Not all priests are funny guys. I don’t know how they do it, those that do, live these lives of celibacy I mean, but there are those priests that do.
Attending St. John’s College at the high school level between 1959 and 1963, I honestly cannot recall coming into contact with any priest or scholastic that gave off funny vibes. In fact, the principal of S.J.C. in 1961, before Hurricane Hattie, Fr. Francis Cull, S. J., ran away with the S.J.C. secretary, and they got married and lived in the States until he died recently. There was the case of the pastor at St. Ignatius Church, Frank Stobie, S. J., who fell in love with his secretary, but I don’t know how that worked out. There was one scholastic at S.J.C., Alvin Roy, S.J., who had many female admirers in the city, and there was gossip about him. But I don’t know how things worked out for him.
When we students came back to S.J.C. to begin the 1961/62 school year, and in those days before the historic holiday change in 1964 the new school year began in June or July probably, we heard Fr. Cull had split with the secretary. Hurricane Hattie busted up Belize just three or four months later, and all our lives changed dramatically.
I was 14 years old when Hattie struck, and 14 is a time when the male hormones are firing like crazy. The destruction of the housing in the city meant that there were many more situations during the course of the day, and night, when a young teenager like me would be in exciting proximity to girls of my run. Post-Hattie Belize City was like that – sexually exciting.
At S.J.C. we students had to attend Mass at the Fordyce Memorial Chapel at 11 every morning before we went home for lunch. Most times before he eloped, it had been Fr. Cull who said those Masses. He preached fiery sermons. I was a young kid and would take Holy Communion. One of my classmates from those days said to me a few years ago that he and everybody else thought I was going to become a priest. I am sure he was making fun of me, because no one can know where you’re going when you’re that age.
Anyway, the man who was doing all the preaching runs away with a lady in the summer of 1961, then Hurricane Hattie turns everything topsy-turvy, and now I’m turning 15 in 1962. As best as I can recall, it was at the end of the 1961/62 school year, I’m 15, when Fr. Thomas Donovan, S. J., who was in charge of our Sodality, proposes the priesthood to me, right after a three-day closed retreat on the S.J.C. campus. I was absolutely terrified. Thing is, he said he thought that’s what God wanted for me. I don’t think Donovan was a bad guy; he thought he was doing right.
I remember being stressed out for two or three days, before I decided to visit John Stochl, S. J., at the old S.J.C. Extension building at the southern part of the Swing Bridge. Stochl was my English teacher. I explained the pressure that Donovan had brought on me. I don’t remember what Stochl said, but it was enough to calm me. I was grateful to him.
No man is perfect, and my personal feeling is that, beneath his cool veneer, Stochl had a bit of a cruel streak in him. He would make fun of you sometimes. But he was a good guy, and I am sure that he was a perfect celibate. As I said, I don’t know how those guys do it, those that do, and I would swear Stochl was one of them.
He was, of course, a Jesuit, and these men are total warriors for their religion. I remember when I was leaving for Dartmouth in 1965 and trying to decide which courses to take in my first term. I wanted to take philosophy, and Father John recommended against it. He said it might cause me to lose my faith. Truth is, my faith was already becoming shaky at the time.
As most of you know, when I came home from university in America in 1968 I came home radicalized, and I publicly criticized the curricula in the Catholic schools. The Catholic faithful began to view me as an ingrate, and as an inveterate enemy, but my revolutionary views never caused any kind of change in the friendly relationship I had with John Stochl.
Around 1986 or so, when my second son, Cordel, ran into discipline problems at Wesley College, I felt no hesitation in asking Fr. John to take him in at S.J.C. He did this promptly. He was a big man about the whole deal. He never tried to make me beholden to him. But I was grateful. He knew that.
The story which I think classic and I would like to tell you about me and Stochl occurred one evening at the Lord’s Ridge Cemetery. This would have been maybe twenty years or so ago. He was officiating at the graveside for a funeral I was attending, and the adult family members were passing the children over the open grave. This is a roots African custom, or perhaps it is only Garifuna, but my sense is that it is both Garifuna and roots Creole. (Someone has even told me that the Maya do it. I don’t know.) I went up to Stochl and spoke to him privately and sternly, as if I were lecturing him. “You, Father Stochl, I will report you to the Bishop,” I said. “You are encouraging necromancy.” My face was serious, but Stochl knew I was kidding him. He broke into a grin, and that is probably how most of his Belizean students and friends will remember him – the pleasant priest. He was a good guy, and we liked him a lot.
I’m glad that Stretch Lightburn took me to the S.J.C. Faculty Building on the Landivar campus to see him before he left for retirement in St. Louis. This would have been like late last year or early this year. Stretch told me the old Stochl really didn’t want to leave Belize. The Jesuits insisted, and one of the Jesuit vows is obedience. In Belize, I think, Father John would have still been alive. He was happy here.
In closing, I want you to know that he was the one who did all the beautiful landscaping on the southern side of the S.J.C. campus and in the St. Martin De Porres schoolyard on Partridge Street. Stochl loved trees, especially flamboyants. How can you not like a man who cherishes flamboyants?
Rest in peace, Fr. John. You were a good and faithful servant to your God and your faith. Maximum respect, and much appreciation.