Unforgettable Father Watrin

Features Issue 30 Aug, 2010
Text by Dinesh Rai / Photo: ECS Media

A life dedicated to the service of fellow men: that would best describe the life of Fr. Eugene Watrin, who was a teacher, social  worker and in the words of one of his students, a confidant and inspiration to others.I met father Watrin only once in my lifetime at the GAA   (Godavari Alumni Association) Hall in Thamel, although I often saw him cycling through the streets of Kathmandu. We had organized a concert “Come Together” as a tribute to John Lennon at the hall on October 9th (Lennon’s Birthday) 1987. The GA President had requested us to end the concert early. He warned us “Fr. Watrin lives upstairs and we don’t want to disturb his sleep.” Much to our surprise and delight, on the night of the concert, we saw the dear reverend happily taking snap shots of our performance way past his bedtime. After the concert, he told us how much he had enjoyed the music. It was his genuine appreciation of our performance that really made our day. We even received copies of the photos, which unfortunately are in the possession of the other band called “Legend” that performed that night.

Eugene L. Watrin was born on July 28th 1920 in Dayton, Ohio, USA. His father worked for General Motors and his mother was a housewife. As a boy, Eugene grew up with three sisters and one brother. He graduated from Xavier’s University, Cincinnati majoring in English and completed his Masters in English Literature from Loyola University, Chicago. He went on to do M. Ed in guidance and counseling. At a young age he chose to become a priest and by 1946 was on a ship sailing to India where he arrived in January 1947. He began his service at the Sacred Heart School in Bihar. Thereafter he served two years at St.Xavier’s, Pune, before going on to St. Mary’s College in Kurseong to study Theology. He then returned to Bihar for a short spell, after which he headed for Nepal aboard a DC3.

As a 26 year old priest, Fr. Watrin arrived  in Kathmandu on May 15th 1955. He joined St. Xavier’s Godavari School as Hostel Prefect and Vice Principal. He was also a senior English teacher and in 1962, became Principal in place of Fr. Niesen. In 1969, he became the Director of GAA  at Thamel and it was through his tireless efforts that a new building was constructed. Then in 1988, he became the Chairman of the board and a founding member of St. Xavier’s Campus, Maitighar. In 1993, he founded the Social Action Volunteers (SAV), which was later merged with GAA. Both the organizations are involved in community development activities through health clinics and hospital support units. In 2001, he was awarded the National Social Service Award and in 2003, received the Nepal Veteran Athletes Association Award for his contribution to games and sports during his 48 years of service in Nepal. Recently he had received the Gorkha Dakshin Bahu 3rd Class from King Gyanendra.

According to countless old boys, Fr. Watrin’s English classes enriched the lives of many a student. He was a leading figure in the field of social service and through GAA was involved in many activities doing community work helping the less privileged. The reverend was the guiding light at the Alumni Association. He was the driving force behind extracurricular activities at both St. Xavier’s and GAA, where he encouraged scouting, playing basketball, hockey, football and athletics which played a major role in the students’ lives. Some of the competitions (Quiz) he initiated went on to become national competitions. He has touched the lives of most of the prominent figures in Nepali society, be it in the armed forces, police force, health services, media, education, development sector, the list goes on…

The lanky priest on a bicycle was a familiar sight on the busy streets of Kathmandu and will remain forever in our minds. Unbelievably, he continued his biking habit past his 83rd birthday and even after he was diagnosed with cancer. After a brief stay in the US for chemotherapy, he returned to Nepal to continue his dedicated service to needy Nepali people. He passed away at the B & B Hospital on February 29th 2004, but his legacy remains to remind future generations of this great Jesuit priest and his selfless deeds.

 The Father Eugene L. Watrin Scholarship Endowment Fund that he set up helps Nepali children (especially girls) in difficult circumstances to get proper education. For contributions to the Endowment Fund contact Fr. Locke : Ph. 5522219 ext.14.