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2010 Company Magazine on Creel
Marty McHugh on Creel
He was a Mexican Jesuit. His first name was Luis, but his last name. Verplancken. made you scratch your head until you learned that his mother was from Mexico, his father from Belgium.
His was a cozy office. Some might have said cramped. but that's not my memory`. Stuffed with books and furniture, it was connected to a medical clinic that he had founded in Creel in the state of Chihuahua.
My extended family and I, seventeen of us, were traveling through the Barranca del Cobre, the Copper Canyon, which cuts through the Sierra Tarahumara in north central Mexico. At Los Mochis, on Mexico's west coast. we boarded the Chihuahua-Pacific train, which skirts the canyon ridges and crosses them on very high trestles. Once a day we'd get off and stay in lodging along the way. One place would be on a cool canyon ridge with astounding views: the next in a tropical valley, reached after driving down switchback dirt roads from a mile above. These weren't four-star resorts but homey, comfortable digs with wonderful food and cold beer. The Tarahumara are the region's native people. Their ancestors had fled the Spanish centuries earlier and taken root in this land of mountains and canyons. These were the people to whom Verplancken ministered. He founded a small hospital in 1965 that thrives today, as the Clinica Santa Teresita. He built schools, drilled water wells, helped develop a craft industry, and much more.
Company had run a story in the Spring '02 issue about Verplancken's works, written by Sandy Brown, a volunteer there, and illustrated by some remarkable photos taken by Verplancken himseIf (www.companymagazine.org/vl93/loveofapeople. htm). Creel was on our vacation route. I was in the neighborhood, so to speak, and. wanted to meet him.
"Desculpame, Padre, Mi Espanol es muy malo," I said to Verplancken.
"We can speak in English. if you'd prefer." Verplancken replied.
I can't remember much of our conversation, but I do remember Verplancken as a gracious, unassuming man. Humility has never been my strong suit, but I sure felt it during our conversation. The feeling intensified when I Iearned that he died shortly after our meeting. It turns out that he had traveled back from chemotherapy sessions in the city of Chihuahua specifically to meet me.
I've lost count of the number of people, Jesuit and lay, with whom I've had the great fortune to e-mail, talk with. and meet who were like Verplancken in their capacity for work in the Society's many ministries and in their unassuming, humility while doing so. They made my time as Company's editor a source of joy and inspiration.
This introduction is also a conclusion, as Company publisher Dan Flaherty. SJ, and I pass off our respective tasks to James Rogers and Tricia Steadman Jump, who will he producing Company at the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C., a fitting locale for a national magazine.
Flaherty and I hope—actually, we know—that they will meet many, many Verplanckens in their work, and Company will be the better for it.
Former Editor in Chief