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Jesuit and the dragon: the life of Father William Mackey in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

Fr. William Mackey was born in Montreal in 1915, entered the Jesuit Order in 1932, was ordained in 1945, and took his final vows as a Jesuit in 1949 in India. He died suddenly in 1995 in the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan just as this book was published. Bhutan, a feudal state with a population of about 600,000 high in the Himalayan Mountains, is about the size of Switzerland. It is sandwiched on the north and south by Tibet and India respectively, on the east by Sikkim, and on the west by the disputed border between China and India.

Fr. Mackey spent the last 32 years of his life in Bhutan where, almost single-handedly, he transformed the state educational system from a handful of primary schools to a modern integrated system of primary and high schools, technical schools, teacher-training institutes and a college. This book chronicles the hardships he suffered, the initiatives he took, and the unfailing support he received from successive kings of Bhutan and the royal family. He was awarded Bhutan's highest honours, his final accolade being made a citizen of Bhutan--one of very few foreigners ever to be accorded that distinction.

This missionary priest never converted a single Bhutanese! It is illegal to do so in Bhutan. While he himself lived the Christian life to the full, he respected the Buddhist principles and spirituality which permeate the people of Bhutan from king to commoner. He was content to receive their love and respect--and a very small stipend--in return for doing "in 25 years what other countries have taken centuries to accomplish," as one observer put it (p. 19).

It was not his intention to go to Bhutan when he left Canada in 1946 for the Jesuit Mission in Darjeeling District, situated between 5,000 and 7,000 ft. high in the Himalayas of North Bengal, India. Here, Jesuits have operated schools, clinics and churches for over 100 years--originally under Belgians who, shortly after World War II, asked the Canadians to take over. Fr. Mackey quickly became fluent in Nepali, and taught at, and eventually became headmaster of two high schools in the area. He was always keenly interested in sports, especially gymnastics, and his school teams often came out at the top in inter-school competitions.

After he had spent 17 successful years in Darjeeling, the Bengali authorities forced his removal--his forthright manner irritated local bureaucrats who organized a smear campaign against him. A senior police officer said to him, "Whether they (the charges) are true or false, Father--it doesn't make much difference..." (p.86) So he had to go, as there is no effective appeal from an Indian bureaucratic decision, and India's loss became Bhutan's gain. The King of Bhutan grasped at this Heaven-sent opportunity to get an experienced educator into his country and promptly invited him to come--as soon as the Indian bureaucrats could process his travel documents, which took months!

This book, written by an author who actually lived in Bhutan for five years, is for readers interested in an authentic record of the life's work of a very unusual man in a very unusual country. Much of the material comes straight from conversations with Fr. Mackey himself, from other Jesuits who knew him, and from high Bhutanese officials.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Catholic Insight
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Words:545
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