Standing on the dais in the classroom, he was doing mathematical drawings on the blackboard. The wooden compass he was using was a big one. It was something I had never seen before.
He had his glasses on, was wearing a white shirt, and was giving a lecture on vectors, as far as I can remember.
First, he addressed the class in English and continued for a while. Well, it was expected that he would speak English as it was an English medium class. But the problem was we, the 15-year-old Bangladeshi students, did not have adequate proficiency to fully comprehend a lecture in English.
And he was speaking impeccable English effortlessly. After all, he was a native American. But most of us in the class had our schooling in Bangla medium. Besides, we had probably never held a five-minute conversation fully in English with our friends or families, let alone follow a lecture in English in an academic setting.
So, even though he was speaking flawless English and already had decades of experience as a science teacher, we were struggling to understand the lecture. The sense of discomfort among us was hard to miss. Perhaps he noticed that and suddenly said something in perfect Bangla.
And that is when we were surprised as well as amused to know that Holy Cross Father Joseph Stephen Peixotto, popularly known as Father Peixotto among his students, spoke Bangla. His Bangla words quickly put us at ease. We expected him to give the full lecture in Bangla.
That did not happen, but he did speak some more Bangla in the following days that included both general conversations and physics lessons. He was explaining momentum one day in English. At one point, he said, "Bhorbeg holo bhor ebong beg er gunfol" (Momentum is the product of mass and velocity).
That was 18 years ago when I was a higher secondary student of Notre Dame College, but this particular sentence still resonates in my ears. He was our physics teacher for several weeks before Badrul sir took over. Suddenly, we started missing him.
After that, I would occasionally see this tall, bald man walking along the corridor. He would always seem to be in a hurry, but I understood later that it was a manifestation of his dynamism. A smile was a permanent feature of his face.
My teenage brain at the time did not fully understand what it meant to be a priest and what their roles were. I just had the idea that a priest dresses in a cassock, wears a cross of Jesus around the neck, devotes his life to religious activities, and never marries.
It was not until later in my life that I realised that apart from being a missionary, Father Peixotto had done something truly remarkable in Bangladesh's education sector. He not only worked in this sector; he devoted himself to improving our education. That was his passion.
He made significant contributions to our education sector in various capacities, including as a teacher and an administrator, for nearly six decades. He came here in 1962, a year after his ordination. Bangladesh was East Pakistan at the time.
Father Peixotto saw the birth of independent Bangladesh. Five years after independence, he became the principal of Notre Dame College, a duty he carried out for 22 years. He was the longest-serving principal in the history of this prestigious institution.
Notre Dame College has always made it a priority to embrace students of disadvantaged families. During a programme when I was a student there, then principal Father Benjamin Costa said, "We want to provide good education to underprivileged students so that they can also grow to make valuable contributions to society."
Father Peixotto became the epitome of putting this motto into practice. He would help if someone sought financial assistance. He would offer free accommodations to boys coming from poor, rural families at Martin Hall on the college campus. He would also help those in need during calamities. A true humanist he was.
He served this country by educating young minds for years after years. Selflessly. He loved Bangladesh. Deeply.
His love for his adopted country was very intense. He was told to return home many times after his retirement, but he did not. Bangladesh became his home.
He loved Bangladesh so much that he wished to die and be buried here even though he was not a citizen of this country. What else can embody true love? His love for Bangladesh teaches us that true love is unconditional, that it knows no borders, and that it promotes humanitarianism.
Rest in peace, Father. I wrote this tribute because I feel your love. We love you the way you loved us and our country.
The author works as a journalist at The Business Standard