Holy Cross missionary Father Joseph Peixotto served in Bangladesh for nearly 60 years. (Photo supplied)
Bangladesh is mourning a prominent American Catholic missionary who made outstanding contributions to the country’s education sector for about six decades.
Holy Cross Father Joseph Stephen Peixotto died at Moreau House, the Holy Cross priests’ residence, in capital Dhaka on Feb. 4. He was 87.
Father Peixotto had tested positive for Covid-19 about a month ago, recovered and returned to the residence.
The missionary was born in California on May 6, 1933. He obtained an engineering degree from Portland University. He also obtained master’s degrees in physics and theology from Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.
He was ordained a Holy Cross priest on June 6, 1961.
Father Peixotto came to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1962. After a year of Bangla language studies, he joined Holy Cross-run Notre Dame College in Dhaka as a physics teacher, a duty he carried out for about 34 years.
Father Peixotto was the principal of Notre Dame College from 1976-98. During his tenure the institute became known as one of country’s finest colleges for academic excellence, discipline and co-curricular activities.
The priest also served as secretary of the Education Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh for 15 years.
He was also as a member of government education advisory boards and governing bodies of church-run education institutes including St. Gregory’s School and College in Dhaka, Udayan Secondary School in Barishal and St. Philip’s High School and College in Dinajpur.
Since 2014, he was the treasurer of Holy Cross-run Notre Dame University, the country’s only Catholic university.
Holy Cross priest Adam S. Pereira, registrar of Notre Dame University, hailed the missionary priest as a great educationist and humanist.
“Father Peixotto was very diligent and a good administrator. He brought Notre Dame College on a path of great improvement. He was a master of solving problems in different schools. He was an active member of the Holy Cross in all its activities. He would help anyone seeking financial help,” Father Pereira said during his homily at the funeral Mass in Moreau House on Feb. 4.
Jyoti F. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Education Board Trust, expressed profound grief over the death of the priest.
“It is very sad news and a great loss for us. It is impossible to fill the vacuum he left,” Gomes told UCA News.
Gomes recalled that Father Peixotto used to offer free accommodation to poor boys from rural areas at Martin Hall boys’ hostel at the college and helped them make their mark in society. “Not only education but he also served the community,” he added.
Many of Father Peixotto’s former students have posted on social media sites to mourn his death and recall how the missionary touched their lives.
“Rest in peace, Father J.S. Peixotto, an American missionary who was my principal and physics teacher at the Notre Dame College. He had enormous love for his students. I always remember his broken Bangla [national language] and his hurried walks down the college corridors,” Shafiqul Alam, the current bureau chief of AFP news agency in Bangladesh, wrote on Facebook.
Two funeral Masses were celebrated for the priest at Moreau House and St. Mary’s Cathedral Church in Dhaka on Feb. 4. His body was taken to Notre Dame College premises for public viewing where teachers, students and well-wishers thronged to pay tribute.
He was buried at Holy Cross priests’ cemetery at Bhadun in Gazipur district near Dhaka following a third funeral Mass at Holy Rosary Church in Dhaka on Feb. 5.
American Holy Cross missionary Father Frank J. Quinlivan, former provincial of Holy Cross priests in Bangladesh, said his fellow confrere had his dream fulfilled in death.
“Since retiring Father Peixotto was told to return to America many times, but he didn’t want to go back. He loved Bangladesh so much that he wanted to die and get buried here. We thank God that his big dream has been fulfilled,” Father Quinlivan said after the Mass at Holy Rosary Church.