Whether it was engaging the subtleties of conflict resolution, the wisdom of his religious tradition, or the intricacies of art as a woodworker and musician, Fr. Raymond Helmick, S.J. leaves behind a rich legacy of fostering beauty, mutual understanding, and peace. Fr. Helmick, Jesuit, part-time teacher in the Theology Department of Boston College, instructor in the Boston Theological Institute (BTI), and resident of St. Theresa’s Church, passed away on Thursday, April 21 at the age of 84.
Fr. Helmick leaves behind a lifetime of peacebuilding and interfaith efforts. He served as an unofficial emissary between Catholic and Protestant paramilitary in Ulster, Ireland, founded the US Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, and traveled with other religious leaders during the 1999 Kosovo crisis to negotiate the release of three US soldiers captured by the Serbs.
Fr. Helmick was a special friend of the Religions and the Practice of Peace (RPP) Initiative and a member of the RPP Working Group in its founding year 2014-15.
“It impressed me that Fr. Helmick would make a point of attending the evening RPP Colloquium events whenever possible, driving from across town even in the depth of winter,” recalls RPP research associate Liz Ruqaiyyah Lee-Hood. “His kind presence and humane insights always added palpably to the sessions.”
Fr. Helmick presented his own peacebuilding wisdom on November 12, 2014 at an RPP panel on Northern Ireland moderated by HDS Dean David N. Hempton.
“I was trying to reckon, what is the framework for any one of these conflicts?” questioned Fr. Helmick during the panel, discussing his work in Northern Ireland. “And I reckon that the framework has to do with identity: how do people in a group know ‘who are we’?”
Fr. Helmick’s identity as a peacemaker and teacher was illustrated in his generous assistance to the RPP Initiative, including contributing some of his writings to RPP’s brief online bibliography. One highlight is his talk “Seeing the Image of God in Others: Key to the Transformation of Conflicts,” offered in Korea in May 2008. In the talk, he describes an idea of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, drawn from the Presupposition to the Ignatian Exercises: the notion of “saving the proposition of the other,” of taking the humanity of one’s adversary seriously enough to strive to see from his perspective – and to engage with him on that basis. Fr. Helmick was committed to this approach as a way to contribute positively both to understanding and relationship building, and believed it to be essential to peace work.
“If I am to learn, I must approach the other’s proposition with openness,” Fr. Helmick explained. “Winning an argument will get me nowhere, and I will lose the light that the other’s perception could give me.”
Fr. Raymond Helmick’s remarkable writings, correspondence, and artisanry – including a breathtaking hand-carved wooden tabernacle – can be viewed through a website that his nephew, Ray Barry, created in Fr. Helmick’s memory. With gratitude, the members of the RPP Initiative join the many people around the world who will continue to derive benefit and inspiration from Fr. Helmick’s lifelong contributions to peace.
–by Maggie Krueger