Father John F. Guidera S.J., at Xavier School, near Chaibasa, India.
Father John F. Guidera S.J., at Xavier School, near Chaibasa, India. (Tom Guidera III)

The Rev. John F. Guidera, a Jesuit missionary who lived in India for six decades while retaining close ties with his Maryland benefactors, died of septicemia May 16 in Jamshedpur. He was 86.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Govans, he was a 1943 Loyola High School graduate. He then entered the Jesuit seminary in Wernersville, Pa., and attended Weston College in Weston, Mass.

"It was on a November evening in 1950 that the SS Chusan took him to Bombay harbor ... a young Jesuit far from his home in Baltimore, dispatched as a missionary to work for the rest of his life in the land of the poor, the leprotic, the dying and the hungry," a 1986 Evening Sun column said.

In one of Father Guidera's many letters distributed to his friends and donors, he wrote in 1975, "It turned out that once the unknown became known, the stranger became a friend and the country became my home. I have found much happiness and peace."

He studied at DeNobili College in Pune, India, from 1953 to 1957. He was ordained a priest in India in 1956.

He served at Jamshedpur, a city about 200 miles west of Calcutta. Colleagues said that Maryland Jesuits were initially asked to come to the city to run a school for boys whose families were associated with Kaiser engineering consultants establishing an auto plant in the years after India gained its independence from England.

He and other Jesuits soon expanded the scope of their work as they saw a need for more schools for the poor, dispensaries for the sick and other ministries. They worked closely with the local clergy.

"He was a great parish priest who especially dedicated his life to leading and serving the young people of the parish," said a friend, Vivian D'Almeida, who lives in Australia. "His greatest gift was that he made young people feel valued and important. Despite his busy life as parish priest and missionary, he always had time to talk to you."

Friends recalled him as a tireless fundraiser and builder. They said he saw many of his goals achieved.

"At his death, there were 34,913 students in Jesuit schools" in Jamshedpur, said the Rev. Joseph Lacey, a friend and fellow Jesuit who is pastor of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Church in Woodstock and served with him in India. "One of his favorite sayings that he'd use in time of decision making was 'Think of others.'"

Father Guidera's sister, Rita Zungailia of Baltimore, said that on his first trip back in Baltimore in 1963, he told friends of India's poverty and of his vision for expanding education, particular for young girls.

Working with Frank A. Gunther, later chairman of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and a brother-in-law, Frank Mace, he devised a dollar-a-month club.

They sought pledges from friends throughout Baltimore. Once a month, Father Guidera wrote a letter, which was reproduced and distributed locally.

"He described his daily life in India," said Mr. Gunther, who lives in Ocean City. "He made it very personal."

Family members — he had 60 nieces and nephews — and friends from Govans supported his works. His list grew to 1,400 names.

"It was like a cottage industry. We got an old addressing machine and got the letters out," his sister said.

His work was often cited at Baltimore fundraisers called Jesuit Jamborees and at luncheons at the Notre Dame University of Maryland. Frances Wilke Haussner, the owner of the well-known restaurant, was a donor to charity auctions associated with his causes.

"He was a personal letter writer and he liked thanking people. Some didn't give much. Some gave plenty," said Ms. Zungailia. "On the times when he was home, he would go along the East Coast and show up, completely unannounced, to thank his benefactors. He liked surprising people."

In May 1965, he wrote from Ranchi: "The people here are very poor and need the children at home to help with farming. But the solution to their poverty will only come when the children are educated and able to get good jobs outside." In another letter, he said, "It seems that the poorer a person is, the more attached he is to his children. As one man told me, 'They are the only thing I can call my own.'"

Over the years, he served at posts in Chaibasa, Jamshedpur and Chakradharpur. In 1972, he was named provincial of the Jesuit's Jamshedpur Province. He returned to Baltimore for a year in 1978 but then returned to India.

He and fellow Jesuits also answered a request from the Indian government to establish a business school, offering a master's degree in administration, to aid in the country's economic growth. Father Guidera was an administrator of the school.

A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Church, 10800 Old Court Road, Woodstock.

In addition to his sister, survivors include a brother, James Guidera of Lutherville; five other sisters, Mary Cummons, Pat Maas, Elizabeth Bollinger and Joan DeSantis, all of Baltimore, and Ann Mace of Glen Mills, Pa.; and nieces and nephews.