Michael Yoshio Haratani S.S.J.E. (1965)

harataniBY THE unexpected and sudden death of Father Michael Yoshio Haratani on the morning of Sunday, December 20, 1964, the Society of St. John the Evangelist lost a great lover of souls and a good missionary.

Father Haratani was born on December 8, 1918, at Oakland, California, as the eldest child of Soichi and Shigeko Haratani. When he was ten years old, he and his brother and sister were sent to Japan because of their asthma and for a Japanese education. They were looked after by their uncle, who lived some fifty miles west of Hiroshima. He told once how difficult it was at first to learn to use the Japanese language. In California his parents had used Japanese at home, and the children understood most of it, but would answer in English. When he got to Japan it was necessary to be able to use Japanese fluently, so a Buddhist bonze (priest) was engaged to teach him Japanese at the local temple. After a while the lessons grew tiresome for the young boy, so he gave in to temptation, and instead of going to the class he played baseball with the other boys in the neighborhood. The Bonze wondered what had become of his pupil, and inquired at the uncle’s house whether Yoshio were ill. After that the lessons were conducted at home.

He entered St. Paul’s Jr. College in Tokyo in 1938. While he was a student he was drafted into the Japanese Army. In 1945 his regiment was stationed at Hiroshima. Providentially on the day that the atomic bomb exploded over that city he had taken a small detachment of men on an errand outside the city. It may have been that he also had special leave to go to call on his uncle. On hearing that Hiroshima was destroyed by a terrific bomb, he hurried back to find most terrible conditions. Many of his comrades had been killed, and the rest were in great agony. While he was nursing his friends he was exposed to atomic radiation, and suffered from terrific internal disorders. He was hospitalized for several months. The war was over. Then he was discharged from the army and the hospital.

During his illness and suffering his thoughts turned towards the love and peace of the Christian religion. He returned to St. Paul’s University to finish his education, and was graduated in 1947. He earnestly sought God, and experienced a great change in his—life which he called his own conversion, though he never talked much about himself. He came to St. Michael’s Monastery, Oyama, in the spring of 1948, seeking admission, and became a postulant in the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

He proved himself worthy of his vocation, and read theology with the Fathers. On January 29, 1952, Bishop Okubo, the Diocesan of North Kanto, ordained Brother Michael, as he had been, to the Diaconate. At Mass on May 1st, the feast of St. Philip and St. James, Fr. Dale, then the Provincial Superior, received his first vows as a religious. Early in August he went to America for his final training before ordination to the Priesthood and Life Profession in the Society. He was ordained to the Priesthood on February 22, 1953, by Bishop Burton, S.S.J.E., acting for the Bishop of North Kanto, in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Bowdoin Street, Boston. He made his profession under life vows on May 13th of that same year. During the remainder of his time in America he visited many places and made many friends, especially in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu. He spent a month at St. Francis’ Church, Chicago, then under the care of the Society, and another month in Honolulu, later in the year, where he was temporarily in charge of the Japanese Congregation at the Church of the Good Samaritan.

Fr. Haratani returned to Japan on December 13, 1953, but the sudden change of climate from Hawaii to the Japanese winter brought on a severe attack of asthma, and he was hospitalized for some time, not being able to return to the Monastery until the last week of March. Later that year, because of Fr. Sakurai’s impending year abroad, he was put in charge of the Church of the Transfiguration at Nikko. Cold weather in the fall of 1955 brought on more trouble with asthma, and he was made the “Home Father”, with occasional Sunday duties at St. Alban’s Church, Tochigi, where he was designated as Assistant, and took services once or twice a month to let Bp. Okubo be free for making visitations. During this time he found a suitable medicine which helped to prevent further severe attacks of asthma. At the Monastery he served as Guest Master, and handled the Publications department until 1963, when he was assigned part-time to St. John’s House in Tokyo. On January 15, 1962, with the consent of the Father Provincial, Bp. Okubo appointed him to be Priest-in-Charge of St. Michael’s Church in the town of Oyama, where he did a great piece of work. He rebuilt the church building, which was beyond simple repairs, built up the congregation, established a mission in the industrial district, had office hours one day a week, and did many things for the children and young people.

In the Spring of 1963, when Fr. Koizumi returned from America and Bp. Viall went on a year’s furlough, Fr. Haratani was assigned to St. John’s House on the outskirts of Tokyo for weekdays, returning to Oyama each weekend for his duties at St. Michael’s Church. At the same time he was asked to be Sub-warden for the Sisters of the Community of Nazareth. So it worked out that he came to Tokyo from Oyama each Monday, did some calling at hospitals, or at Rikkyo University, or among his many friends, and arrived at St. John’s House sometime in the afternoon or evening. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent at St. John’s House, where he was a much appreciated addition to the community life. Each Thursday morning after breakfast he went to the Nazareth Convent where he had conferences with the Sisters, and taught a class in Christian Doctrine to the Novitiate. Friday morning after Mass and breakfast at the Convent he would return to Oyama to be with the Brethren at St. Michael’s Monastery. Thus his missionary work was spread over a wide area, and he served not only to fill out the community life of both houses of the S.S.J.E. in Japan, but also to be an important link between them.

In September, 1964, at the request of Fr. Kimura, Provincial Superior of our Society and Warden of the Community of Divine Charity, he left Tokyo for Barisal, East Pakistan, to visit a Sister of Divine Charity who is helping with the maternity work of the Oxford Mission Sisters of the Epiphany, and to have a conference with the Reverend Mother of the Oxford Mission Sisters on the further help of the Japanese Sisters. During the trip he wrote enthusiastically and often to the Father Provincial and friends about his experiences! On his way back he stopped at Calcutta, Rangoon, Bankok, Cambodia, Saigon, and Hong Kong. In some of these places he already had friends with whom he stayed for short visits. In each place he made new friends. Then he went to Taipei, in Taiwan, where he had a delightful time with Father Morse, S.S.J.E., for two weeks. He had his busiest time in Okinawa, because he was the first Cowley Father who had ever visited there. He went there to see the Sisters of Nazareth as their Sub-warden, but he was in constant demand for preaching, talking, and conducting Quiet Days. He was even asked to assist at the examination of ordinands. He was very tired when he got back to Tokyo on November 30th.

After a week’s rest at St. John’s House he became as active as ever. However, probably from the change of climate, he had an attack of asthma on Sunday, December 6, when he was visiting St. Alban’s Church, Tochigi. He rested for a week at the Bishop’s house, and got well more quickly than usual. The next week he took Fr. Jones, who was visiting Japan from Dacca, East Pakistan, to Oyama and then to Haruna to see the Sisters of Divine Charity. He left Fr. Jones at Haruna and returned to St. John’s House, Tokyo, for two more days, looking extremely well, in spite of cold, rainy weather. He instructed children at Tochigi on Saturday afternoon, the 19th, and then came back to the Monastery at Oyama, as he was intending to say Mass and preach at St. Michael’s Church the next morning. The fatal attack came to him that morning, and his heart failed before the doctor could reach him. He passed away in his own cell at 8:25 A.M.

Fr. Haratani was a very lovely and pleasant person, and everyone who had known him liked him very much. He made friends easily every place that he went. People of all ages felt at ease with him. He was a man of activity, and wonderfully good with children and young people. He had a special sympathy with the sick. Nobody can take his place, but the members of our Society must carry on his work.

His funeral was held in the Monastery Chapel at Oyama on December 23rd. Bishop Okubo officiated at the Burial Office, assisted by Diocesan Clergy of North Kanto and the Brethren of the Society. Fr. Haratani’s mother, brother, and sister, and two other representatives of the family were there with many of his friends. The Chapel was completely filled. His body is resting in the Monastery cemetery.

—From Cowley, Spring, 1965, pp. 36-39.

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