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Noel Sheth S J (1943–2017)

Noel Sheth S J journeyed through life with purpose. His Jesuit identity always before him, he applied himself meticulously to every task with the hope that it would benefit others. The eldest of four brothers, he lost his father when he and his siblings were still young. He felt responsible for the family. His mother hailed from Kandivali in Mumbai, and with faith and fortitude looked after her sons and provided for their education through her earnings.

Noel Sheth S J journeyed through life with purpose. His Jesuit identity always before him, he applied himself meticulously to every task with the hope that it would benefit others. The eldest of four brothers, he lost his father when he and his siblings were still young. He felt responsible for the family. His mother hailed from Kandivali in Mumbai, and with faith and fortitude looked after her sons and provided for their education through her earnings.

Noel completed his schooling at St Xavier’s High School, Dhobitalao and then decided to join the Jesuits of the Bombay Province; he did so on 20 June 1960. His flair for languages showed in his knowledge of Gujarati—his father was a baptised Gujarati—Marathi, Hindi and English. After philosophy, Noel was asked to prepare himself in Sanskrit and Indian Culture to be part of the staff of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He performed brilliantly in his masters in Sanskrit from Pune University and was offered a full scholarship to Harvard to complete his doctorate in Sanskrit. At Harvard, he impressed both staff and students and, on occasion, was invited by the professor to teach his confrères. His name is included in the Who’s Who of Sanskrit Scholars of India. Back in India, his superiors in the Jesuit Assistancy, considering the wider needs of the order, decided to assign him to Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (JDV), Pontifical Institute of Philosophy and Religion, Pune. He resided in the Papal Seminary and functioned as dean of the Inchoate Department of Indian Studies and Social Sciences in the Faculty of Philosophy.

Noel had the capacity to put together an immense amount of detail so that the knowledge of the subjects he taught was almost exhaustive. His effort to excel in all that he attempted also meant that he had high expectations of his students. With a mind for detailed planning as well as sensitivity to the views of others, he served terms as rector of the Papal Seminary (1991–94) and later of JDV (1999–2005). He helped bring technical modernisation to the JDV campus and was presented the Dr Sam Higginbottom award for best principal (president) in India, 2004–05 by the All India Association for Christian Higher Education.

His identity as a Jesuit priest characterised his commitment to the Church and the Society of Jesus. Ordained on 23 March 1974, Noel cherished the priesthood and the ministry that it implied. Because of his deep knowledge of oriental religions, he could appreciate the contribution of other faiths in understanding the world of religion and be pluralist while preserving his Christian identity. At the time of his death, Noel was a member of the International Secretariat for Ecumenism and advisor to the Jesuit General in inter-religious matters.

Noel had noteworthy qualities of both head and heart. He walked tall yet made everyone feel that they mattered to him. He enjoyed meeting Jesuit companions and shared in the fun and food of such gatherings. When he returned from an overseas engagement, he brought something not only for his own community but also for others. Noel’s Jesuit confrères are grateful to God for having him in their midst for 57 years; we feel his loss acutely.

It was my privilege to chat with Noel on the very day (26 June 2017) he was to fly to Bogotá, Colombia, where he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was busy packing, but asked me to sit and chat for a while. During the long flight, he had planned the free stopover in the United States to spend time with a friend and his family.

We offer our condolences to his two surviving brothers and his many friends both in India and abroad.

Errol D’Lima S J

Mumbai

Updated On : 29th Jul, 2017

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