Burundi AIDS clinic honours slain Canadian Jesuit

  • June 9, 2010
Jesuit Father Martin RoyackersA Canadian Jesuit gunned down in 2001 standing by his rectory door in Jamaica will have his name attached to an AIDS clinic in Burundi.

“The decision to name this clinic after Martin Royackers has been motivated by two things,” said SYM director Jesuit Father Desire Yamuremye in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “The principal one is that the centre is at the service of the poor living with HIV and AIDS. I think Martin Royackers was murdered while he was at the service of poor people. The second reason is that part of the funds came from the Canadian Jesuit province.”

Joanne Royackers said the idea of naming an AIDS clinic after her son was “Amazing, just amazing.”

“It makes me realize that the Jesuits are quite amazing. They are one hell of a family,” said the slain priest’s mother.

Joanne Royackers was to attend the inauguration of the clinic in Bujumbura June 12.

The Burundi clinic is the second initiative in the last year named after Martin Royackers, both at the behest of donor Jerry McCullough. McCullough helped fund a new annual lecture series called the Martin Royackers Lecture at Toronto’s Regis College. It kicked off last November with an address by Sr. Helen Prejean, the Sister of St. Joseph whose life inspired the Academy Award-winning movie Dead Man Walking.

McCullough’s contribution to the Burundi clinic was matched by money from the Jesuits of Holland. Having the clinic named after a Canadian Jesuit of Dutch ancestry neatly brings together the benefactors of the clinic, said Jesuit provincial superior Fr. Jim Webb.

But Webb sees deeper reasons for naming an AIDS clinic after Royackers.

“It’s named after a Jesuit who was very dedicated in terms of justice, the poor, the Church,” said Webb who was part of the same Jesuit community with Royackers in Jamaica.

“It seemed to fit.”

Royackers’ murder was never solved. The Sunday before he was killed, the 41-year-old priest had preached against the rising culture of violence and crime in Jamaica. Royackers had also worked long and hard at finding land for landless farmers, an effort that had brought down serious threats on Webb and other Jesuits in Jamaica.

Royackers was an introverted and studious farm boy raised in Parkhill, Ont., near Sarnia. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Guelph out of high school in 1978. He went back to work at the Jesuit farm in Guelph for six years after his ordination in 1988.

His passion for justice and his inbred feel for farming made him a natural for ministry in rural Jamaica, a place he came to love deeply. Royackers cared for five different churches around Annotto Bay, worked at the St. Mary’s Rural Development Project, taught social ethics at Kingston’s seminary, was chair of two different school boards and overcame his shyness to preach popular revivals in an extroverted Jamaican style.

Royackers is buried half-way between Kingston and Montego Bay, near St. Theresa’s parish, where he was killed. His own pick-up truck carried his coffin to the cemetery — the truck he had used to carry the bodies of parishioners who could not afford a funeral.

The Clinique Father Martin Royackers, S.J., will expand the services offered by Service Yezu Mwiza to 900 people with HIV and more than 1,000 orphans in the Bujumbura district of Burundi.

The clinic will anchor SYM’s AIDS services including distributing antiretroviral therapy, voluntary counselling and testing, nutrition programs and social services.

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