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Celebrating 75 Years in Religious Life

January 24, 2013

Celebrating 75 Years in Religious Life
February 2012

Later this year, Fr. Francis White, CSV, will celebrate a rare milestone among Viatorians, when he reaches 75 years in religious life. Already he is the oldest member among his confreres – at 94 years young – he now adds another feather to his cap.

His call to religious life goes back nearly a lifetime ago, but he vividly remembers the details and, he enjoys sharing them with students who visit the province center in Arlington Heights. “Someone has to ask you,” Fr. White says simply of his calling.

He remembers when it came. He was a student at Cathedral Boys High School in Springfield, where many of his teachers were Viatorians. One of them, Br. Charles Carlon, CSV, asked him to consider becoming a novice with the Viatorians.

It was in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, Fr. White recalls. “Br. Carlon asked me to think about the novitiate. I didn’t plan on going to college, so I was taking typing and bookkeeping.” Fr. White says. He entered the novitiate out of high school in 1936 and professed his first vows one year later, in 1937.

For someone who didn’t see himself earning a college degree, he went on to earn two – one in Latin from the former St. Viator College in Bourbonnais and another in philosophy from St. Ambrose College in Davenport, I  – before earning his master’s in school administration from the University of Illinois.

By the late 1940s, when Viatorians arrived in Japan, Fr. White was one of the few Viatorians holding an advanced degree in administration. Consequently, he was sent to the Far East as the new superior of the delegation and principal of a new boys’ school. He was 34. Looking back, Fr. White comments that serving in Japan made the deepest impact on him, as he reflected on his years as a Viatorian. However, once again, he never saw it coming. At the time of his assignment, he was working with students at St. Joseph School for the Deaf in the Bronx, New York. “I loved that work,” Fr. White says. “I thought I’d be there forever.”

He arrived in Kyoto in 1949, less than five years after the end of World War II and the American bombings of Japan. “The people were wonderful to us,” Fr. White says. “They valued an education above all else.”

Some 60 years later, the school he worked to open, Saint Viator Rakusei High School in Kyoto, continues to be ranked among the top 20 private schools in Japan, with more than 1,000 students.

He still laughs when describing the students who eagerly served as altar boys at Mass, participated in the annual Christmas pageant, and took optional religion classes, all while their parents remained practicing Buddhists.

“The people of Kyoto considered it an honor to send their sons to the Viatorians for a high school education,” Fr. White said. Fr. White remained in Japan until 1956, before returning to this country where he taught at his alma mater, Cathedral Boys High School, among others, before serving as spiritual director for novices in the early 1960s.

His later years in active ministry were spent in Las Vegas, including serving as pastor at St. Viator Church and nearly 20 years as associate pastor at Guardian Angel Cathedral.

“The people in Las Vegas absolutely love him,” says Fr. Thomas von Behren, CSV, provincial. “He is a giant of a Viatorian.”