Arriving in Bangladesh, a country ravaged by war and poverty, he was hesitant. A young man from the mountainous terrain of northern Italy, he was unaccustomed to the flat landscapes.
Over time, he fell in love with Bangladesh and its people. Witnessing the plight of impoverished women seeking aid daily, he felt a calling distinct from other priests. He believed that aid could inadvertently foster dependency. Instead, he envisioned empowering local families through work opportunities.
He began training local women to craft products from locally sourced materials such as jute, date leaves, and recycled cotton. He also established markets in Italy for their products.
As BaSE grew, producer groups formed, and partnerships with other organizations emerged to sell the handicrafts. In 2005, I had the privilege of meeting Fr. John while working at the SAT Group Handicrafts Unit. His efficiency, communication skills, and compassion immediately impressed me.
In 2007, Fr. John invited me to join his team at BaSE, an offer I eagerly accepted. Working with him was a transformative experience. He was a true superhero, single-handedly managing all aspects of BaSE, from sourcing raw materials to marketing.
Fr. John abhorred unnecessary bureaucracy and complexity. He believed in achieving maximum output with minimal effort. He was also a deeply spiritual man whose faith infused his work with meaning and purpose.
On October 4, 2009, Fr. John was traveling to Dhaka for BaSE-related matters. He said he would be back in a couple of days. But on October 5, I received the devastating news of his death in a car accident.
His passing was a shock to everyone who knew him. Over a thousand artisans, friends, and family members were devastated. Yet, amidst our grief, a determination emerged: Fr. John had dedicated over 30 years of his life to the artisans of Bangladesh, and his legacy must endure.
With the support of the Bangladesh Xaverian Society, Fr. John’s family and friends, and our partners, we have steered BaSE towards sustainability. We have repaid our debts, established our own land and warehouse facilities, diversified our markets, improved logistics, obtained WFTO guarantee certification, created an advance payments fund for producers, and established the Fr. John Memorial Fund to support producers’ medical care, children’s education, housing, and sanitation.
Today, on the 14th anniversary of Fr. John’s death, we continue to honor his memory by working to ensure the sustainable livelihoods of artisans in Bangladesh. We are inspired by his vision and dedication, and we are committed to keeping his spirit alive in our hearts.