The bell for the end of school would ring out at 4.40 p.m. and as the students began bustling out of the class rooms to the school exit, there in impeccably pressed clothes and donning a pair of raybann sunglasses was a handsome figure on a blue Kinetic Honda, ready to go out of the gate for a ride. After a few goodbye hugs and a few laughs Padre Morondo would zip out of the gate. That was Fr. Morondo in his hey days as Teacher par excellence, friend, guide, counsellor, creative director and what have you- dynamic and youthful, humorous and witty. His Science class theatrics, his history class expression, his drama rehearsals, his camera hanging on his belly, his soft and warm handshakes and hugs,his fancy for coining pet names for students- all that epitomised Morondo.
His legacy of the Odyssey festival- a week long festival of fun and frolic with such elan and class was the envy of one and all the schools of Ahmedabad .It brought out the best in the cultural realm and showcased the talents of the students of various schools. It was the brain child of Morondo and emulated by many schools in Gujarat today.
Juan Jose Morondo was born in Puente la Reina a quaint little village and now a town in the Navarra region of Spain. He came to India in 1949 after his Novitiate in Spain and from then onwards never looked back. His religious formation was completed in India with his most memorable days being in Kurseong during his theology studies. He would often recount to us the plays they put up there in the theologate since they were always technically “locked-down” in todays parlance- not due to a corona virus sneaking in, but because there was no idiot-box or a cell phone to distract you at that time. Hence all the recreation time was spent in good literary activities- debates, speeches, plays and so on. Morondo excelled at plays and that could be seen later in the classy plays he staged with the students and normally the ex- students of Loyola Hall like the plays of Agatha Christie – the Mouse trap and so on.
He was ordained in Loyola Hall, Ahmedabad, and even made his final profession in Loyola Hall where he spent over 48 years teaching, guiding, encouraging and loving the students whom he affectionately called “My kids”-.He taught Science, History, French and English and in the final years only BIOLOGY. But he would prepare his classes meticulously, teach innovately and prepare such creative exam papers where it became a joy to answer the exam. That was the teacher Morondo who just did not teach but inspired and created a love for the subject. Many who had him as their Biology teacher went on to study medicine because they understood the subject so well and fell in love with Biology . Infact when Morondo met with an accident and had a brain hemorrhage, he was admitted to Sterling hospital. In less than half an hour 25 or more specialist doctors assembled together in the hospital to examine him. All those were his students whom he had taught biology, who on hearing the news of his accident had come together to treat their Master.
Infact one of his most illustrious students was Swami Tejandraprasadji, the Head of the Swaminarayan sect, virtually what we would call the ‘Pope’ of the Swaminarayan bhakts. He would visit Morondo regularly in Loyola Hall and when Morondo was hospitalized in Sterling, Swamiji went to visit him there. He prayed over him and when Morondo opened his eyes wide in recognition, he placed a lotus flower near his ear. It was a get-well symbol of a Hindu saint for his school guru. This same Swamiji visited Morondo in Javier (Spain) at least twice and stayed in our Jesuit house which had to turn vegetarian during those days. But our Jesuits of Javier were pleased to have ‘El Papa del Swaminarayan’ as their guest in the castle of St. Francis Xavier and did not mind the inconvenience of going vegetarian.
His niece Maria wrote a note saying that when they spoke to him almost 90% of the time he would speak about India. His conversations were full of Loyola Hall and India so much so that he would proudly say he is Indian rather than Spanish. She further said that he was so proud of his students and was appreciative of the efforts they made to study well and go ahead in life. So many top notch doctors and engineers in the U.S.A. are his students, not only taught by him but inspired and motivated by him.
Morondo’s charming personality, his loving nature and amazing repartee won the hearts of thousands of students and when he returned to Spain after serving almost five decades in the same school, his students were heartbroken. He always believed that teaching from a text book was too ordinary and one had to learn a different ball-game to teach differently. His motto was to love his students and to make them feel loved.To all of us he was such an inspiration, a phenomenal being who brought the blessing of love, light and laughter wherever he went. An ex-student Sujata Cowlagi writes: ‘He was sunshine and the embodiment of love and joy. To me he was special- but I think each being thought of him that way.’
Adios dear Captain Padre Morondo, Adios. Your trip is done- your ship has weather’d every track, the prize you sought is won.
May God rest your soul till we meet someday in His presence.
- Hector Pinto, SJ