[Homily of Fr. Antonio S. Samson S.J. at the wake mass for Fr. Oscar Millar S.J.]
I was asked to preside at this wake Mass for Fr. Oscar Millar S.J. because I had lived and worked with him at Ateneo de Davao University for a little more than twelve years: from 1987 to 1993 and from December 2004 to early June 2011.
I am really pleased that we have present at this wake Mass nine faculty members from Ateneo de Davao Grade School who have come from Davao to bid farewell to Fr. Millar, their beloved former Headmaster. Knowing how Fr. Millar loved to sing, we have arranged that they will sing three of Fr. Millar’s favorite songs before we bless the Fr. Millar’s remains at the end of this evening’s Mass.
For the past four or five years I have been presiding at an anticipated Sunday Mass on Saturday evening once a month at the Asian Institute of Management chapel. Ricky Jalbuena, perhaps known by some of you, has been a faithful sacristan or assistant chaplain at AIM all these years since the time of the late Fr. Jim Donelan. Ricky faithfully sends out notices on deaths of Jesuits and even on death anniversaries of his deceased Jesuit friends and mentors. Late Wednesday morning I received his text about the death of Fr. Oscar early Wednesdsy morning.
Ricky also noted, “Sadly, Fr. Oscar is the 25th Jesuit who passed away since May 2014.” And he carefully listed all twenty-five deceased Jesuits, beginning with Fr. Joe Smith and ending with Fr. Millar! I even received the same long text twice! Sad indeed but in our Christian faith and hope, good that we have 25 more Jesuits with God to pray for us and our needs and the Church’s and the world’s. Fr. Oscar’s quiet death at age 89 was not unexpected: I visited the Jesuit Wellness Center at the Ateneo campus last January 01 and was told that Fr. Oscar could no longer receive visitors.
After Grade School and High School at Ateneo de Manila, Fr. Millar entered the Society of Jesus at the novitiate then at Padre Faura in July 1943. He did his three-year regency teaching at Ateneo de Zamboanga. After theology at Woodstock College, he was ordained to the priesthood at Fordham University in June 1957.
Upon his return to the Philippines as a priest Fr. Oscar began with short assignments at Xavier University and Ateneo de Zamboanga from 1959 to 1966. At Ateneo de Naga he started as College Dean and Student Counsellor and then as Rector and President from 1972 to 1978. He was Rector of the Jesuit community at Xavier University from 1978 to 1987 and Dean of Arts and Sciences from 1985 to 1987.
His last assignments before coming to the then Lucas Infirmary in mid-2013 were at Ateneo de Davao where he worked since 1987, for twenty-six years, all in Grade School and basic education work. He was Grade School Headmaster from 1987 to 1997, Vice-President for Basic Education Formation from 1997 to 2002, Campus Minister in Basic Education Units from 2003 to 2009 and Grade School Chaplain from 2007 to 2013.
Not really knowing Fr. Oscar but hearing about his work at Naga and Cagayan de Oro, we asked the Jesuit Provincial that Fr. Oscar be assigned as Headmaster of the Grade School at Ateneo de Davao to help out in rather difficult and delicate labor concerns and relationships with the Faculty Union at the Grade School. With the approval of the Jesuit Provincial I remember talking to Fr. Oscar at Boston College in 1987 where he was at a pastoral renewal program about his coming to Ateneo de Davao as Grade School Headmaster.
Fr. Oscar spent all his active years of Jesuit priestly ministry at the three Mindanao Ateneos and Ateneo de Naga, for 54 years. He was Rector or Superior of Jesuit school communties for fifteen years; and school administrator, teacher, guidance counsellor and school chaplain for the other years. If we include his three years as a scholastic in regency at Zamboanga, we have Fr. Oscar dedicating 57 years of his almost 74 years as a Jesuit working in Jesuit schools.
I mentioned that as President of Ateneo de Davao University I had negotiated with the Jesuit Provincial to have Fr. Oscar assigned as Grade School Headmaster: soon after Fr. Millar came to Ateneo de Davao Grade School, we had a strike for a couple of weeks called by the Labor Union of non-teaching staff and the Grade School faculty. As Headmaster of the Grade School. Fr. Oscar was tasked with establishing improved and workable labor relationships with the Grade School faculty. I think that Fr. Oscar did a great job establishing and maintaining better labor relationships with the Grade School faculty: talking with them and establishing credible and friendly relationships.
You will note that his many varied assignments demanded such skill and ease, patience and understanding in human relationships, with fellow Jesuits as local community Superior, with faculty and staff as College President or Dean, as Grade School headmaster or administrator, with faculty, students and parents as guidance counsellor and chaplain.
Fr. Oscar was a good Jesuit in community who enjoyed meals, life and time with his fellow Jesuits. He loved to spend time with faculty, staff and students. He loved sports, especially basketball – are stories true that despite his lack of height he was a good basketball player? He loved the Boston Celtics. I remember that, when I talked to him at Boston College, he was so proud to relate how he met and got to know Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics: Kevin even visited him at Boston College. I never quite understood why Kevin McHale visited him at Boston College!
Fr. Oscar loved to watch an support the basketball teams at Ateneo de Davao, especially the rather successful Small Basketeers at the Milo annual tournaments: he watched Ateneo de Davao basketball teams play at various gyms in Davao or wherever the Milo tournaments were held.
He loved Novak Djokovic and was sure Novak would, as he eventually did, supplant Roger Federer. I forget now how he felt about Serena Williams: I think he preferred Justine Henin.
Fr. Oscar loved to sing and had a rather good singing voice. At school parties, with a little urging, he was more than ready to oblige: among his favorites were “Sometmes,” “What a wonderful world,” and “Today.” The group from Ateneo de Davao will sing these songs at the end of this evening’s Mass.
I know that Fr. Oscar remained close to his Millar family and enjoyed visiting and being with them, as much as they did at his visits. I am familiar with the Dayrits because of the Dayrit boys / men who had studied and worked at the Ateneo de Manila. I know they would greatly miss him.
Today we who have known, lived and worked with Fr. Oscar can testify to how much he appreciated and lived the Jesuit vocation God gave him. Fr. Oscar enjoyed being with people, with family and friends, with fellow workers and associates. He enjoyed community life as a Jesuit. Fr. Oscar enjoyed life and faithfully lived his life as a Jesuit, working hard at whatever he was assigned to, ready to volunteer and be of help to others.
Death, funerals and wakes are for us a celebration and declaration of our faith and hope to join our Lord in his resurrection and in his eternal joyful kingdom in heaven. We join Fr. Oscar in his joyful entry into the heavenly joys where he can enjoy the company of his family, friends and brother-Jesuits and of course of our Blessed Mother and of the Lord Jesus. I suppose he now enjoys the singing choirs of angels.
His last years at the Jesuit Wellness Center must have been difficult, as his mind and memory began to go. It was a great blessing he did not suffer long with worsening dementia.
We rejoice with Fr. Oscar in his welcome to the Father as promised by our Lord at the Last Supper: “Father, since you have given them to me, I want them to be with me where I am and see the Glory you gave me, for you loved me from the foundation of the world.” (Jn 17: 24)
We thank God for his gift of Fr. Oscar to his family, the Society of Jesus and the countless many he so generously served as a Jesuit priest and educator.
May God give his soul eternal joyful rest and bless us all.