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Former Jesuit provincial in Philippines dies at 88

Father Joaquin Bernas will be remembered as a prominent legal expert who helped write the country's constitution

Former Jesuit provincial in Philippines dies at 88

Father Joaquin Bernas was a former dean of the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila Law School. (Photo supplied)

Jesuits in the Philippines have announced the death of a lawyer priest and former provincial who helped draft the country’s constitution.

Father Joaquin Bernas, 88, died on March 6 at the Jesuit Infirmary in Quezon City, Manila.

The priest, who was also a former dean of the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila Law School, had been suffering from heart problems, the Jesuits said on social media.

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The law school paid tribute to Father Bernas, describing him as an “excellent man for others,” a key principle in Ignatian spirituality.

“We take solace in the knowledge that his was an earthly life filled with meaning and purpose. An earthly life dedicated to service, to standards of excellence, to the greater glory of God,” the school’s current dean Jose Maria Hofilena said.

Father Bernas’s pursuit of excellence has kept Ateneo Law School as one of the best law schools in the Philippines, he said.

“He contributed immeasurably to keeping Ateneo Law School true to its identity and calling. The school’s debt of gratitude to Father Bernas can never fully be repaid,” Hofilena added.

Mel Sta. Maria, an Ateneo alumnus, said Father Bernas was not only a lawyer but a holy priest who fought for justice and peace.

“We lost a great man today but his inspiration lives on,” he said.

He said the priest taught him to be brave in taking a stand on social issues.

“He once told me that I should not think so much of people’s reaction about my articles, I just have to write and speak out because somewhere out there, even if only one listens, that is enough. The seeds are planted. Thank you, Father Bernas,” Sta. Maria said.

In 1966, Bernas finished his licentiate in sacred theology at Woodstock College in Maryland in the United States. He also completed his master of law and doctorate in juridical science from New York University in 1965 and 1968 respectively.

As a highly respected legal expert, Father Bernas was asked to sit on the committee that drafted the Philippines’ current constitution, enacted in 1987.   

He wrote several books on the constitution which are used by most law schools in the Philippines.

As well as being dean of Ateneo Law School, Father Bernas, who entered the Jesuits in 1950 and became a priest in 1965, served as the order’s provincial superior in the Philippines from 1976 to 1982.

Following Father Bernas’ death on March 6, his remains were cremated and taken to the Jesuit Residence at Ateneo de Manila University, where Masses for him will be held until the middle of this month before a proper funeral Mass and inurnment in the province cemetery at Sacred Heart Novitiate in Quezon City.

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