Father William J. Mackey

On the occasion of the democratization of Bhutan, Regis College is pleased to honor one of its graduates, Father William J. Mackey, a Jesuit and educator. Father Mackey, who almost singlehandedly gave birth to the modern school system in Bhutan, embodied the charism of St. Ignatius Loyola, and the spirit of Jesuit education.

Father William Mackey was born in Montréal on August 19, 1915. The third of five children, he attended Loyola High School from which he graduated in 1932. He was an outstanding hockey player, and contemplated pursuing a career in professional hockey. Instead, he chose to join the Society of Jesus, entering the novitiate in Guelph Ontario, on August 14, 1932. It was in 1936, that the young William was sent to Regis College, the Jesuit seminary in Toronto, for a three-year program in philosophy that began his formation as a Jesuit priest.

In 1946, Father Mackey was one of five Canadian Jesuits sent to the newly acquired mission in the Darjeeling district, West Bengal, India. Traveling by ship, he left from Halifax on December 15, and arrived in Bombay in late January 1947. He spent the next seventeen years studying in the Nepali language, and administering a number of schools in the Darjeeling district. It was during this time that the seeds were planted for Father Mackey’s life to become tied to the land of Bhutan.

One of Father Mackey’s students was the future king of Bhutan. In 1963, the king invited the Jesuits to help develop a modern educational system for the country. Still very much an agricultural society, the country had no form of organized education. Father Mackey was selected for the task, and invited to set up an English medium, with the restriction that the Jesuits could not openly evangelize the kingdom’s Buddhist subjects while developing the school system.

From the early years when he traveled the mountains on foot, horseback and motorcycle, to his position as Honourary Education Adviser for Life, Father Mackey guided the growth of education in one of the world’s most remote countries. In 1985, the king honoured Mackey by conferring on him Bhutanese citizenship--the only missionary ever to receive such an honour.

A colleague who had known Father Mackey well once commented: “In spite of the physical hardships and the loneliness he must have often felt, he willingly gave up his own family and society to become a true citizen of Bhutan. In all the times I have spent with him, I have never heard him complain. He has never uttered a criticism or harsh word about anybody, even when it might have been deserved. He sees the world, completely without malice, and I believe that he is the only true good person I have known. To watch Father Mackey light his Buddhist temple candles, and say Mass each morning in his small Bhutanese house is an affirmation of all that is good in the human spirit.”

Father Mackey died on October 18, 1995 of blood poisoning from a gum infection. Yet his tradition of excellence and generosity lives on through a school that imbues it and has helped to shape him: Regis College on the University of Toronto campus.