Martin Royackers was first English Canadian Jesuit killed in service

  • September 15, 2011

In Jamaica they called Fr. Martin Royackers a “roots man.” Around the world, Jesuits and their friends call him a martyr.

He was the first English Canadian Jesuit to be killed on the job.

Royackers was born and died in farming communities. Born Nov. 14, 1959 near Strathroy, Ont., he was killed outside St. Theresa’s parish church in Annotto Bay, Jamaica, June 20, 2001.

From his time as a student at Strathroy’s Sacred Heart Elementary School, and then Regina Mundi High School in London, Ont., Royackers was a serious, often solitary young man, never without a book. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Guelph, Ont., in 1978, studied humanities and philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., taught English and Classics at Loyola High School in Montreal and as he advanced through theology studies at Toronto’s Regis College he became more and more committed to the idea of faith that does justice. He took a masters degree in social work from the University of Chicago so he would be prepared to work with the poor.

Royackers also shone as a writer. He became editor of a Jesuit arts and culture magazine called Compass. When he was later sent to Jamaica, Royackers was often asked by Kingston’s Archbishop Edgerton Roland Clarke to write speeches.

Royackers was a man of passion and intensity, whose commitment to the poor was without compromise.

In Annotto Bay he worked alongside poor farmers trying to make a living on inadequate parcels of land. He also championed their legal claims to more land. Land developers began to grumble about the Jesuit presence. Royackers received anonymous death threats.

“If I die in Jamaica, I want to be buried here,” he told his parishioners.

Police have identified suspects in his death, including one who died in custody. But friends, family and the Jesuits suspect the murderer is still free.

Most of Canada’s English-speaking Jesuits end up buried in a small cemetery next to the old novitiate in Guelph. Royackers was buried according to his wishes, on a hill overlooking St. Theresa’s in Annotto Bay.

Catholic Register


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