Father Robert J. Hughes, MM
Born: August 7, 1924
Ordained: June 10, 1951
Died: September 1, 1985
Fr. Robert J. Hughes died suddenly on September 1, 1985, at his parish in Kyoto, Japan, at the age of 61.
Father Bob was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on August 7, 1924. It was in his third year at Brooklyn Cathedral High School that he decided to seek admission to Maryknoll. He had met Fr. Martin Burke, M.M. who was on furlough and who belonged to the same parish. After several informal chats with Fr. Burke, his interest for the missionary priesthood grew and he soon afterwards applied and was accepted in 1942. He studied at the Venard and at the Center where he was ordained June 10, 1951.
Fr. Hughes spent all of his missionary life in Japan. Those who knew him well wrote about him as “a good missioner who works hard at the job, puts his faith in the traditional methods and the old virtues. He is generous and cooperative, has good judgment, and is always dependable. He has a good outlook on the missionary life and is thoroughly dedicated to the work.” He was a zealous missioner. Just out of language school he sent out a letter of appeal which expresses his desire to get to work. He writes: “The possibilities for the Church in this area are tremendous. In the pre-war years conversions were few. Now all is changed. The people are living in a spiritual vacuum which they long to have filled. Too many are the priestless cities, towns and villages throughout this section where thousands of good people are hungering for the truths of our Faith; but, as St. Paul asked: ‘How can they hear without a preacher?'” Father Bob went to work to set up a catechetical program, reaching out to the poor and the under-nourished. He was always looking for new ways to attract people to the Faith. Together with his assistant, a youth center was set up in the silk-weaving district of Kyoto where thousands of young people worked or went to school. Here they held folk dances, music lessons, cooking and art classes, and the like. Fun was the keynote at the youth center but things of the spirit also had a special place in the program. There was an annual retreat for all, a weekly Bible study class, discussions and the nightly catechism class which was well attended.
He once wrote: “Don’t leave a stone unturned is our motto.” Always searching for activities which would attract people and helping others at the same time, he continued: “This month is Community Chest Month. We in the parish have been taking turns out on the street selling Red Feathers. At least everyone will know that the Church exists and is active. Our baseball team, the Hikone Dodgers, unlike their namesakes in Brooklyn,got only as far as the finals in the Diocesan League, but lost. Our cry is: ‘Wait until next year!'”
His great desire to lead others to the Faith won for him the name ‘The Mailbox Missioner’. At one time he sent out an average of 4,000 letters a month to his yet-to-be-Christians in that area. Fr. Bob said he would get about five responses for every thousand. He never seemed to get discouraged.
Bob’s life was that of “the faithful servant”. How happy are those servants whose master finds them awake and ready when he returns. How happy they are if he finds them ready even if he should come at midnight or even later. (Luke 12:37-8)
The funeral service was held in the Kyoto Cathedral on September 4, 1985 and burial was in Kyoto Catholic Cemetery. The Mass at Maryknoll Center was held on September 6th. Sayonara, Father Bob! May he rest in peace.