Derrick Maitland SJ 1924-2015
Derrick Maitland SJ 1924-2015

Derrick Maitland SJ

Derrick Maitland SJ, who worked in Guyana from 1963 until 2008, died on Monday 12th January, aged 90. His funeral will be on Thursday 22nd January. On this day the Marriage Encounter Movement has organized a memorial mass at Brickdam Cathedral in Georgetown Guyana at 5pm.

Derrick was born on 24th October 1924 in Gibraltar. According to legend he was given the name DERRICK rather than the more usual “Derek” because the priest doing the baptism was more familiar with the cranes on the Royal Naval dockyard than boys’ names.

He went to school in England and in 1941 aged 16 began an apprenticeship with the RAF becoming what was known as a “Trenchard Brat” – after the Chief of the Air Staff who had introduced a scheme for school leavers to begin training in aircraft maintenance even before they reached the required age for military service.

Derrick served with the RAF throughout the war becoming an expert in maintaining all types of engines but also acting at one time as a spotter for the artillery after the D-day landings. His contract as an apprentice required him to remain in uniform even after the war ended and he served until 1949. When he could be persuaded to share about his early life it was clear how deeply he had been affected by his wartime experiences.   

At age 24 straight from the RAF he entered Campion House, Osterley, an institution established and run by the Jesuits to help men acquire the necessary background studies to equip them to study for the priesthood. In the pre Vatican II church of course the emphasis was on learning Latin. From Osterley he moved to the Jesuit noviceship in Harlexton in September 1951 and duly pronounced his first vows two year later.

After philosophy studies at Heythrop he taught maths at the Jesuit school in Beaumont for two years before returning to Heythrop for four years of theology, being ordained on 31st July 1961.

As was the practice in those days he moved straight from Theology to St Buenos to undergo his tertianship, having the opportunity to be part of the ground-breaking work being done by Fr Paul Kennedy SJ in the rediscovery of individual direction in the giving of the Spiritual Exercises.  

In July 1963 he arrived in what was still then British Guiana to begin his priestly ministry to the people of God just at a time when the new nation of Guyana was in the difficult process of coming to birth. He worked for one year as a chaplain to the Georgetown Public Hospital and was then posted to the North West Mission to join Bryan O’Reilly SJ. In 1968 Derrick was transferred to St Pius Parish, Georgetown.  His time at Pius was however to be very short lived. 

On 2nd January 1969 a failed uprising by Cattle Ranchers in the Rupununi resulted in the Government refusing permission for any of the three Jesuits who had been based in the Rupununi to return. Faced with a major crisis the Regional Superior called on Derrick to join Michael Rose and Fr “Doc” Loretz to form a new team despite the fact that none of them had ever worked in the Rupununi before. In true Jesuit spirit Derrick accepted the mission and began the work of calming the anxious Amerindian communities and restoring order into the school system that by then catered for 2,200 pupils and employed 70 teachers. Anyone who has had any experience of the Rupununi Mission can imagine what a daunting task this must have been.

Derrick baptising Rupununi babies

Derrick brought many much needed practical skills  - such as vehicle maintenance - to the mission. During this period he also trained to fly since by this stage the mission owned and operated its own plane with Fr Tony Metcalfe SJ as the principal pilot.

However the needs of the Region as a whole required him to leave the Rupununi in 1975 to work briefly at Malgre Toute before taking up an appointment as parish priest in Linden, a position he was to occupy until 1984.  

After a short renewal programme in the Jesuit spirituality centre in Guelph he became the Parish priest of Sacred Heart Main Street for ten years before moving to St Pius in 1995. He was at St Pius for seven years and then moved to Corentyne, working in both Port Mourant and Springlands.

With failing health and advancing age he retired back to UK in 2008 joining the Jesuit community in Boscombe. He continued to maintain a keen interest in Guyana, being in regular contact with the many friends he had made through the Marriage Encounter Movement.

Derrick will be remembered for his love of words; a keen scrabble player and avid solver of crossword puzzles he was also a lover of jokes and especially puns. He was also never short of something to say and an innocent inquiry about an item of news over breakfast could find you still sitting at table with Derrick when it came time for mid-morning coffee!

There is however one memorable moment caught on film that shows the depth of faith that lay beneath the affable easy going story teller. Asked by an interviewer “what is it to be a Jesuit?” Derrick becomes visibly moved and with tears in his eyes says “the essence of being a Jesuit is the love of Jesus.. “

                         

We give thanks for the life of Derrick and his many contributions to the Guyana Region.  May he rest in peace.