Father Jacob J. Esselborn, MM

Born: February 5, 1922
Ordained: June 12, 1948
Died: March 30, 1989

Father Jacob James Esselborn died in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 30, 1989. He was 67 years of age and a Maryknoller for fifty years.

James was born February 5, 1922 in Harrison,N.Y., son of Jacob and Helen (Telschow) Esselborn. He had one brother and two sisters and attended St. Augustine Grade School in Larchmont and was graduated from St. Gabriel H.S. in New Rochelle. Attracted by student friends he entered the Venard in September, 1939. As a student he was pleasant, serious and sincere, easily making friends. He was ordained at the Center June 12, 1948.

His first assignment was to Brookline where for three years he taught special Latin and English and served as Athletic Director and Director of the Brothers. He was transferred for a year to the Venard faculty at Clarks Summit. In 1952 he was assigned to Bolivia. He became proficient in Spanish and was appointed Assistant Pastor and then pastor in Cotoca. In 1954 he began a serious study of the Aymara Indian language and became the best Aymara speaker and writer among Maryknollers. He served zealously for 21 years among the Aymara people in LaPaz. While on home furlough in 1958 he attended the Summer Institute of Linguistics at Norman, Oklahoma. In that same year he published his Aymara translation of the Sunday Epistles and Gospels as well as the Roman Ritual in Spanish.

As a pastor he proved to be a hard-working, solid missioner, always looking for ways to improve his parish. His Regional Superior wrote that “he had done a magnificent job of building, organizing, getting Sisters and a dozen other things. No one complains of his zeal and activity except that he works too hard”

In 1959 he became Pastor of the Achacachi Parish in the Archdiocese of La Paz and served there for 9 years. In 1968 he was transferred to San Pedro Parish in La Paz. There, besides his pastoral duties, he also served as second consultor to the Regional Superior and as President of the Conference of the clergy in the Archdiocese. Fr. Win. Boteler, Superior General, said “Jake was my first pastor at San Pedro and I am most grateful because he gave me an excellent orientation into the cultureof the people and modeled what he taught by his enthusiasm and love for the people.”

At the age of 53, in 1975, having just completed the Continuing Education Program at Maryknoll, N.Y., Father Esselborn launched out into a totally different apostolate in the new Mission Unit in Bangladesh, seeing himself as “a missioner sent by the people of the Altiplano of Bolivia to the people of Bangladesh.” His work there in Tangail was one of Christian witness in a predominantly non-Christian culture and a search for an effective mission apostolate among the Muslim people. While there he was elected Voting Delegate for the Society Mission Units at the 1984 General Chapter at the Center. After that he returned to Bangladesh, with a special concern for the Society’s vocation situation in the United States.

In September, 1985 he returned to the States and, after some special studies and spiritual renewal, he was assigned to the Development Department for a year to research the Chapter recommended Overseas Discernment Program for vocation prospects. In 1987 he was transferred to the new Vocation Office to implement the Discernment program in San Vicente, Baja California, Mexico.

Father Jacob was a truly dedicated Maryknoller, always faithful to his Oath and constantly working for the best interests of the Society and its mission. Ever aware that our income came from sacrificing Catholics in the U.S., he managed funds carefully and lived modestly, almost frugally, in his daily life.

A Wake Service at the Center on April 4th was conducted by Fr. Manuel Mejia, and the biography read by Bro. Jude Conniff. The next day Bishop Richard Ham was principal celebrant at the Mass with Fr. Leo Sommer as homilist. Fr. John Corcoran conducted the graveside ceremony.