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Fr. Father James Lakra S.J. 01.08.1943- 21.04.2012

Posted on: 17 Jan, 2024 | Modified on: 28 Apr, 2024

By P.P. Van Nuffel, SJ

Fr. James Lakra was born in 1944 in a profoundly Catholic family of Ranchi parish. His father Regius was in charge of the cathedral's daily functioning. He looked after the altar boys and carefully marked the daily attendance of the kids for serving the priests who said their daily mass privately at small side altars of the cathedral. The practice of saying community masses started later and till then masses were still said privately in Latin. Prompted by father Regius' close control and paternal advice small James and his younger brother Marianus were among the most regular of the altar boys, at times prodded on and lauded by their uncle, Fr. Anthres, a devout diocesan priest.

Small James attended classes in the "parish school", the primary section of the present St. Aloysius' school on Purulia road. At that time the Monfort brothers of St. Gabriel had not yet taken over the school, and a Jesuit priest, Fr. Louis De Raedt, tried- many times in vain- to keep the noisy kids under control. Fr. De Raedt's practised eyes spotted small James, in whom he recognized the seeds of a vocation to the priesthood. James was one of the most active members of the cathedral's "Kakali"(The Koyal's Call") choir that used to perform on special occasions for the liturgical services. The small singers looked quite smart, dressed as they were in shining white albs, topped with monk's caps and girded with shining gold sashes. They were standing on the loft, round the organists Mr. Theophil's organ, and their vibrant voices made the whole big cathedral resound with their pious, joyous strains. People seemed to like it immensely.

James was indeed a gifted lad, good at studies and good at music and dramatics, and also good at sports, specially football which he practised with the Pathalkudua urchins wherever they found some empty space.

James, together with his brother Marianus and a couple of other Ranchi kids were chosen to join the recently started apostolic school at Gumla. Father Nabor Lakra, the founding father, was trying to instill in his flock some solid piety, zeal for studies, and commitment to manual work. The apostolics, it was felt, were a real boon for the high school, and results were improving. Just then Fr. Nabor was transferred and Fr. Pancratius Toppo became the Apostolic School's director. The new director called his boys every evening together to give them a solid sermon on the religious requirements for future priests. But, his talks were perhaps a bit too much of a good thing, too solid for the fickle minds of his young audience. The other Ranchi kids all left, little James alone stuck it out. He grew up to become a well trained, talented lad, a veritable all-rounder, doing well in the school's academic subjects, the extracurricular (music and oratory) and sport activities.

James finally joined the novitiate of the Society on 26-07-1961 at Sitagarha. His whole training was marked by an almost intuitive feel for the better and more important things. With his know-how and easy, friendly manners he apparently almost effortlessly slid through the complexities of Jesuit training- always cool, always jovial, always full of comradery and humour.
James was ordained in 1974 in Ranchi and took his last vows in 1983 in Gumla. The latter remained his field of apostolate. He knew the tricks of the teaching trade, and was respected by one and all for his unassuming mastery in the Jesuit educational apostolate. He was a totally reliable assistant headmaster, and when his tutor retired in 1987, he took over the reigns. James, a mature and well respected educationist by then, made the school reach new heights in proven Jesuit educational pedagogy. He had an inexhaustible fund of energy. Every morning, even on rainy days, he was in the Jubilee stadium coaching the boys, or he would take his teams (both football and hockey) to play matches on the Gumla court ground, fired by the firm belief that true sports practice renders a young person serviceable, social-minded and complete.

James' active engagement in education did not stop with his official retirement as a teacher. Rather, it opened a new platform for his creative thinking in education. As the Principal of St. Xavier's School, Doranda (1998-06), besides aiming at academic excellence, and his emphasis on co-curricular activities- games and sports and others, he took the school to the slums of Ranchi through the "Outreach" programme, motivating the school students to involve themselves actively in teaching the less fortunate children living in the slums.

In 2006 came the call from Assam. James did not shirk, but wholeheartedly took up the challenge. He was instrumental in starting St. Xavier's Junior College, Balipara where, besides academic activities, he lost no time to introduce and train budding hockey football enthusiasts among the students. St. Xavier's Balipara remained, till his final call from Lord, the centre of his apostolic activity where, apart from his interest in teaching, his involvement in pastoral activities around Balipara, created a desire in him to opt for this ministry. Fr. Provincial had, in fact, approved his new appointment as pastor that would have been effective from June 2012 but the Lord's plan for James was different and he did not hesitate to say "YES" to his Master's voice and be with Him.

That which stands out in Fr. James Lakra as a Jesuit was his tremendous energy to work and his dedication to the assigned responsibility. As an educator, he always supported and encouraged his colleagues. He could take others into confidence and motivate them to join hands in collaboration. Where goals were clear, he was not averse to collaborate even with other people other than Christians. Simple life-style and faithfulness to his religious vocation were marks of his Jesuit life and charism.