Bernhard Hagen 1936 – 2016 (PE nr. 1077)

Coming back from this year’s visit to Ghana Bernhard didn’t feel well. He himself drove to the doctor in Rheine who diagnosed an acute heart problem. Bernhard was flown by helicopter to the heart clinic at Bad Rothenfelde. The same day he was operated on and received a triple bypass.
It went well but then he got a malaria attack with kidney and liver failure. The doctors put him into an artificial coma; and he never woke up.

“The only important things in life are the traces of love which we leave behind when we go.”  (Albert Schweitzer)

Fr. B. Hagen was born the second of 8 children in Northern Germany (Haren-Altenberge in the Emsland). After 8 years primary school he trained as mason and carpenter. But his real aim in life was to become a missionary. Therefore he continued his education in the secondary school. And he joined us then for philosophy in Trier. He continued with the Spiritual Year in Hörstel. From 1966 to 1970 he studied theology at St. Edward’s College Totteridge. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 27th of June 1969 The Bishop of Osnabrück, Helmut Herman Wittler, ordained him a priest on the 27th of June 1970 in his home parish.

Three months later he was able to leave for Ghana. He was one of the pioneer missionaries in the newly erected diocese of Damongo. He started full of enthusiasm, with energy, zeal and ready to endure all sorts of difficulties. His first appointment was to Bole where he felt himself particularly sent to the people in the countryside. Together with Fr. Peter Roth and Br. Rudolf Keith they were a strong team and all thought that they would do a thorough job – which they did. But it was hard work. There were long distances to be covered; there were no or extremely poor roads and the people were very simple. But the prospects were promising. Especially the people of the tribe of the Loby were open to any kind of development work; that made all the hard work light.

In 1979, Bernhard was asked to start a new parish in Tuna. It was only about 70 km away from Bole but still quite much underdeveloped. It was quite a challenge to learn a new language, to get to know the people and to understand them and adapt oneself to their culture. First the mission station had to be built; then he was to look after medical care, finding water and building schools. A lot of time was spent with basic infrastructure projects. It was great team work; Br. Keith helped tirelessly with his Unimog and provided food on the table.

The years from 1975 to 1990 were of particular importance for Bernhard. The country passed through a period of instability with bloody tribal conflicts. In these circumstances it was not easy to proclaim the gospel. Still, Bernhard did not allow himself to be discouraged. He felt himself particularly challenged to work for the betterment of the life of the people, especially the youth. These were his triple priorities: 1. Social betterment, especially health and education; 2. Economic development; 3. Religious education and parish work. All aspects were needed for a harmonious development.

Our confrere received great support from a circle of friends in his home parish (Aktionskreis Pater Hagen) and in Hörstel (Arbeitskreis Kulmasa) where Bernhard lived his last years. They helped faithfully for 34 years. Today the parish of Tuna has grown so much that Kulmasa and Kalba have become independent parishes. Kalba has become especially important with 64 villages and more than 20.000 inhabitants.

In 1993 Bernhard asked his superiors to stay in Germany because his health was no longer good and malaria attacks were heavy. Already in 1992 – during the Post-Cap in Ghana – the White Fathers had decided to concentrate on three language groups: Sisala, Dagomba and Garu. Bernhard did not know any of these languages. And with regard to construction work: by now there were lay people who could look after that. Therefore he was ready to stay in Germany and to work for missionary animation in as much as his remaining strength would allow him. Already while in Ghana he had made an effort to build bridges between groups in Germany and Ghana. Here in Germany, in his position as the leader of the mission department of the Diocese of Muenster (1994 – 2003) he could develop these good relationships substantially. He made great efforts to develop and deepen the partnership between the dioceses of Muenster and Tamale. No one will forget the “bushmeetings” for young people in Hörstel (our former Noviciate) where Bernhard was able to install a sense of mutual interest and common responsibility and where he could animate the participants to support enthusiastically the work in Ghana. A lady authored a biography about Bernhard which documents well the dedication of our confrere.

Christians in Tuna – Kalba – Kulmasa and those who got to know him in the Diocese Münster felt deep sorrow at the passing away of this great missionary. The Bishop of Damongo wrote, “I wish to acknowledge with deep gratitude his contribution towards the development of the Church in northern Ghana, especially in my diocese where he spent most of his missionary life. We will forever remember him for his missionary zeal and commitment in the work of evangelization among the poor.” May God grant his faithful servant the reward of eternal life.

Günther Zahn

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