Reflections of Jack Deeves, S.J.
Harold and I grew up on the same block of Joseph St. He and I became acquainted when we were only four years old. Harold lived in the Prytania apartments on the corner of Joseph and Prytania. I lived 5 houses away at 1334 Joseph.
Harold was the only child of Harold and Sarah Cohen, a couple much younger than my own parents. The Cohens’ apartment was small, only 4 rooms. Harold and I spent quite a bit of time in his room with Binky, his dog. I recall an early traumatic time when Harold swallowed a quarter. We played football in the lot between his apartment and the house adjacent. We also played often in the street and in the yards on our block. We played some rough games, including using guns we made from old orange crates that shot stretched pieces of strips of auto inner tubes. We made china berry guns that shot these berries that came from the tree in front of Janet Levy’s house. At school we played “dens”, using the hexagonal benches that enclosed crepe myrtle trees. These also were very rough games, and often we tore our clothes as we struggled to throw one another into the dens.
Harold and I attended McDonogh #14 public grade school for the entire elementary years, including kindergarten. Harold was somewhat pugnacious until he was about 11 yrs-old. When he was in the 7th grade he began to go to church at St. Stephen’s and at Holy Name, where he became an altar boy. I think he was the only public school altar boy. He became a good friend of the Holy Name schoolboys. He was particularly close to the Charbonnets, and later at Jesuit he dated one of the girls in that family, Doris, I recall. In the 6th grade we began to call Harold “Jakie” and then later “Abie.”
Harold and I were fortunate to have some wonderful teachers at McDonogh 14, notably Miss Cahill and Miss Kepler. Miss Kepler must have been one of the very best English teachers in New Orleans. When we go to Jesuit, I realized how much she had taught us, and that we often knew more than boys who had gone to Catholic grade schools. Miss Kepler was a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism some years later. She attended the first solemn Masses of both of us.
Harold was going to attend Fortier, but my parents and I persuaded his parents and Harold to go to Jesuit. I did not want to be the only boy from my school at Jesuit, and he was my best friend. We entered Jesuit in September, 1941. We were very proud to be in what we considered to be the best school in Louisiana. All of our teachers were men, only the librarian was a woman. Jesuit was the most formidable athletic school in the state, and we won the state championship in football when we were freshman. Harold and I attended every game, including the one against Baton Rouge High at LSU stadium. We rode a special Blue Jay train to BR for that game.
When the war began, Harold and I rode our bicycles to the Japanese consulate on St. Charles Avenue on December 8th, a holiday for the feast day. We were curious, but were turned back by a policeman and told to go home.
When Jesuit began a scrap metal drive, challenging Warren Easton High School, Harold and I discovered a large amount of short pieces of angle iron under the old Loyola football stadium, which bordered the fence between Loyola and Tulane. We loaded about 200 pounds of the angle iron into my brother’s wagon, conveniently placed on the Tulane side of the cyclone fence. We never thought we were doing anything wrong, in fact we thought we were heroes. After all, didn’t Loyola want to beat Hitler? We were both 13 yrs-old.
Harold and I did well in Freshman year, and we were both invited into the Honor Class in our sophomore year. We remained in that class together until our graduation.
When the Marine military unit began in early 1943, we wore Marine green uniforms, complete with overseas caps. Harold had his washed in hot water. It shrunk and from then on was too small to fit on his head, and just perched on top. Harold was often forced to march in the “dumbbell platoon”. Mr. Dan O’Callaghan, S.J., who was in charge of the platoon, asked Harold what he was going to do with his life. Harold politely answered him that he was thinking of becoming a Jesuit.
In our Junior year Harold and I were taught by Mr. Malachy Cutcliff, S.J. who urged us to sell more pre-game football tickets than other classes, so that we could win a prize. Harold and I took large numbers of discounted pre-game tickets to sell at the Holy Cross game at a higher price. The pre-game price was 60 cents, at gate price was one dollar. Scalping was not allowed at Jesuit, but we wanted to help our class, and make some money, so we did it. I hid behind trees and timidly offered my tickets for 80 cents, but Harold began to sell them right in the ticket line for more than a dollar. He was a great seller, but was caught by Fr. David Lorig, S.J., and spent Monday afternoon in penance hall.
In senior year Harold was a favorite of Fr. Entz, S.J., an older Jesuit who taught us English, Latin, and Religion. The boys in 4A really admired Harold, but kidded him a lot. Harold by this time had developed that great laugh, and that was his only response when he was kidded. In our spring retreat at Manresa Harold and I both decided to enter the Jesuits. We could not wait to tell each other, meeting on the front lawn of Manresa.
In the Novitiate, Harold had a profound experience in our 30-day retreat. For a time, he experienced a time of scruples, but overcame that before we made our vows. In the Juniorate, our 2 years of studies in the humanities at Grand Coteau, Harold had a difficult time with both Greek and Latin. While we were in the Juniorate, Harold had Fr. Clifford McLaughlin talk to his father. His father then came back to an extraordinarily strong practice of his faith. Harold’s father raised money for many good causes in New Orleans. When asking for donations, he would remind potential donors that “there are no pockets in shrouds.”
In June, 1949, we moved over to Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. Our years there were a wonderful experience for both of us. We studied philosophy in our own building, and attended classes with the college students, all males at that time, in order to get our college degrees. Companionship with Jesuits from many other provinces was a part of our life. We recreated at the Jesuit villa on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, and several times went swimming in the Gulf at Gulf Shores. Harold’s father worked on Film Row in New Orleans, and sent us two films every month to use in our little Jesuit theatre.
Harold and I were the only ones who were sent to teach at Tampa Jesuit in 1952. It was a very small and very poor school, but we enjoyed teaching immensely. Harold taught English and Spanish and was in charge of drama. Harold and I became even closer, as we were only 4 scholastics in the community.
When for one of his plays Harold needed a desk I suggested he use his own desk from his bedroom. Harold pointed out that there was a very large pile of various things on top of his desk. “What shall we do with it?” he asked. I suggested the only thing we could do was to dump it onto the floor. We both laughed for minutes. Another time Harold was putting on a talent show at the Federated Women’s Club auditorium. In one act the boys threw a blackberry pie that accidentally hit the red velvet curtain at the rear of the stage. Harold was so embarrassed by this that he did not want to face the ladies the next day. He sent me to make the apologies and to promise to have the curtain cleaned.
When Harold’s mother and father would visit, they would stay at the Tampa Terrace hotel, across the street from our residence. Harold’s mother would laugh and lift her glass to toast a very visible water tower in the shape of a whiskey bottle, complete with its Seagram’s Seven Crown emblem.
During these 3 years Harold became interested in astronomy. Once when he and Fr. Boggs and two other scholastics got lost on a highway on their way to a football game, Harold got out and redirected them after finding the North Pole star.
In 1955, Harold and I were separated for the first time in our lives. He went to Spain for theology studies, and I went to St. Mary’s Kansas. Harold would write to me about his new experiences in northern Spain. The Theologate at Ona in Spain was a place of sparse food. The large dining hall was not heated. Harold wore out an overcoat he wore while eating. Harold wrote to me that once he got on his knees and begged the rector for permission to go out into the marketplace to buy a few bananas. When Harold left Tampa he was quite overweight. When he returned from Spain he had lost all those extra pounds.
Harold was never able to sing on key, and he was amused to hear little catechism children in Spain singing “Jingle Bells” in the same off-key tune that he had used. Harold’s father died suddenly of heart attack in October 1956. The Jesuit provincial had warned Harold that if he decided to go to Spain, he would not be allowed to come back for a funeral if his father had more heart trouble and died. Harold did not come back, but did return in the summer of 1957 to be with us at St. Mary’s for his final two years. Harold told me that when he was taking the launch out from the port of Algeciras to board the United States ship Independence he was moved to tears at the sight of the American flag on the stern. He also told me that he raced up the boarding stairway and ran directly to the dining room where he ordered bacon and eggs, something that was never served at Ona in Spain.
I noted a distinct change in Harold. He had become a superb scholar of Theology, very well read, and reasoning with depth about theological matters. The dean asked him if he would like to return to St. Mary’s and teach. Harold thought the food at St. Mary’s was great, something that none of the rest of us 155 theology students could agree with. Harold made many new friends. Our companions at St. Mary’s were wonderful and very wholesome Jesuits.
We were ordained as a New Orleans Province group at Spring Hill College on June 18, 1958. There were 9 of us. Harold and I were in each other’s first public solemn Masses at Holy Name in New Orleans the following Sunday. We returned to St. Mary’s for our final year as priests.
When we departed together in June of 1959, Harold insisted that we stop in Kansas City so that he could call Lillian Roth, a singer and movie star. She had written a book about her alcoholic addiction, I’ll Cry Tomorrow. She was staying in KC at a hotel, and Harold was able to reach her and talk to her before her performance that night. I believe Miss Roth was Jewish, and Harold reminded her that his name was Jewish.
Harold went to Tertianship at Port Townsend, Washington, for a year, and then began teaching at Jesuit High in New Orleans. Some time later he went to Scranton University to get a degree in Psychology and I believe, Counseling. Then he began teaching at Loyola.
In 1969 he became very interested in the Charismatic Renewal. By his own testimony Harold experienced a profound and lasting “fuller release of the Holy Spirit” in his soul. He became so involved in this that he began to hold large prayer meetings on the Loyola campus, and later at other locations in New Orleans. He decided to give up teaching when his new ministry became so large that he could no longer devote enough time to teaching. One night after returning to Loyola after a late night plane trip, he realized that a large pile of final exams awaited him in his little room in Thomas Hall. Grades were due the following morning. Harold told me he prayed, then turned his back and shoved all the exams into the wastebasket. He knew his students very well, and turned in his grades the next day. No one ever complained about the grades he gave.
When Harold’s mother died, I went to Pass Christian, Mississippi with Fr. Greg Curtin and my sister-in-law. Harold allowed me to speak at the vigil service. I remember well her tiny form in a very simple casket. I was reminded of that when I saw that Harold was going to be buried in a similar casket.
Harold called me about 13 years ago and insisted that I come to New Orleans to celebrate a night at Brennan’s Restaurant, which closed its doors to its ordinary patrons in order to have a special fund-raiser for Harold’s Closer Walk Ministries. I went, and was amazed to see all the people who came in, and their very affectionate and appreciative greetings of Harold at the door. After the dinner we went out to the patio where there was a special band. We danced and did “second-lining” complete with colorful umbrellas.
Something I did not add previously – Harold was one of the most gracious and hospitable members of the Loyola community. He always greeted visitors in the dining room, and there were many visitors.
Harold was much moved by the death of our classmate Fr. Emile Pfister. I became aware that he was grieving his death very much.
Harold’s little bedroom, very little, was on the fourth floor of Thomas Hall. The ceiling was partly inclined downward, to accommodate the sloping roof above. His room was extremely simple.
Like his mother, Harold died with very few material goods surrounding him. About six weeks before he died, I called Harold to ask for prayers for an urgent intention. His voice bore the sounds of his lung problem. I asked him what was wrong. He then asked for my prayers, but I did not get the impression that the problem was as serious as it was.
In October of 1988 I suffered a major heart attack. I was told that I would not survive a year without a heart transplant. Harold flew to Dallas on June 16th to spend the weekend with me and say a final goodbye. I had lost 70 pounds and knew I did not have much time left. When we were leaving the Jesuit residence to go to the airport, we were already out of the back door when Harold said, “Let’s go back into the chapel.” There he knelt while I sat. Harold prayed out loud to Our Lady that I would be able to get a heart transplant. I was deeply moved by the devotion and trust that he showed in the Blessed Virgin.
At 11:10 P.M. that night my hospital beeper went off. I called and Doctor Steves Ring, the St. Paul transplant surgeon told me that there was a heart available for me. I called Harold at that late hour and told him. He said “Praise the Lord!”
Postscript: Fr. John Edwards told me that Harold wanted to be sure to get to Ignatius Residence, our infirmary, in time for Mass. Also, Fr. Earl Johnson, a member of our class, told me at the vigil that Harold was unable to speak, but lifted Fr. Earl’s hand to his lips and kissed the hand. This was shortly before he died.
Harold was very simple, very saintly, but also very human.
Peace to all.