Jesuit writer and mathematician Father Valles dies, aged 95

Father Carlos Gonzalez Valles, who spent five decades in India and left his imprint on the country authoring 78 books in the Gujarati language, passed away in Madrid, Spain Oct. 9.  He was 95 years of age.

His death is being mourned by many in India, particularly those from the western state of Gujarat. Among the mourners was Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi, who was a three-time Chief Minister of the state.

“Father Vallés endeared himself to many, especially in Gujarat. He distinguished himself in diverse areas such as mathematics and Gujarati literature. He was also passionate about serving society. Saddened by his demise. May his soul rest in peace,” Modi tweeted.

Father Valles was born in Logrono on Nov. 4, 1925 and joined a seminary at the age of 15. He described himself as “a cheerful student, voracious reader, passionate friend, captain of the football team, in love with Mozart, and enjoying a good appetite” in his autobiography ‘I am Collecting Rainbows’.

The Jesuit priest was posted in Gujarat in 1949. He mastered the local language by vowing not to speak a word of English while he was studying the state.

Justifying his action, he wrote on his self-created website that: “The heart is reached through the mother tongue. In my region that was Gujarati, which also was Mahatma Gandhi’s mother tongue. I studied it during the ‘language year’ prescribed for all Jesuit seminarians.”

A prolific writer, Father Valles’ Gujarati books won him many literary prizes. He became the first foreigner to win the Ranjit Ram Gold Medal, the highest literary award in the state in 1978. He wrote a weekly column for Gujarat Samachar the main Gujarati daily.

He was later “compelled” to write in English and he published over 24 books in English and 42 in Spanish. His books have been translated into Chinese and European languages.

‘Gandhi: Alternative to Violence’, ‘Life with Honor’, ‘Christian Self-Esteem’, ‘I am Collecting Rainbows’, ‘Unencumbered by Baggage — Tony De Mello: A Prophet of Our Times,’ are among some of his titles.

Father Valles wrote impromptu the last-mentioned book, a tribute to his fellow Jesuit priest.  He stated that shortly after attending a two-week course by Father De Mello he got a phone call informing of his death. He immediately moved from the phone to the typewriter and “without any sketch or plane or old notes, I put on paper and sent to the press my living memories of the man who was and remains one of the most influential spiritual masters in our days.”

His passion to serve God and people are reflected in his books: ‘Sketches of God,’ ‘Praying Together’, ‘Faith for Justice’, ‘Our Lady of Joy’. 

During his tenure in Gujarat, he lived for ten years among the local people and eating their vegetarian food. Every week he would knock at a different door and stay with them in a bid to understand the culture better.

He not only wrote books in Gujarati but also translated mathematical concepts into Gujarati. Father Valles, a post graduate in Mathematics, introduced “modern math” in the Gujarat University. He wrote the first textbook on abstract algebra, and represented India at international mathematics congresses in Moscow, Exeter and Nice.  

He taught Mathematics at St. Xavier’s College Ahmedabad from 1960 to 1982.

“I started my mathematics teaching in Ahmedabad the year Gujarat separated from Mumbai and became a new state (1960),” he wrote in his autobiography.

“Father Valles was a mathematician, musician, writer, mentor, spiritual guru and guide all rolled into one,” said Father Cedric Prakash who spent many years with him. “He contributed immensely to the Gujarati language and culture; perhaps no foreigner or non-Gujarati has reached his level in this,” Father Prakash said.

Remembering his days with his mentor, Father Prakash said “he always had time to listen. He encouraged me in my pursuit of inter-faith, communal harmony work and also in my works of Justice and Peace.”

Father Prakash, who is now founder-director of Prashant, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace said: “In fact in 2011, he wanted me to accompany him to China for a meeting on humanitarian and religious law but unfortunately because of some other commitments I could not make it.”

After his retirement, Father Valles settled in Madrid to accompany his mother until she died at the age of 101.

The Jesuit priest lost his father when he was just ten. Six months after his death, the Spanish Civil War broke out and he had to flee his home, along with his mother and brother. They went to live with his mother’s aunt where he attended a Jesuit school along with his brother and later joined a Jesuit novitiate.

Father Valles wrote on his website: “ The thought of leaving India had never crossed my mind… My beloved mother, when she reached 90, asked for my company and I was happy to obtain permission to do so. To accompany her in her last years has been one of the things that has given me the greatest satisfaction and fulfilment in my life.”

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