Feb 27, 2008

Farewell, John Felice

John Felice died last month at the age of 84. He was the founder of Loyola's Rome Center, a former Jesuit, a teacher, British Intelligence in World War II, Director of the Rome Center, and even the Dean of Students. He was larger than life to those who knew him--a man whose ability to give of himself knew no bounds.

He meant a lot of things to a lot of people, but he meant the world to me because he was one of my dearest friends.

I met John Felice in 1990 when I spent my junior year abroad at Loyola's Rome Center. I later had the honor of working at the Rome Center with him for two years as a resident assistant, and then for two additional years from Loyola's Lakeshore campus in Chicago as the Rome Center admission counselor, working to bolster flagging attendance at the Rome Center. John and his wife Kate were generous enough to look after me as I worked out what I wanted to do with myself and, quite frankly, as I grew up a bit (finally).

There was a time in my life when I was convinced that John Felice knew everyone on the planet--or at least one person in every town. I'd stop by his office in the Rome Center to say hello and he'd ask me where I was going for the weekend. I could mention some obscure town in Eastern Czechoslovakia, and he would exclaim "Oh! I know the mayor", pick up his phone, grab his dog-eared address book, punch in a few numbers, and before I knew it he'd set me up with a private tour of the ancient monastery on the edge of town.

That was just the way that John was--he knew people all over the world--including government officials and even several popes! And almost every last one of these friends would drop everything to do him a favor, even if it meant hopping on a plane and flying halfway around the world.

I am deeply humbled to count myself as one of those people.

John served his life as a "man for others" (in the true Jesuit sense of the phrase). Almost everyone who knows John Felice would say that they're indebted to him for one or more things he's done for them. In this selfish world of "me me me", it's more and more difficult to find a person like John Felice. He really did give his life for Loyola's Rome Center (now the John Felice Rome Center), and would do whatever it took to help someone out, whether it was to lend an ear, offer advice, a shoulder to cry on, or to grease the rusty wheels of the Italian Bureaucracy. Often was the time that he would help someone out when they neither realized they needed it, nor did they want it--many was the time when he gave me a swift kick in the backside that I didn't realize I needed (or deserved!) until a much later date.

I owe both John Felice and the Rome Center a priceless debt of gratitude for everything they did for me.

John took a lot of things very seriously--religion, education, respect, and justice to name a few, but he loved life, his students, and his colleagues and employees. And John had a wicked sense of humor: he was the master of the whispered aside and would frequently say something quietly--so only you could hear it--that would cause you to do a double take or break out into laughter. He knew it too--he'd crack wise and he'd purse his lips and shoot his eyebrows up as if to say "I did not just say that, did I?".

But he was an incredibly stubborn man and had a short temper when it came to juvenile behavior or rule breakers. I've heard stories from many alums about the student (or students!) that John Felice sent home for some infraction of the rules of the Rome Center. My personal favorite is the time he awoke from his first open heart surgery to discover the doctor that had operated on him was none other than a student that he had thrown out of the Rome Center years before. And while I saw some of that fire in him on occasion, I have the distinct impression that age and experience had a mellowing effect on him. Everyone who spent more than five minutes with John Felice surely has a story to tell about him. Having known him for eighteen years, I could tell stories for days and days, but I won't. Those are my stories, and I'll hold them dear to my heart for the rest of my life.

Goodbye John. You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. Hail and farewell.


Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.
Quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum.
Heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

1 comment:

Karl Fogel said...

A beautiful memorial, Fitz; my condolences. I never met him, but somehow (based on your descriptions of him over the years) I think he would have liked that you closed with a poem in Latin.