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By Tracey Primrose

December 7, 2022 — Exactly one year to the date that the Jesuits West Province unexpectedly lost its long-serving provincial assistant for health care, Arnie Shafer, Jesuits gathered today to celebrate and give thanks for his life. At a Mass held in the chapel at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center—the province’s retirement/health care community in Los Gatos, California—Jesuits, staff members and Arnie’s family came together to pray and pay tribute to a man who ferociously protected those he referred to as “my Jesuits.”

Arnie Shafer (right) in May 2021 with the handmade quilt he was given in recognition of his selfless contributions to the community during the pandemic

The Mass was concelebrated by Fr. John Privett, SJ, former superior of Sacred Heart Jesuit Center; Fr. George Wanser, SJ, current superior; and Fr. Scott Santarosa, SJ, former provincial of the Jesuits West Province.

In his homily, Fr. Santarosa quoted the words of the prophets, using this “beautiful description of God” to talk about the tireless way that Arnie labored for the province.

He does not faint or grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.

As the provincial assistant for health care, Arnie was responsible for managing the health care needs of the Jesuits of the province, a role he excelled at for more than a decade. He kept his cancer diagnosis a secret from almost everyone, working and answering emails up until his final days. He gave so much to the Jesuits of the province during his long tenure, but never more so than when he worked tirelessly and heroically to keep approximately 80 senior Jesuits safe in the early days of the pandemic.

Fr. Santarosa recalled, “At no time did I see Arnie’s love for us more strongly than in the fall and winter of 2020-2021. Covid had, of course, made its pernicious way into our midst, and it was wreaking its havoc. This was a nightmare for us all, and especially for the provincial assistant for health care. Especially for someone who loved us as much as Arnie did. I remember how distraught he was. How responsible he felt. He described a kind of breaking point for himself watching as ambulances lined up to load our guys to take them to hospitals all over the city. This simply broke his heart. And it hardened his resolve to prevent further spread by restricting visitors and freedoms, such was his desire to prevent future infection. Not on his watch. Such was his love for us.”

At the conclusion of the Mass, Fr. John Privett said a few words. “I worked with Arnie for all the time he was here, 11 years and 5 months. I trusted him, and he trusted me. And when you’re 82 years old and retired, to be able to stand in front of a group of people and say that is a great blessing, a great gift. I went with Arnie through covid, and it was awful, but Arnie was always there. I think in a word, my word is gratitude for your presence, gratitude for Arnie’s life, gratitude that he was such a great nurse.”

Following is Fr. Santarosa’s homily from the Mass for Arnie Shafer.

In Advent, especially in the words of the prophets, we hear beautiful descriptions of God:

Do you not know or have you not heard?
The Lord is the eternal God, the creator of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.

These last words make me think of Arnie because of the tireless ways he labored for us:

He does not faint or grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.

I think of how available he made himself to me and to you whenever a health crisis or emergency would arise. I think of the phone calls evenings and weekends. I recall him working closely with superiors in the care of Jesuits. I recall his boarding an airplane to fly—wherever was necessary, but Portland comes to mind: I think it was a Sunday and one of our Jesuits needed to come here. So off he went. One example among many.

He does not faint or grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.

Arnie loved working here. Because he loved us. Quite simply. He treated us as his fathers, his uncles (or rather, his crazy uncles!), his grandfathers. His Jesuits. And we loved him. In his and my regular check-ins, he would share with me how sometimes in conversation a guy would open up to him. He did that without ever sharing with me what a guy had shared with him. He was like a priest with a penitent—he would speak as though he had been entrusted a treasure. I say the human heart knows whom it can trust. It delighted and consoled me to know that you—and the men under Arnie’s care—had in him someone “outside the system” of governance that you and they could trust. Your trust was indeed well-placed. I know men found strength and courage in Arnie. Courage to carry on. Courage to face their mission.

He does not faint or grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.

At no time did I see Arnie’s love for us more strongly than in the fall and winter of 2020-2021. Covid had, of course, made its pernicious way into our midst, and it was wreaking its havoc. This was a nightmare for us all, and especially for the provincial assistant for health care. Especially for someone who loved us as much as Arnie did. I remember how distraught he was. How responsible he felt. He described a kind of breaking point for himself watching as ambulances lined up to load our guys to take them to hospitals all over the city. This simply broke his heart. And it hardened his resolve to prevent further spread by restricting visitors and freedoms, such was his desire to prevent future infection. Not on his watch. Such was his love for us.

He does not faint. He does not grow weary.

Advent is a time when we express our longing for God. It is a time of expectation. Of dreaming. A time of wonder. You, brothers, might ask, “When, Oh Lord, is my time? Am I next?” You might dream of what it will be like, to experience heaven, or paradise, or that desire we all have: to live with God forever.

It is these further words of Isaiah that express our hope:

They that hope in the Lord
will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagle’s wings;
they will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.

It is also these words of Jesus in the Gospel today that articulate our dream to live with God forever:

“Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Brothers, may you hear these words this Advent, here in this place, which one Jesuit used to call, “Heaven’s Foyer.”

Arnie, may you hear these words also—words said to you by Jesus with love and gratitude for all you have given us. Like our brothers, with our brothers, Arnie may you soar as with eagle’s wings; may you run and not grow weary; may you find rest; may you live with God forever. Amen.

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