A MAN OF MANY FACETS – FR HEDWIG LEWIS, S.J.
By Rappai Poothokaren, S.J.
[This article was
published in Spanish in Alboan’s monthly magazine “GUJERAT” in its issue of
March 2007.] The following version in English was published in The Ahmedabad
Missionary, No 818, April 2009]
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 a Master’s Degree in English Literature and another 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 President of St. Xavier’s University College, Ahmedabad, he spread his benign presence among the students and staff. He also reached out to the business world giving training in Human Resource Development to executives in industry.
In June 1995 he underwent a triple 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 University college, so he dedicated himself almost fully to 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
As seen above, the versatility of the man is incredible. The focus is on human beings – how to improve the quality of their life – physical, intellectual, psychological and spiritual. The result has been a wide spectrum of readers in different parts of the world, who treasure his writings.
I interviewed him in his room/office, spartan, but well organized. The computer took 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 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 – like the experience of the Apostles. 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’ is 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”. It was translated into Spanish (14 editions), Gujarati, Malayalam and Kannada.
I asked him where the inspiration for his writing comes from. He told me that his counselling sessions, retreats and books 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 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 book 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 write on his own musings, a collection poems, short stories... He does not at all feel compelled to write and publish. He told me that he simply goes by the inspirations that come his way – from what he reads, finds in the internet, discovers in his interaction with people, or even paintings….
I came away with a feeling that hard work, grit, creativity and a desire to reach out to people can take one far, very far, in spite of great obstacles.