Fr. George H. Minamiki, SJ (ND, ’77PhD), taught the Freshman Year Introductory Japanese Course to generations of Notre Dame students. He started the Japanese language program and the Japan Club at Notre Dame and guided the University’s Year-in-Japan program for many years.
George H. Minamiki was born in California, grew up in the Los Angeles area, where he graduated from Loyola High School in 1936, and Loyola Marymount University in 1940.
George was interned with his parents by the United States government after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
- In 1945, George entered the Society of Jesus in California but was sent to the east coast for his novitiate, returning to the California Province in the summer of 1946 when the political climate had calmed.
- After completing his Jesuit philosophy studies at Mount St. Michaels in Spokane in 1949, George was assigned to the Japanese mission at Kobe Shi, where he worked teaching English and religion at Rokko Gakuin and completed language training.
- George completed his Jesuit theology studies at Alma College, in California, and was ordained a priest on June 12, 1954 at the Jesuit Seminary in Los Gatos, California. Fr. Minamiki’s classmates fondly remembered meeting George’s mother… “Her gentle kindness certainly stole the show; what a gracious and beautiful lady.”
- After Alma College, he went to tertianship, a second novitiate, in France.
- In 1956 Fr. Minamiki returned to Japan, where after a year of language studies in Yokosuka, he taught English and ethics in Eiko Gakuen. Then he was assigned to the Jesuit high school Hiroshima Gakuin in Hiroshima, Japan.
- On February 2, 1962, Fr. Minamiki made his solemn profession and officially joined the Japanese Province of the Jesuits.
- From 1962 until 1966 he served as principal of Hiroshima Gakuin, while also teaching English. He applied what he learned about high school education in Japan at Rokko Gakuin and Eiko Gakuen to his new work as principal. Hiroshima Gakuin was just beginning and had no reputation to attract good students. So he worked out a very precise English course and increased the hours of English from 6 to 8 hours a week. Then he, personally, spent many evening hours a week to learn statistics to make a system that could raise the level of the school. The result was that in four years the standard and reputation of Hiroshima Gakuin were so high that when those students graduated they entered many well-known universities.
- After completing his stint as principal, Fr. Minamiki returned to the United States and joined the faculty of the University of Notre Dame as a Japanese instructor while working towards a Ph.D. in liturgy, which he completed in 1977. That same year he was promoted to assistant professor at ND and to associate professor in 1986. His book, The Chinese Rites Controversy from its Beginning to Modern Times, was published in 1985.
- Fr. Minamiki received the 1988 Sheedy Award for Excellence in Teaching in the College of Arts and Letters, and he was co-recipient of the Madden Award in 1991 for Outstanding Teaching of Freshmen. For more than twenty years Fr. Minamiki also served as the coordinator of Notre Dame’s Year-in-Japan program.
- Fr. George H. Minamiki, SJ, author and retired professor (emeritus 1992) of Japanese at University of Notre Dame died suddenly of a heart attack on Friday January 4, 2002. He was 82 years old.
He was loved — and is missed — by all who knew him. He made it quite clear that upon his death he wished to be cremated and his ashes placed in the crypt with his Jesuit brothers at St. Ignatius, the Jesuit Church on the campus of Sophia University in Tokyo. Many former students have, in the years since his death, stopped by his crypt during business hours to pay their respects. Additionally, many former students have enjoyed a few quiet moments in front of the tree that is dedicated to him and which includes a memorial plaque on the Notre Dame campus. (It is located very close to the Alumni Center).
Fr. Minamiki is survived by his sister Mrs. Umeko Mori and his nephews Alfred and Stephen Mori.