwent a heart By-pass surgery in June, and he was struck by a neurological disorder in October. Eventually he had to resign from his post as principal and even as a faculty member. Many others would have probably said: “but why me”! But for Fr. Lewis it was a challenge, a new beginning a fresh opportunity. “I have tremendous trust in the providence of God,” says Fr Lewis. He knew the Lord would take care of him and the prayer of St Ignatius “Take and Receive” became his strength and inspiration. “I have never prayed for the cure of my sickness,” he confided, “But I always ask the Lord for healing." Fr Joe Braganza, his senior by many years says: “ Fr Hedwig Lewis did not allow his illness to break his spirit”.
It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and Fr Lewis took up the pen as a powerful weapon to counter the un-spiritual values prevailing in society and to make an impact in various fields of life. A compulsive reader and prolific writer, Fr Lewis has over the past several years edited magazines (Apostles of Gujarat, Ave...) authored research papers and books that have touched where healing and change were most needed. Before his illness he had published three books. One of them, At Home With God (1991) was translated into Spanish and is in its 9th edition presently. Fr Lewis produced 16 more books during his period of illness, beside other publications.
Thus, even though partially incapacitated, he opened up to new possibilities, to be counted among those “men and women who exercise their clout behind the scenes visibly or quietly but always effectively”. He does still meet people and counsel them and he spends the bulk of his time and wisdom preparing manuscripts for his next publication. And all in all, he still finds time for his religious community, his friends and for his admirers.
Politicians form a genre of their own and excluding them from among the High and Mighty may be justified. Godmen and spiritual leaders are another group and putting them all in the same basket is probably unjustified. There are godmen and spiritual leaders who are quacks and there are godmen and spiritual leaders of high calibre and such men surely need to be recognized and counted. This piece is an effort by TAM to recognize one such and count him among the High and Mighty!
A Jesuit Author of International Repute:
In recent years he is not seen in public and yet he is an internationally known author. He remains confined to his room or to the house library and yet he is a much sought after spiritual counsellor. He is hardly seen in conversation with his friends and yet he is communicating with the whole world through his own website (http://joygift.tripod.com) and the internet.
He is not proud of his achievements and yet I am proud of my novice companion. He is Fr Hedwig Lewis, SJ of Gujarat Province of the Society of Jesus. We did our noviciate and Gujarati language studies together at Mount Abu, Rajasthan for three years.
Fr Hedwig Lewis was born in Mumbai on October 19, 1945 to devout parents Mr Placid Lewis & Mrs Mary Lewis of Goan origin. Being in touch with Gujarat Jesuits he entered the Jesuit noviciate at Mount Abu in 1964 just after his matriculation in Mumbai.
During his Jesuit formation and priestly studies Fr Lewis did his MA with English literature from the MS University, Vadodara. He was ordained a priest in 1977 and then joined St Xavier’s College at Ahmedabad as lecturer in English.
Being a resourceful person with many talents and qualities Fr Lewis initiated several extra curricular activities and personality development programmes for the college students like Saturday cultural activities, value education, counselling, etc. He has also conducted programmes for managers in the corporate world.
He became the Vice-Principal of the College in 1984. Then he took a sabbatical break in 1985-87 to do his second MA in Human Resource Development from the American International College in Springfield, Mass., USA. He also served as Assistant Pastor in two parishes, as well as taughty in a Catholic college there. On his return Fr Lewis was appointed Rector of the College Jesuit community in 1988 and then, Principal of the College in 1991.
In recognition of his educational innovations the All India Association for Christian Higher Education (AIACHE) honoured Fr Lewis with the Rev T. A. Mathias Award. The Award citation reads: “This prestigious national award is a mark of AIACHE’S recognition of his devotion to academic excellence, introduction of educational innovations, concern for the integrated development of students and commitment to high standards of professional ethics.”
Fr Lewis was successful in imparting the Jesuit Charism to the college staff and students alike especially through his booklet “The Xavier Character” which was later integrated in the prospectus of the College. He has also served the College as Director of the Xavier Institute of Languages and also as the Director of the Xavier Centre for Human Resource Development.
In June 1995 Fr Lewis under went open heart surgery and later in October suffered a neurological disorder which forced him to leave his teaching carrier. The incapacitating sickness could not defeat the spirit of ad majorem dei gloriam in Fr Lewis and he launched into a new career of writing.
While studying theology at Vidya Jyoti, New Delhi Fr Lewis edited “Ave” and now he edits “Navajuni” a quarterly publication of the Jesuit Parivar (family) in Gujarat.
Fr Lewis is well-known in the English and Spanish speaking world as a popular author especially in spirituality and counselling. His first book “At Home With God” (1991) has run into several editions including nine editions in Spanish. His books “Fun With Words” and “How to Study” are popular especially among school and university students. He has 19 books to his credit and many of them fetched good reviews in many Church newspapers and periodicals.
A MAN OF MANY FACETS
– FR HEDWIG LEWIS, S.J.
By Rappai Poothokaren, S.J.
The Ahmedabad Missionary, No 818, April 2009
Twenty-six books published in twenty-five years, 20 of them in the last dozen years – Fr Hedwig Lewis is a prolific writer! Many of his books have been translated into different languages – Spanish, Lithuanian, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu. “En Casa Con Dios”, his first book translated into Spanish in 1996, went into 14 editions in ten years. His book “Body Language”, published by SAGE, was recently translated and published in Malayalam. It will soon be published in five other Indian languages. His 27th book, “Living Passionately – Challenges for Personality Development and Effective Relationships”, is in the press. Hedwig has also written numerous articles for magazines in India and abroad. [This book was released in June 2009, with the total number of books rising to 27, and one more in the press].
Born in Mumbai, from parents who were originally from Goa, Hedwig joined the Society of Jesus in Gujarat in 1964. Besides his long years of priestly studies, he has Master’s Degrees in English Literature and in Human Resource Development, from the USA.
Hedwig was primarily an educationist. He not only taught students in the classroom, but strived to develop them as human beings psychologically and spiritually. As counsellor to university students, as hostel rector, as principal of St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, he spread his benign presence among the students and staff. He also reached out to the business world giving training in HRD to executives in industry. He was honoured with the Rev T. A. Mathias Award for Innovative College Teachers by the All India Association for Christian Higher Education (AIACHE) in 1993.
In June 1995 he underwent cardiac by-pass surgery, and in October that year was struck with Meige’s Syndrome – a neurological disorder that causes incessant and involuntary movements of the arms and head.
Not one to be cowed down by the ups and downs of life, Hedwig continued his work unabated. His condition did not allow him to continue his educational Mission in the College, so he dedicated himself almost fully to the “intellectual apostolate” – writing and publishing books, which he had started earlier, even in the busy years of University teaching and administration.
His publications are on wide-ranging subjects, and fall under several categories:
-Spirituality: Retreat guides, Prayer manuals, Ignatian spirituality.
-Skill-building: Body Language, Study methods, Word-games, Careers.
-Biography: Challenged persons, Missionaries, Saints.
-Inspirational: collections of stories, poems, quotes.
-History of the Church in Gujarat.
-Festive: Christmas, Valentine's Day.
-There is also an e-book on the earthquake that devastated Gujarat.
As these categories reveal, the versatility of the man is incredible. His works are “person-centred”, with the focus on how to improve the quality of life – physical, intellectual, psychological and spiritual. A wide spectrum of readers in different parts of the world, treasure his writings.
I interviewed him in his living room, spartan, but well organized. The computer takes the centre place on his uncluttered table. He seems to operate in the ‘brave, new paperless age’ of ‘writing’! It is hard for him to talk at length because of his ailment. But we are old friends, and communicate easily.
I asked him what he found was most satisfying in his Mission of writing. He told me that the feedback that he receives from Jesuits and others after reading his books encourages him very much to continue writing and publishing. He added, with a smile, “It is not easy to receive praise and appreciation from Jesuits!” Some of his books are in public libraries, and he sometimes gets feedback from very unknown and unexpected quarters. He also corresponds regularly with admirers from across the globe.
He told me that he found the writing of books a very enriching experience. In the case of some books especially he clearly experienced the Spirit moving him, urging him, as well as the Providence of God. The inspiration, the right materials, the flow of the book, etc… just happen. There is the sweat, of course! But he had the distinct feeling that ‘Another’ was moving him from above. As a feedback he received put it, “your books are inspired, hence inspiring.” This experience was very strong while writing one of his first and most popular books, “At Home With God” (1991). It was translated into Malayalam, Spanish, Lithuanian, and Telugu.
I asked him where the inspiration for his writing comes from. He told me that his counselling sessions, courses, retreats, books, the internet… trigger off the inspiration. When something strikes him, he pursues the idea with great tenacity – reading up, gathering material, consulting people and researching.
Hedwig uses the tools of modern communication effectively. Internet is an incredibly vast ocean of information, data and inspiration. He browses, gathers, sifts, organizes and classifies the resources available in e-space, and uses them creatively. On Jesuit history and saints he seeks help from Jesuit confreres all over the world, and their support has been wonderful.
Hedwig even ‘published’ an e-book, available to all in e-space! “Ramblings Over Rumblings”. He describes the books as, “‘Word-pictures’ of the devastating earthquake in Gujarat (26 January 2001) that capture significant scenes – like photographs in a family album, which are preserved for posterity”.
I asked him about his future plans. He has plans to complete several unfinished manuscripts… He does not at all feel any compulsion to write and publish, but goes by the inspiration of the moment or the appeal of significant events in the Society of Jesus. Presently, though, he is working on a biography of the Venerable Bernard Francis de Hoyos SJ, the pioneer apostle of the Sacred Heart in Spain, who will be beatified in the spring of 2010…
I came away with a feeling that hard work, grit, creativity and a desire reach out to people can take one far, very far, in spite of great obstacles.
HEDWIG LEWIS AS AUTHOR
[A paper entitled “The Contribution of Hedwig Lewis, An Indian Writer in English”, presented by Fr Varghese Paul SJ at: National Seminar on INDIAN LITERATURES IN ENGLISH: NEW DIRECTIONS, NEW POSSIBILITIES, Pondicherry Central University, Pondicherry, 20-21 March 2014].
(Yet to be published)