Farewell and thank you, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ | Inquirer Opinion

Farewell and thank you, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ

/ 04:58 AM March 11, 2021

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, enjoined his first companions “to be all things to all men.” Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, heeded that piece of advice. He was priest, teacher, law dean, university president, rector of the Jesuit residence, scholar, Inquirer columnist, framer of the Constitution, amicus curiae to the Supreme Court, among the varied roles he played in his service to Church and country.

He was mentor to many of us, companion and counselor at different stages in our lives. At times, he gave advice to the forlorn, but he did not suffer fools gladly.


Father Bernas had a brilliant and disciplined mind, unafraid to speak his truth and to share his wisdom. In the drafting of the 1987 Constitution, he poured heart and soul into ensuring that the basic rights of citizens were protected in the Bill of Rights. He championed the promotion of human rights and social justice, aiming to prevent any return to authoritarian rule that our people had endured in the past. He stood his ground to check the abuses of executive authority.

Father Bernas lived his faith fully and shared it with others. He never failed to show kindness to people even in the most distressing of times. He was a man of prayer and reflection, and in his brief and incisive remarks on the Gospel, he focused on keeping one’s unwavering faith in God’s loving kindness.


Father Bernas possessed a sense of humor and a wit that was disarming. I cannot forget his first remarks during the early plenaries of the Constitutional Commission in 1986. “Actually,” he began, his words reverberating till this day, “my preferred form of government is the monarchy—so long as I am king.” This remark brought the house down, truly breaking the ice in the gathering of 48.

During a visit to our home together with his nephew Luigi when I was working at International Alert in London years ago, he had us bursting with laughter as he recounted his exchange with our 9-year-old son Renzo about “the birds and the bees, and everything in between” while my wife and I were preparing the meal in the kitchen made memorable with his contagious joy.

Since Father Bernas fell ill and was moved to the lower floor room in the infirmary of the Jesuit Residence fondly called the “pre-

departure area,” I would make it a point to visit him every time I would be at the Loyola Heights campus of the Ateneo.

He was a ghost of his old self, sometimes managing a smile or a moment of instant recognition, a few words about family and friends, and then his once-beautiful mind would wander and he was back to being like a little boy lost. I felt pain and sadness. These visits brought home to me the reality of the Jesuit prayer that those who go through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius would recite, perhaps the most radical prayer composed by St. Ignatius—the “Suscipe!”: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, and all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, I all return…”

Farewell and thank you, Father Bernas—for your faith and courage, for your example of a life well lived.

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