You are currently viewing The last time I saw Fr John Gnanapiragasam – by Dominic Damian
Dominic Damian and his wife at their wedding day. The late Rev Fr John Gnanapiragasam (right) solemnising the marriage.

The last time I saw Fr John Gnanapiragasam – by Dominic Damian

Rev Fr John Gnanapiragasam passed away after a heart attach on Nov 19 at his family home in Seremban. He would have been 77 on Nov 30. His 50th sacerdotal anniversary was to be on Dec 27. Here is someone close to him who is recollecting the last time he visited Fr John.
By Dominic Damian DEC 16, 2021

This is a simple chronology of how after many years we had reacquainted and reintroduced ourselves to Father John Gana. He contacted me out of the blue sometime in October 2021. He expressed that he wanted to come over and see us. He obviously had somehow or other received news of my cancer prognosis. He would not have wanted to see my soulmate and I alone, he wanted the same for the children as well. So I just managed to arrange it. We told him to please stay put and we would drive over to Seremban.  

We were privileged to celebrated the Eucharist in Father John’s residence at approximately 10.30am on Nov 3, 2021. He expressed utter and obvious delight that we were his first congregation after such a long time and further mentioned to the children that he officiated at our wedding.

Father John enquired where were the flutes, violins and guitars? We expressed that we just came as we were. We prepared for the Eucharist as soon as all the hammering and drilling noise subsided. There was some renovation taking placed outside the home and workmen were doing some fixtures to an extension.

The hymns I picked according to the antiphon, psalm and gospel theme for the day were: For You are my God; Bind us together; You are mine; and I decided to follow Jesus.

After Eucharist, we had a run around and introduction of the home. He had purchased the property immediately next to the family home and transformed it into a nice personalised workspace and a centre for small formation sessions. He showed me the stained-glass panel attached on his front door and expressed how it was lying in College General unused and he acquired it. He shared about his plans for Alpha and what he wanted to do.

His reminisced about his early family years how they would get up and go to Visitation Church for mass, serving at the daily services before heading to school. Status about family members currently and especially about Michelle, my violin student who is now married and residing in London, was updated. He spoke about James Puspharatnam visiting him and this obviously impacted him.

We adjourned for lunch and there was general sharing. He enquired about Choice members, those he could remember and others in general. I expressed that I have been in contact with about 60 or so of them over the years. I could see he was very disciplined about his diet, did not touch any rice and ate mostly vegetables.

We spoke a little bit about our respective health and Father John mentioned that he has regular sleep, no late nights and usually a 1–2-hour afternoon nap, regular medical check-ups. He was very steady and stable in walking and negotiating the stairs. The impression I had was that he took exceptional and extraordinary care of his personal health.

We shared about the late Father Moses Lui Fook Soon who attained paradise on Aug 18, 2021. He said Father Lawrence Andrew, (his brother) Monsignor James Gnanapiragasam and he had visited Father Moses Lui. He apparently knew I was in touch with Father Moses Lui.  I told him that I was in contact with him until mid-July 2021, where our calls were between 45 minutes and an hour and a half. The three of them had also visited Archbishop emeritus Murphy Pakiam.

He enquired about my hospital experience, I shared with him that every time there was a painful medical procedure, no matter how painful, I sang the hymn For You are my God or The Prayer of St Francis loudly over any pain. Father John laughed about that, and asked if I felt any fear. I replied that I was totally prepared, my rosary and cross were what I looked at, even before my surgery and I asked the surgeon to specifically place it in my hand should anything happen.

I was sharing further that one must meet anything fearlessly and death is not as negative as we make it out to be. I expressed that faith shaped me well and he was a strong and strategic part of my gaining a solid grounding. 

We were sharing about faith and one topic unavoidably came out- about Mother Mary. One time, I followed one of my Anglican friends to attend the diocesan men’s Anglican group. The Bishops and their clergy were in the same group. I expressed how I left the group recently as one of their Canon’s in Ipoh, spoke negatively about the Catholic dogma of Mary. Some Christians or Catholics must have posted something on Mother Mary and the Canon responded negatively. Without hesitation I sent the Canon a very uncompromisingly hard-hitting letter and exited the group!

Father John immediately expressed there is something on the Marian philosophy that he could introduce for deeper understanding. He requested that I setup a WhatsApp group when I got back to KL to have some renewal and formation sessions. And he asked me to keep him informed and invite other priests into the group who can help to shape and form lives. He started to invite and appoint others in Choice as admin in the WhatsApp group.

I was fortunate that he managed to hear one the hymns from the nine that I composed for our priests. The Hymn that I dedicated to him and Father Anthony Naden was titled River of Sorrows.

Father John then shared about retirement. I explained to him that I feel our clergy who had a wealth of experience must never be retired but that they should stay in a formation-cum-retreat centre and give sessions once in four weeks to the laity. Retirement is when they are totally disabled. He had some opinion about it.

He remembered meeting my son Camden in Cameron Highlands. I expressed and acknowledged that he had formed me very well and prepared me for what seem like the worst trials or tribulation I would face.

When we bid goodbye, He was somehow or other very pleased like a father is of a son who has received life lessons well, and that was certainly very memorable. In as far as I can see he was bursting with energy and bubbling with enthusiasm about the adventure ahead of him. I came back set up the group and he reconnected with quite a few people. I also communicated with a few of them and was planning a group visit to Father John. I was thinking of a biweekly visit.

Father John also expressed that he wanted to celebrate Francisca Nunis’ birthday and retirement. He would like to have James Puspharatnam and those available to go to Malacca on a day trip.

His last communication both verbal and written with me was just one day before he passed away. I have two books of poems being published internationally and I had expressed specific conditions or clauses that nothing in promotion, marketing must breach incontestable Catholic values. He gave his input on this verbally and in text at about 4.45 pm of the said day.

The poem titled Priest was composed and supposed to have been given to him in a banner on his birth date, Nov 30. This poem is a tribute to my friend and spiritual father for what would have been his 77th birthday.  

(I wrote this at the bottom)
Father John, you have entered the ages realm of sacredness you may be engulfed and embraced anytime- yet we will go on this adventure with you. Blessings on your birthday, my spiritual Father and life companion.

Damian, Jaci, Sheila, Shoba, Amanda, Camden & Avaina

PS: Do not come up to KL and see us, we will see you often enough. Just stay where you are. I can overcome my challenges. I will see you often enough

An ode of a sonnet to Rev Fr Dr John Ganapiragasam
Composed on Nov 19, 2021

After the swirling raging storm.
After the pillage and plunder.
After the passing of one of the sons of
Lighting and thunder
Which seem utterly ruthless,
Relentless and remorseless

After the violation
Of utter decimation
And violent destruction
Where a tree is uprooted
And a lighted temple of life
Is in darkness

The green pastures of feelings,
Feels withered vagrant abandonment,
Homelessness, shrivelled and unwontedness

Like a most beautiful dark
Faceless unknown desert
Which sings the loneliest
Tune of beautiful dreams is no more

In a barren wasteland, of
Emptiness and nothingness.
What was will never be.

Restitution to visit with words
What one really means
Is always much too late

There is no acquittal of
Atonement for that which
Was an obsessive affliction
Of attachment yet to be attained

Repentance as reprieve to
Resuscitate the lost years,
To rekindle the flame
And reclaim a love
Is vanished and vanquished
In the briefest of moments

I huddle by a glowing campfire
With the glowing embers of
Memories spiritual warmth
Numbed by the bitter cold frost
That envelopes the heart
Chanting prayers and psalms

The wanderer, wayfarer, pilgrim
And adventurer has gone
His moral compass and
Spiritual sextant left behind.

The mortal blanket of warmth
Has been discarded.
To be adorned in the resplendent
Robes of shining heavenly attire

The rod of the Shepherd
Is kept by the shadow of a gate
In the conspicuous absence
Of his presence that
Would never fade
Or take leave of each
Is the consignment of
The root of realities
Where the gravity
Is in deep silence
Of an unfathomable
Magnitude of loss

Immeasurable and unquantifiable
By expression can only be known
In missing a quite calm
Ocean of peaceful tranquillity
Which seems unreal
But is that which inform us
Always of the impermanence
Of existence in each
The loss of a precious gift
Awakens, a treasure trove
Of true wealth that has been planted
With deep tenderness

The sower sowed seeds of love
With quite resolve
The farmer tilled the souls soil in joy
In hope of bounty
The fishermen cast the net
And hauled his catch at weekends

The deeds are done
The tunes are well composed
The clarion calls of heavenly trumpets
Blare that the sails have been set

The Master perhaps came
In the night and knew the
The flame in this lamp of life
Was fatigued and exhausted
Worn by weariness of use
The oil of ordination unsoiled
Not a drop spilled in scandal
Lighting a beacon in
The many nights of life
Unspeakable and unmentionable
As it may seem
The Divine kiss was planted
Passionate and sweet
Sensitive and soft
Engulfing, embracing and enticing
His good and faithful servant
To walk the sunlit verdant hills
Of the heavens

The following was written on the Nov 20, 2021 after mass.
If I had shared that
He was not my father
In the spirit of flesh and blood
It would be treasonous.

If I had shared that
He was not my friend
In the partnership of sharing,
Caring and giving
It would be treachery.
If I had shared that
His passing and parting
Is not a deepest cut for
A rootless orphan suffering
Indecipherability’s wound
And an indescribable injury
Inadequate in expression
Incompetent in feelings
Unfathomable in abandonment
It would be sacrilegious.

He the last among my mentor formatters
Father Joseph Lourde Antoni Ponnudari SJ
Gave me the liberty of poverty
And the impoverishment in doing nothing

Father Phlip Muthu
Gave me a comradeship of vulnerabilities
To reach the wounded and marginalised

Monsignor Anthony Thomas
Gave me liturgy, music and morality
To use as instruments of healing

Father Moses Lui Fook Soon
Gave me the celebration of oneness
To be personal in giving

Rev.Father Dr.John Ganaparigsam
Gave me a mission in life’s journey
To be ‘others centred’
He truly was my family
He truly was my priest

In grief of brokenness blackness, I ask
How can any of these not be my priest?

This was written on Sunday Nov 21, 2021 when I was asked how I felt

No matter my wounds depth
Or injury of pains loss
Worse than death

Let my grief be consigned
To shades and shadows
Let my sorrow be coated
By fearless courage of a smile

Let me know how I may
Assuage anyone who misses him
Healing their desolate brokenness

I will rise to offer them
The most beautiful sacred companionship
Of reverential compassion
With warm deep embracing tender
Solace comfort and consolation

It will be my privilege through sorrow
To be that song which
I will in his honour be for you
Which I deny and cannot be for myself.

I somehow or other do not possess the composure and strength of each in the group. These were the thoughts racing through the heart during mass when Monsignor James was sharing the homily

It is contemptible cruelty when
The lashing whip of death
Remorseless and relentless
Cuts deep the flesh to bone
With ice cold vengeance
And draws the blood of feelings
Which pours out in chants and
Sings of unspeakable sorrows

It is criminal cruelty when
The lashing whip of death
Has torn the flesh of the heart
Drawing loneliness, loveless-ness
Emptiness and nothingness

It is inner desolation and
Deep destructive violation when
The lashing whip of death
Has broken the soul to fragments
With a depthless and
Deathless black hole
Yet in honour of love lost
And resurrection’s promise gained
One must through the grievous
Of the worst nightmare and most
Horrible wound and terrible injury
With fearless courage of faith
Offer deepest love and healing
To each other and everyone
Smiling and serving in humility
Despite the veil of pain