The Wheel and Axle

11.11.11. Irish Big Brother

by on Nov.11, 2011, under My Life

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Bro. James P. Dunne, SJ (picture courtesy of the Bro. Dunne FB Page)

Today marks what would have been the 76th birthday of a very special man who touched the lives of many high school Ateneans of my generation. Bro. James P. Dunne, SJ was the original Big Brother, at least for many teenagers of my time, and he is sorely missed.

Below is a note (edited) that I wrote on Facebook this day last year. Remembering Bro will never get old; he will never fade away from the memories of the countless lives he touched.

Happy birthday, Bro! 11.11.11 – four lucky Aces and then some! I’m sure you’re up there, watching us while chugging a mug of ice-cold beer and laughing heartily at our inanities. We still owe you a lot of what we are today.


11 November 2010

Taken and adapted from

It’s almost 7:30am, and I’m supposed to be hitting the sack because I have a corporate event I need to attend this mid-afternoon – which won’t be easy as I typically work nights.

However, I’m restless, and I keep thinking that today is the birthday of someone truly special: a man who touched the lives of literally decades of Ateneans throughout his life and who I like to believe still touches their lives until now, more than seven years after he passed away.

And I feel that I cannot rest today until I dedicate a mini-birthday tribute to this person who touched so many lives: Bro. James P. Dunne, SJ.

Being Protestant in a Jesuit school was probably never easy for me in hindsight. Mind you, there was no discrimination or anything like that, but being regularly exposed to religious practices you yourself do not adhere to can be tough. I always needed to be tactful on some of the theology I was being taught, and we all know how sensitive that can be – even between close friends. I suppose having my father’s side of the family be Catholic helped, but in the end, I was still staunchly Methodist in my upbringing.

Bro with my AHS DWTL 107 Participants, circa August 1995, when I rectored for DWTL

This is why it was surprising that one of the true friends I made in high school was a Jesuit brother. Not just a Jesuit brother, but THE Jesuit brother of Ateneo High. All students during those years, I think, knew Bro. Dunne – who wouldn’t? A freshman entering high school will almost immediately feel his presence in some way or form because he was a guidance counselor, and most juniors in the mid-80’s to the late 90’s would have directly encountered him through “Days with the Lord.”

It is a testament to Bro’s strong influence and mentorship that I, a Methodist, became strongly involved in “Days with the Lord” – I even became a rector during my time (proudly 96/107!). “Days” was not about religion, but it was about spirituality and it was about Kuya Jess – and Bro helped make it that way for me, even if it was a Catholic retreat.

My circle of friends and I had a special friendship with Bro. Of course, there are so many circles of Ateneans who would claim the exact same thing – and they would be right, too!

That’s the thing with Bro: he was a true friend to so many people, and he knew them – actually knew and remembered and connected with them personally. This is not an easy feat for someone who had to have formed friendships with likely literally thousands of students throughout his life, and probably not especially easy for an Irishman living in the Philippines.

High school is not an easy time for many people. It’s a time of change, a time of growth, a time of awkwardness, a time of uncertainty, a time of trying to find one’s niche. Bro made this time easy for a multitude of Ateneans who crossed his path. He wasn’t just a guidance counselor or a teacher, he was a friend. And that’s the thing with Bro: he WAS a true friend.

Bro with one of my best friends, Beij, back in the good old ’90’s

Bro was fond of so-called “outcasts.” His office was filled with such kids not necessarily seeking counseling, but just eating lunch or hanging out. It was a comfort that there was someone who would defend us from those that deemed us uncool or misfits.

If the Church still had Bro, he would be the perfect poster boy to counter the child-preying clergymen hounding headlines in the last few years. Their antithesis, Bro protected his kids.

Bro would regularly meet up and have a pizza or catch a movie with students and alumni. He would also call specific individuals he knew may be having trouble or problems and just invite them out. I have no idea how Bro magically knew who needed him at any give time, but he always seemed to know just who to reconnect with at any given time, even alumni he may not have seen in years. No, really, he did. It always made me wonder.

What I miss about Bro, aside from his big heart, is his nasty sense of humor. Oh, yes, he does have a nasty sense of humor – and I loved it. He was funny, he was caring, and he was… Bro.

I consider my batchmates (AHS ’95) lucky to have come under Bro’s tenure as interim principal during our senior year. When the prior principal (Fr. Cruz, a great priest who is a topic for another note from me) passed away, Bro took the reins for a year. Personally, and yes I’m probably biased, I think Bro was the last great principal of the Ateneo High School.

A day before Bro had his first heart attack that led to his eventual demise a couple of years later, my friend France and I actually had a meal with him – in Gerry’s Grill Libis, I recall distinctly. It was really the last time we got to really “talk” to him. Sure, we visited him in the hospital as well as the Jesuit Residence in the last few months of his life when he was already bedridden, but I think that day at Gerry’s was the last time we “really” talked. If we’d known, we probably would’ve made the most of it. It’s sad to think we may have been the last folks he really went out with before he became bedridden.

Bro and his family (picture courtesy of the Bro. Dunne FB Page)

The last time I saw Bro alive was the most heartbreaking. He was in bed, hardly able to speak or move. But he knew we were there, and he still tried to connect with us. It was not easy for him, but he did his best to embrace and hug us as he lay in bed before we left. He was muttering mostly gibberish, but I knew he was trying to speak to and comfort us for being sad about him.

And that was Bro: even bedridden, he thought of others.

Really, Bro was not just a friend to me and my barkada. He was family.

It has been more than seven years since Bro passed away, and yet many Ateneans I know still remember him fondly – and many will probably still remember today as his birthday: 11/11.

Today is the day a man was born – a true Man for Others, a true mentor, a true friend. God gave us a special gift on 11/11, and such a special gift is always worth remembering.

Happy birthday, Bro. We miss you. Basta Ikaw, Bro!

Basta Ikaw, Bro! (picture courtesy of the Bro. Dunne FB Page)

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