Memoirs of a shattered hope.
[Recently, I found the following memoir in my files. It was written, I believe, within a year of the event described. At certain points, I have updated it with new information. —M.N.]
ON JANUARY 16, 1964, IN THE MORNING, Father Richard Novak left Notre Dame College in Dacca, East Pakistan, on his bicycle. He was wearing his white cassock, a light blue jacket over the cassock, and full black trousers.
The day was cool, fresh, clear, like a June morning in Minnesota. The sky was playful and deep. Unfortunately, this was the fifth day of violence against Hindus, which had cost several thousand lives. Bodies could be seen floating in the river.
Slipping through the policemen and the militia who had maintained Dacca’s recent night-time curfew, and who still patrolled the roads of the countryside, Dick bicycled twelve miles down the road, along the river, to the village of Narayanganj. He spoke for a while with Monsignor D’Costa, the elderly pastor at the local Catholic church, seeking information on the family of a Hindu nurse from the Catholic hospital in Dacca, whom the nuns had asked Richard to help them find. The older priest tried to persuade him to hurry directly back to Dacca, to get away from the danger zone. Dick listened thoughtfully. He said good-bye, and headed upstream toward Dacca.
But he did not return directly to the college. He made three stops, to inquire among refugees about the welfare of the missing Hindu family. All week, bitter riots had swept this Moslem province. Thousands of Hindus had been killed, and countless more dispossessed or plundered. Hundreds of thousands were forced to take refuge in Hindu India—where retaliation was taken upon the Moslem population there. At places in Pakistan, bodies lay piled in heaps or strewn across fields. In Dacca alone, at least a thousand lay dead.
On this bright day, Dick made one too many inquiries. Westerners were never or rarely molested in this periodic internecine warfare, which had broken out sporadically since 1954. But my brother was last seen, by chance passersby, as he waved to a ferry boat to come take him to the farther side of the wide, slow river. On the opposite bank, he intended to visit one last mill where he had been told that many refugees were gathered. It was noon.
The boat came toward him. He pulled his bike on board. The boat pushed out toward the opposite shore.
Dick was first missed during the evening of January 16, when his fellow priests gathered for dinner. By that time, the nightly curfew made any search impossible. His friends hoped he had stayed over with Monsignor D’Costa or elsewhere.
All day Friday, the 17th, by telephone and by trips along his route, an inquiry about his safety was undertaken. With each hour, the picture took a more ominous shape. Like flame touched to a field of powder, a wave of violence had swept through the area where he disappeared. A ruthless martial law was later imposed on a wide region: it was impossible to enter some parts of the area; for days, in fact, the bodies of victims in that area were not buried. The searchers notified the American consulate and the Pakistani police that Dick was missing.
The following notice, together with a picture, was released to the local press
Father Richard Novak, C.S.C., Roman Catholic Priest, Lecturer in Philosophy at Notre Dame College, aged 28 years, American citizen, weight 150 lbs., height 5 feet 9 inches, has been missing since noon of Thursday, January 16, 1964. He was last seen in the vicinity of Luxmi Narayan Cotton Mill, Narayanganj. A reward is offered for information leading to his discovery. Please contact Notre Dame College.
Ten days later, on January 27, a solemn funeral was held for Dick, even though his body had not been found. For by that time the outlines of his story had begun to come clear. But not everything was clear, even months later, when those who murdered him were at last apprehended and confessed. They were five teenage boys.
Meanwhile, in reporting the funeral, the Pakistani press wrote of him:
He was known to many in Dacca as one who had a deep love for the people of Pakistan, and in many ways he showed his deep interest in the Bengali culture and language. He was a member of the Bengali Academy.
He often visited local families, and was frequently seen at the Tejgaon Bottomley Orphanage, where he loved to play with the children and practice his Bengali with them. He slept on a chowki, wore a chaddar.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online