June 15, 2020 – David Owens Travers was born on June 27, 1934, in Lynn, Mass., the younger of twin sons of Daniel and Helena (Owens) Travers. He attended the schools of St. Joseph’s Parish and St. Mary’s High School, in Lynn, where his tuition and his brother’s were paid by the pastor of St Joseph’s.
He attended Boston College for two years (1953-1955). At some point the idea of a religious vocation had begun to take shape. A high-school classmate had a brother who was in the Shadowbrook novitiate. Fr. Travers and the classmate visited him there and Fr. Travers found himself saying, “I’d like to come here too.” The rest was history, Fr. Travers said. But his BC courses were mostly science and math so he spent a year at the Jesuit-run Philip Neri School in Boston, where candidates for the seminary or religious orders could fulfill the Latin requirements for seminary admission. He entered the novitiate in 1955.
That turned out to be a momentous year. In March of 1956 fire destroyed Shadowbrook. “Christmas Eve we woke up to Christmas carols and thought we were in heaven. Then on March 10 we woke up to smoke and a fire and we thought we were in hell.” That was how he looked back on the event. But it had a happy outcome for Fr. Travers. He was among those sent to the novitiate at Plattsburg, New York, where the charismatic Andy Brady was Novice Master; his large-minded spirituality left its mark on Fr. Travers.
In 1955 he took first vows. After two more years, of juniorate studies, he left for Weston and three years of philosophy studies. Then, for regency, he spent three years at Baghdad College, teaching math and geometry and living with students in a dormitory. He loved the work and, when he left in 1963 for theology studies at Weston, he hoped to return to work in Baghdad after ordination. That was not to be, however, because in the meantime the government had expelled all Americans from the country.
Fr. Travers was ordained a priest in 1968 and for his fourth or pastoral year of theology he worked at the St. Joseph Center in the Charlestown section of Boston, which continued the tradition of a Jesuit ministry to working men, offering retreats, evening programs in the Church’s social teaching, confession and other forms of pastoral care. During this year he also completed the requirements for a Master’s in biology at Tufts. After completing the year of tertianship at Pomfret, Connecticut, Fr. Travers returned to the St. Joseph Center for three more years (1971-1974). The next two years he spent as chaplain at Boston City Hospital.
Then Fr. Travers’s life took a new and rather momentous change of direction. He had joined the Naval Reserve, shortly after finishing theology, at the height of the war in Vietnam. In 1976 he was called to active duty as a Navy chaplain. The provincial said it was the first time a Jesuit had ever asked him for permission to join the Navy.
He first went to chaplains’ school, then to a number of assignments in the years that followed. The moment he stepped aboard his first ship he felt at home, he said. Being in the Navy was not that different from life in the Society, he thought; you always had someone you had to report to and if you needed help there was always another Jesuit to help. The posting he spoke most fondly of was to the U.S.S. Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, where he was senior chaplain with a parish of some 3000 officers and crew. Over the course of 20 years he advanced to the rank of commander. The next step would have been captain but he had received a poor fitness report from a superior officer whom he had reprimanded once for constantly yelling at the him and other officers under him. It had to be done, he said.
Fr. Travers retired from the Navy in 1996, and decided he would look for parish work. His last posting had been at Pearl Harbor, so he asked the bishop of Honolulu if he needed help. Thus Fr. Travers became administrator, in effect pastor, of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Honolulu. The parishioners loved him and he loved them. He was known as a good listener and made a point of being available at any hour of the day or night to anyone, Catholic or not, as he had been aboard the ships on which he served. When health issues forced him to retire as parish administrator, in 2011, he simply continued to do the same kinds of things he had done as pastor, but with a bit more time for golf and crossword puzzles. But his health problems continued. He could only say Mass with a deacon at his side. At length the bishop, the provincial, and Fr. Travers entered into a painful conversation, whether he should come back to the province. Even then, the parishioners wanted him to stay. But that really wasn’t feasible.
Fr. Travers came to Campion Health Center in 2016. His quiet cheerfulness endeared him to everyone. He delighted in reconnecting with nieces and nephews and their children. Parishioners from Hawaii visited more than once. When his memory and his sense of the world around him began to falter, he still responded cheerfully to everyone who greeted him. His health slowly declined but it was still a surprise when he died on the morning of June 14th, 2020.
In keeping with public health recommendations due to the coronavirus, the wake and funeral Mass for David on Friday, June 19, 2020 at Campion Center will be private.
BURIAL: Campion Center, Weston, MA