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In Memoriam

- Arthur W. Menezes

“Greater love than this no man hath, than man lay down his life for his friends” - Bible.
While Fr. Cortes’s body perished in the Khatau Mansion fire in November 1962,  his Soul and his memory lives on forever   To us, Campionites, we are proud of and our Spiritual & Vocational Counsellor.  
I well remember the sequence of events:  I was teaching the 10-A when my attention was drawn at 11.10 a.m. to dense clouds of smoke emanating from the 2nd building from our School.  Realizing that this was a serious fire, I rushed downstairs after sending a message, on my own authority, that the recess from 11.20-11.40 was cancelled till further notice, I contacted the Superior of the House, Rev. Fr. Molina, S. J. to close the school in the interests of the students and their startled parents.  Rev. Fr. Molina told me to consult Fr. Cortes, since our Principal Rev. Fr.-E. F. More S. J. was making his retreat.  Accordingly I rushed down to look for Fr. Cortes, but was informed, by one our school drivers, that had rushed into the flaming building. Failing therefore to contact Fr; Cortes, I informed the Superior, Fr., Molina and recommended immediate closure of the school and the requisitioning of BEST buses to dispatch the students home, Mr. Karmerkar the father of one of our boys rose to the, occasion, waived aside all formalities and dispatched 4 BEST buses, while the staff School assembled the students in the back gardens.  We were thus able, to send all our boys home by bus in order and in safety.  
In the meantime the fire grew worse and Campion School gave shelter to many of the inmates of the doomed Khatau Mansion. It was now 12.30 and Fr. Cortes had not returned! We were standing by the gates and were deluged by, anxious inquiries of our boys’ parent as to the safety of their children.  We informed them that they had been sent home.  To some of the older boys, who lingered nearby watching the flames ear into the building, the fire was the thrill of their lives. It was now 1.30 p.m. when Mrs. Brown, a staff member, made anxious enquiries Fr. Cortes, this enquiry of hers spurred me on, and I notified the Commissioner of Police and the Chief Fire Officer about the disappearance of Rev. Fr. Cortes.  They assured me that nobody had been found so far and that, perhaps, Fr. Cortes had gone to some friends’ place after rescuing them. At 2.30 p.m. both Mrs. Brown and I grew restless.  It was passed lunch hour and Fr. Cortes would certainly have communicated with Campion School by now.  Once again I approached the Chief Fire Officer and asked about Fr. Cortes and for permission to enter the burning building.
At 2.45 p.m. permission was finally accorded, and Walter Valles (a Student), a fire brigade Officer and myself entered the burning building.  But because of the heat and fal1ing debris we were not able to go beyond 2nd floor, and returned disheartened. At 3•15 p.m. the Chief Fire Officer informed me that a body had been found on the 3rd floor landing and it had been removed to St. George’s hospitals, we rushed there in a taxi and received the shock of our lives – it was our Fr. Cortes.  So passed away a noble soul, impetuous and dashing, - but for the good for human being, - forgetful of himself, always thinking of others.  Though everyone from Khatau Mansion was saved, even the parsi gentlemen who could not walk, yet it was Fr. Cortes, an outsider, who perished.  On the 3rd floor landing his body was found, not burned nor charred, but asphyxiated – for Fr. Cortes’ body was intact including his hair and his clothes.  So perished a man of god and of men.  God bless him, and may his soul rest in peace.

That same year in may 1962, Fr. Cortes had accompanied me on tour of Kashmir. Lively, energetic and always out to help people and to bring cheer into their lives – this was Fr. Cortes. We, the members of the Staff of Campion, will never forget how every morning he would bring us the daily newspaper and other magazines for our delight and enlightenment.

Religiously, day in and day out, this priest of God, brought cheer into the masters’ room with his cheerfulness and humour.  The more a person satisfied another’s need, the more he is appreciated: and so Fr. Cortes the more he satisfied. Gone from our midst is Fr. Cortes.  Gone indeed is his cheerfulness as he burst upon  us in our Master’s room.  Gone indeed is the contagious smile and exuberant personality from our midst.  But not gone is the memory of a man of God, who, leaving his country, Spain, come to brighten the horizon of Campion School.  May God grant eternal rest to his dear soul.  May he rest in peace.  Amen.