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Remembering a renowned spiritual healer

Fr. Oswald Summerton touched the lives of thousands

  • Pearl Drego, New Delhi
  • India
  • November 2, 2012
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Jesuits in Australia today conducted special memorial services for an illustrious missionary who touched the lives of thousands across the globe, especially in India, over six decades.

Father Oswald Summerton, an educationalist and pioneer psychotherapist, died on October 22 at the age of 86. He was buried on October 25 at Nicholson cemetery near the Jesuits’ Delhi province headquarters.

Father Os, as he was affectionately called, was renowned for integrating psychotherapeutic interventions, social transformation and God experience.

He gave thousands of counselors and family therapists the world over skills for leading youths from emotional dullness to vivacity and warmth, making affective relationships in the family both nourishing and unifying. He emphasized the 'barefoot counselor' who operates through home visits and neighborhood networks.

Os had a talent for including the outsider and the loner and for recognizing the little ones and the seniors. He was centered on the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost and the outcast and brings them home. His charism was to be a life giver, life sustainer and life protector.

Born in Adelaide on August 19, 1926 and educated in Sydney, Os was an athlete growing up. As a teenager he held the Australian national record for the two-mile foot race. He did three and a half years of training for a diploma in electrical engineering at Sydney Technical  College, before deciding to join the Jesuits in 1946.

In 1952, he was missioned to India. He went to Hazaribag province in Jharkhand state (then Bihar) in 1967.

Music was another passion for Os, and during formation he was often choir director and loved to sing solos from Handel’s Messiah.

Fr. Summerton was a science teacher, sports coach and choir master in St Xavier’s School Hazaribagh for three years. He set up the school science laboratories, and for the next six years was principal of the Teachers’ Training Institute Sitagarha.

In 1969 he was posted to Delhi as executive secretary of the Jesuit Educational Association of India.

He organized the landmark national consultation on Catholic education and published a newsletter on Jesuit education. Bringing out the good in teachers and students was his forte. He designed participatory research for self-evaluation of schools and colleges and conducted the first self-evaluation program of the educational apostolate of Jesuit high schools and colleges throughout India and Sri Lanka.

He helped more than 10 Catholic Religious congregations in India on a long term basis with their constitutional and policy changes. He also conducted several workshops of Pneuma (Holy Spirit) Therapy for the Sisters of the Good Samaritans both in Australia and Japan.

Fr. Summerton did intensive training in the US to become a trainer in behavioral science, and other forms of psychotherapy, especially transactional analysis, which helped him found the TA Society of India (TASI) in 1976. He was its president for three terms.

From 1978, Os was associate professor at the University of San Francisco for five consecutive summers at their summer theology program for fourth year graduates taking Masters degrees in applied spirituality.

In 1980, along with other professionals, he founded the Transactional Analytic Centre for Education Research and Training (TACET) in New Delhi, to focus on the training of psychotherapists and social animators, especially those working for the rural poor, in campaigns for justice, disadvantaged children, and distressed families.

Through TACET, he provided organizational consultancy to governmental, public sector and private sector corporations.

He began the first Delhi drug aftercare group called the Living Miracle Group and its participants have now become leaders of several such groups in Delhi. Father Os’ intervention helped Alcoholics Anonymous get a place to start in Delhi in a Protestant Church, thus establishing a new tradition of the Church hosting such meetings in India.

After 1994, he conducted intensive training workshops  for five colleges of Delhi University, impacting more than 300 teacher trainees every year, most of them first-generation learners from rural backgrounds.

He taught them to be guardians of the Earth and creators of community, beyond differences of religion, race, gender, ideology, emphasizing the need to ask for forgiveness and to forgive in order to build family unity, marital harmony and community togetherness.

Fr. Summerton always taught counselors to analyze injustice at the micro and macro levels, and to be part of larger social movements for peace, justice, equality, human dignity and the sharing of resources. He taught them to seek out and care for the rejected, the misunderstood and the abandoned.

After 1990, Father Os was the parish priest for a group coming from the diplomatic enclaves of New Delhi. He got many people who had given up the sacraments to return to the faith.

He kept reminding us, in all his programs, that “God is creating and recreating you, every second, and at this very moment.”

His faith was a living faith, a faith-in-action. He will be mourned by spiritual formators, teachers, students, tribal leaders, social workers, activists and all those who imbibed his unique style of working for individual healing through community process.

They join the Australian Catholics to thank God for a wonderful missionary who has left an indelible mark on them.

Pearl Drego, Co-Director, Transactional Analysis Centre for Education Research and Training (TACET)
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