Fr. Jessie M. Hechanova, CICM, Ph.D.
6th President of Saint Louis University
On August 20, 2005, the administration, faculty, employees, and students of Saint Louis University together with government officials and representatives from the religious community and other educational institutions witnessed the Investiture Ceremony of Fr. Jessie M. Hechanova, CICM as the sixth President of Saint Louis University. He is also the first Filipino citizen to hold the highest position in the University. Fr “Jess,” as he prefers to be called, chose the slogan “A mission to transform” as his leadership banner to rally and guide SLU’s institutional life for the coming years of his presidency.
“Let us be a community ablaze with faith in our mission and let us work and journey together to accomplish this dream: ‘SLU: A mission to transform’.”
- From the inaugural address of Fr Jessie M. Hechanova, CICM, on 20 August 2005.
Rev. Fr. Jessie Hechanova was born to Paterno Hechanova Sr. and Alice Pastrana Morana on December 22, 1949 in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Twenty years after, he entered the Brothers of the Christian Schools. In 1979, he took his first vows in CICM, and later he served as a Deacon in Yaounde, Cameroun, Africa in 1982. It was on February 12, 1983 when he was finally ordained a priest in Ogbere, Nigeria, where he took his CICM internship.
Fr. Jess’s academic preparation reveals comprehensiveness and excellence. He was a Jose Rizal First Honor Awardee when he graduated Bachelor of Science in Education major in Natural Sciences at De La Salle University in 1972. He also finished his Bachelor of Arts major in Philosophy in the same year and the same University, where he received the highest mark in oriental philosophy. In 1982, he completed his Bachelor of Science in Theology at Ecole Theologique St. Cyprien in Cameroun, Africa. Quite commendably, his zeal for academic excellence is always motivated by his passion for the mission.
Fr. Jess took up Master of Arts in Education at the De La Salle University, majoring in Guidance and Counseling, where he graduated in 1974. He also took other postgraduate studies on topics such as the Contemporary Issues on Theology, Spirituality, and Community Development at the Asian Social Institute in Manila in 1985, at the Mater Ecclesiae Center in Galilee, Israel in 1995, and at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 2005. In 2004, Fr. Jess completed his Doctor of Philosophy, major in Educational Management, magna cum laude, at Saint Louis University, with a dissertation on formative evaluation of University modular programs.
From 2001-2004 he was a member of the Ad-Hoc committee on Internationalization and Interculturality in Rome. In 2011-2012 Fr Jess was a member of the pre-capitular committee tasked to prepare important documents and procedures for the 2012 CICM general council election in Rome. At present, he is the chairman of the Provincial Committee on Education of CICM-Philippines.
Father Jess’ curriculum vitae reflects an inspiring story of a man on a mission. His professional and pastoral involvement in the academe shows a broad breadth of work exposure. In the mid 70s, he served as Guidance Counselor in La Salle High School in Lipa Batangas, and in the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod. Later, he taught at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod and De La Salle University in Manila. He then devoted his time as the Vocation Director of the De La Salle Brothers of the Philippines from 1978-1979.
It was in 1984 when Fr. Jess became the Dean of Studies in Maryhurst Seminary in Baguio City. However, in 1987, he went back to Africa to be the Parish Priest of Koza, North Cameroun. When he came back to Baguio City in 1995, he labored as the Chaplain of SLU Laboratory Elementary and High Schools. In 1997, Fr. Jess assumed the presidency of Saint Mary’s University in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, whose employees remember him to be down-to-earth and a hands-on leader. And to this day, employees and students of SLU are also privileged to experience the same admirable leadership qualities of Fr. Jess's transformative presidency .
The administration, employees, students, alumni, and partner institutions of SLU support and wish Fr Jessie M. Hechanova, CICM, president of SLU, all the best.
Homily of Fr Jessie M HECHANOVA, CICM, during the thanksgiving mass held at the SLU chapel on the occasion of his 30th sacerdotal anniversary last 12 February 2013.
Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining in this Eucharistic celebration. Social Conventions or traditions on anniversary celebrations usually designate, diamond for seventy five years, gold for fifty years, silver for twenty five years , and pearl for thirty years.
Thirty years ago, I was ordained missionary priest by our local Bishop in a small remote town of Ogbere, Nigeria. I was, then, the first Filipino CICM to be ordained in a foreign mission territory. Together with a small Filipino community of engineers, teachers and doctors and the whole village of Ogbere, we celebrated, in a simple but meaningful way.
On the occasion of this pearl sacerdotal anniversary, it is most fitting to look back and give thanks ,first, for that seminal event and for all the blessings that followed , whether these blessings came in the form of joy and achievement or pain and failure .
Anniversaries are indeed occasions to give thanks for the significant original events in our lives, such as birthdays, marriage, engagements, vows or ordinations .These are opportune moments to acknowledge all the significant persons , family , friends, colleagues and communities who have nurtured and supported us in our journey to be faithful to the meaning and significance of these important events.
This afternoon I take this opportunity therefore to raise a prayer of gratitude to God for the wonderful gift of life and the CICM missionary priesthood; to my deceased parents , my family and relatives, my CICM confreres, my colleagues in the academic community in SLU, SMU,USLT, SLCSF, SLCC; and, to all beloved friends especially those present today and those who could not make it. Damo nga salamat guid.
It is also appropriate that today’s gospel reading is about pearls. I think we all know that pearls are produced inside shelled mollusks such as oysters ,when parasites (microscopic intruders ) enter the mollusks.
As a reaction to these unwanted and irritating intruders, the mollusk excretes and envelopes these irritants with the chemical calcium carbonate. The calcium carbonate slowly hardens and finally becomes a pearl. Know therefore that those wearing pearl earrings and necklaces, are, in fact, wearing hardened calcium carbonate.
Natural pearls are of course considered rare and valuable not only because of their beauty but also because of the length of time it takes to produce them .As such , Jesus used the image of pearls to teach people about the kingdom of God.
The parables of the treasure hidden in a field as well as that of the rich merchant searching for precious pearls , and sacrificing everything to get hold of it , symbolize man’s quest for what is considered essential and precious in life.
The history of our human civilization is replete with stories of the quest for the so called pearl of great price . Cyrus the Great of Persia , Alexander the Great of Macedonia ,the Roman Julius Caesar, Constantine the great, Emperor Charlemagne , Genghis Khan , Napoleon Bonaparte and many more remarkable persons spent their whole lives conquering vast territories and kingdoms, subjugating peoples and cultures as they search for glory, wealth, prestige and fame, their so called pearl of great price.
Today their vast kingdoms have disappeared, their wealth dissipated. And the only remnants of their so called claim to fame and glory are but just several paragraphs in our history books in libraries.
On the one hand, these very brave but very dead men of history , are now replaced with modern searchers or questors, not necessarily equal to their stature, but searching just the same , for that pearl of great price of wealth , fame and power . On the other hand, other significant men like Abraham, Laotzu, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, also spent most of their lives searching for their own pearl of great price .Voluminous books have been written about their inspiring exploits and search for God and meaning.
Today , millions of their followers including us , are guided in our life’s journey by the words of wisdom and the extra ordinary quality of life of these remarkable persons. Jesus, the son of God and son of Mary and Joseph, had given his very own life for this pearl of great price more than two thousand years ago.
This afternoon the same question will have to be asked of each one of us . What is this pearl of great price, that I should be preoccupied with, that demands from me total dedication, focus and energy? Is it wealth, health, status, fame, power, security, family, friends, career, or is it God as I understand Him to be ?
For many postmodern men, this pearl of great price refers mostly to material opulence and security , self fulfillment and gratification, absolute freedom and the like.
It is sad to note that many people of this generation specially the young , spend their whole energy and time searching constantly for material wealth and pleasures or comfort, only to end up feeling empty and frustrated when finally they realize they have wasted their lives searching for the non-essential things and realities of life that do not finally give true happiness and peace.
Consequently, I do believe that one of the most important challenges for catholic Universities like SLU is to teach our young people what and how to search for the most essential in life as early as possible to avoid regrets and wasted lives .
I would like to presume that most, if not all, of us here present, have already arrived at the conclusion that God and His kingdom indeed is our pearl of great price. At least, intellectually, we have come to think and believe so, although perhaps not so convincingly.
There is a difficulty and struggle, however, when it comes to our willingness and capacity to sell everything we have to buy this pearl of great price. Although we mentally affirm God and His reign as the most important realities in our lives, we seem not to fully understand the concept and the consequences of this affirmation.
More importantly we regularly fall short in our efforts to truly and faithfully manifest in our daily life and behaviors that God and His reign indeed is our true treasure , our pearl of great price . Around ninety percent of our Philippine population call themselves Christians, and do affirm that God is the most important reality in their lives. Yet our country is also ranked among the top countries in corruption index. Certainly something does not jibe. What is, at least, mentally affirmed, seems not to have the appropriate concrete personal and social behavioral expressions.
Honestly and admittedly in our daily lives , we do easily lose our single-mindedness , and focus , on what is truly essential . We do get bogged down most often with so many non-consequentials and trivialities in our lives.
We spend so much energy , resources , time and emotions in things ,events and situations which ultimately have none or little significance and of no real consequence in our journey towards union with God, the ultimate goal of our Christian life. Life in our postmodern society is cluttered with such varied demands and activities of all sorts , from spending hours everyday with I-phones, Ipad, with Facebook or twitter doing electronic strip tease, exposing ourselves in public or finding out who and what is being exposed in other people’s Facebook pages, fretting about our physical health, fitness and appearances, aimlessly watching all sorts of TV programs and movies, etc. I wonder though where the search for the pearl of great price in all of these activities is!
It is also sad to say that many of our church leaders spend so much time and passion burying the pearl of great price under the rubble of old and indefensible traditions and practices. As a result , we as church, seem to have become so slow and so deaf and blind to what the Holy Spirit is presently challenging us to do in response to the needs of postmodern men .
The late Cardinal Martini, one of the promising candidates to the papacy, acknowledged before he died recently that the official Catholic Church is at least 300 years behind and had become a fearful church. I believe it to mean that our official Church is fearful to lose its line of traditions and old practices if it opens herself to change among others. The fear reveals, if I may say, a lack of trust in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit who promised to be with and guide His church all the way to the promised future. I pray that our next pope will bring another spring time in the church we love.
Jesus emphatically tells us through the gospel reading today, that God and His kingdom or his reign is this pearl of great price that we should resolutely work for and be engrossed in everyday of our lives. The rest should be, as the French would say: aucune importance, i.e., “of no importance.”
Brothers and sisters one thing good about getting old , is that old age provides us, the natural tendency to be able to simplify life and the facility to sift through life’s varied experiences and demands and to discern which ones are of greater importance and worth . After all these thirty years of being a CICM missionary priest , I myself have tried to simplify complexities in my own life’s experiences and to learn to let go not only of my hair but of all that this symbolizes.
More importantly I have come to realize and to believe , that as Christians and as human beings and citizens of this world, the most important preoccupation of all , which is also the most challenging and most difficult ,is to be able to truly love God and do one’s share in creating a more caring and loving environment or community wherever one finds himself or herself.
As I continue my missionary journey and approach retirement age and have learnt to discard so many of life’s unnecessary baggage, I have realized two simple truths that I try to live by and live for. Just the two things that for me are ultimately necessary. Truths so simple and so obvious, yet at the same time so true and so demanding. Please allow me to share these simple truths with you.
The first truth is simply this: that regardless of who and what we are and will become, God freely and truly loves each one of us with a love that is amazing and beyond our wildest imagination. Indeed, in the eyes of our God, each one of us, is in fact His pearl of great price. It is for each one of us that God became man in Jesus, if only to reveal to us, how truly precious we are in His eyes.
The second truth that flows from the first one is this: That to love God back in return, and to love those we encounter and those entrusted to us particularly the most needy in our present situation, is the only and most appropriate response. And yet, to love God back in return is truly demanding and is a grace that must be asked. For from our human and personal experiences, we all know how incapable we are to truly love God back in return as He loves us.
And so as I advance in years and develop a distaste for long meetings and ceremonies as well as lengthy discourses and homilies ( including mine ), my prayer has become very short and very simple indeed. And everyday this is what and how I pray:
”Lord, grant me the grace to love you back in return with all my heart, with all my will and with all my strength, and to love those I encounter and whom you have entrusted to me with the same love with which you love them.”
Short and simple as it is, I also know full well that the implicit demand of this prayer is nothing less than the very fulfillment of the injunctions as contained in the Last Judgment episode in Matthew 25 :31 ff., viz., “I was hungry and you fed me, sick and in prison and you visited me, naked and you clothed me. . .”
Brothers and sisters, friends, today and everyday of our lives, let us ,with gratitude and joy celebrate this one wonderful , re-assuring truth: that in the eyes of our heavenly Father, we are indeed , His pearls of great price bought with the very life of His own beloved Son Jesus, our brother . Pray tell me if you come to know of any other truth other than this that could give us true inner peace and dissipate from us, all useless worries and anxieties. Thank you for your patience.