By Therese Fink Meyerhoff
An important moment in Jesuit history quietly came to an end on March 9 when Fr. Lloyd Anthony Lorio, SJ, died in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. He was 93 years old, a Jesuit for 77 years and a priest for 64 years. He was the last surviving Jesuit missionary of the New Orleans Province who joined the Trincomalee-Batticaloa Mission, which later became the Province of Sri Lanka.
“We are grateful to God for the life of Fr. Lorio, who always worked tirelessly for the social, spiritual and educational upliftment of the people wherever he was, especially the youth,” Fr. Angelo Sujeewa Pathirana, SJ, socius of the Province of Sri Lanka, wrote to Fr. Provincial Tom Greene, SJ. “He was a quiet man, a man of simplicity, with great dreams to serve the people in varying capacities and in innovative ways.”
Originally a member of the New Orleans Province, Fr. Lorio went as a missionary in 1951 to what was then known as Ceylon. When the mission became the Vice-Province of Ceylon in 1962, Fr. Lorio became a part of it.
The Trincomalee-Batticaloa Mission was an important apostolic work for the New Orleans Province. The Southern Jesuits took over the mission from the French Province of Champagne in 1946 – the first mission entrusted to American Jesuits following the Second World War.
Ceylon, as the nation of Sri Lanka was known at the time, is an island of approximately 25,000 square miles in the Indian Ocean off the tip of India. When the Southern Jesuits took over the mission, the territory they served had a population of about 250,000, primarily Hindus and Muslims. Catholics were a small minority.
The local language was Tamil, a challenge for the American missionaries to learn. As Jesuits John W. Lange and Theodore A. Ray reported in the Woodstock Letters of November 1946, Tamil was difficult because of the pronunciation and the “great difference between the spoken tongue and the written language.”
In the Batticaloa District, the Jesuits ran St Michael’s College, Manresa Retreat House and ten mission stations (churches or chapels). In the Trincomalee District, the Jesuits oversaw St. Joseph’s College, which included a minor seminary for Jesuit candidates; a diocesan minor seminary, the Cathedral and five mission churches.
In 1962, when the mission became the Vice-Province of Ceylon, it was staffed by 53 Jesuits, a mix of Ceylonese and American missionaries: a bishop (Ignatius Glennie, SJ), 31 priests, 16 scholastics and five brothers. Most of the members of the mission were transcribed (transferred) into the vice-province, including Fr. Lorio. Bishop Glennie, three priests and three scholastics remained members of the New Orleans Province, but in subsequent years, Bishop Glennie and three other priests were transcribed to Ceylon.
Father Lorio was buried at Alayadicholai Catholic Cemetery in Batticaloa, following a funeral at the Cathedral. We give thanks for him and for all Jesuit missionaries.