Fathers Billy Huete, SJ, and Doug Hypolite, SJ
By Fr. Jeff Johnson, SJ
When Billy Huete, SJ, was in his first year of regency (apostolic ministry) at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston, Doug Hypolite, SJ, a third-year regent, served as dean of discipline. They had known each other at the novitiate but had not been close friends. Their deep friendship in the Lord began with the spark of a small flame. During class, one of Billy’s students struck a match in class, and, to quote a recent General Congregation, it was the fire that kindled other fires. Billy called Doug to the classroom to help correct the young man and restore a bit of order to the class. Probably not what the fathers of GC 35 had in mind, but nonetheless this small spark stands at the beginning of their life of working together and living in community together as close friends serving the same mission. I recently spoke to Billy and Doug to hear their thoughts on 50 years of vowed life.
The life of a Jesuit – his prayer, his formation, his intimacy with the Lord, cannot be separated from the mission of the Jesuit – that is his work in our various apostolates. Both men speak
fondly of their early years as Jesuits living and working together at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. Later, when Billy was master of novices, he told us novices that we would never fully understand the vow of chastity until we worked in a Jesuit apostolate. By living out our mission, he said, we would better understand the life-giving dynamic between Jesuit and apostolate.
Billy can’t think about his Jesuit life divorced from the places where he was. According to Billy, “What makes you want to stay is your life and work in this place in Houston or in this place in Grand Coteau … because that’s where the fulfillment comes from.”
When asked about the secret to 50 years of vowed life, Billy quickly responded, “Don’t leave.” We all laughed, realizing that, yes, not leaving makes the years add up. But there is a certain profundity in the quick response that the lives of both men bear out. The secret to not leaving is faithfulness – faithfulness to prayer and to the Eucharist.
I’ve lived in community with Doug Hypolite – in Tampa and Houston – longer than I’ve lived with any other Jesuit. I’ve often heard him – in homilies, faith sharing and around the dinner table – speak movingly about the need for consistent daily prayer. The results speak for themselves. Both have served the Society faithfully and with a flexibility that demonstrates their trust in God rather than in themselves. As Billy put it, “God’s been good enough to me to keep me praying enough to keep alive as a Jesuit.”
Billy has served in a variety of capacities – teacher, principal, novice master, superior, and now socius (executive assistant) to the provincial. Doug has served primarily in secondary education as teacher, dean, principal and superior. Doug is back in a Strake Jesuit classroom teaching Spanish in the midst of what must be the most challenging time to be teaching, as we navigate the world of COVID. Starting in March, Doug, like all our teachers, has been using tools that would have seemed unlikely just a year ago. He’s become a master of Zoom and has taken each twist and turn with a profound grace and high spirits.
Some teachers have found the many transitions and changes to be exhausting – as indeed they are – but Doug has never forgotten the primary duty of a teacher in a Jesuit school. Knowing that the mission is to form young students more closely to the image of Christ, his own relationship with Christ continues to be shared through teaching, even if remotely. As Doug recently shared with our community, “The only image to project is the image of Christ.” That, in a nutshell, is Jesuit education.
In the year 2020, it is worth noting that Doug is one of very few African-American Jesuits in our country. “At times it could be difficult,” Doug said. “It depends upon the strength of the person.”
While Doug was studying in Rome, Father General Pedro Arrupe said to him, “I’m going to tell you we need you. Keep going, don’t give up, pray. God is going to make a way that things will be better, not just for you, but for the Society.”
Words of encouragement from Fr. Arrupe must have been helpful, but Doug had to work against stereotypes. As an African American, Doug had to doubly prove himself wherever he worked, especially when starting a new assignment. He said, “Wherever I go, I have to prove myself. If teaching in a classroom, I have to be the best because everyone has their eye on me wondering what I can do, questioning whether I’m smart enough to teach a class.” This from a man who, by my last count, is proficient in five languages.
Nowhere is a Jesuit’s relationship with Christ put to more effective work than in the novitiate where Billy served as novice master for many years. Along with a whole generation of Jesuits in our province, I am a beneficiary of Billy’s formative relationship with Christ. Being novice master was, according to Billy, “my favorite job in the Society.” It showed. Billy’s joy and laughter were infectious. No doubt we tested his good humor, especially during the production of the annual play put on for formation gatherings! But he showed us how serving Christ was a joy for him personally.
Doug is known for his work at Strake Jesuit and Jesuit High School (Tampa), but an important part of his ministry has been in France. For the past several years, he has gone each summer to help at a convent in Nancy, France. Working with the nuns and ministering in a local hospital have been rewarding, and I’ve heard the victuals weren’t bad either – “C’est le petit Jésus en culotte de velours.” (Translation of this French idiom: “It’s like a little Jesus in velvet underpants.”)
Both Billy Huete and Doug Hypolite are a gift to our Society and the people they have served. They are beacons of joy and happiness in their vocations. For this, we have God to thank.
Ad multos annos!
Fr. Jeffrey Johnson, SJ, is president of Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston.