Temporary Profile of Jan lenssen

Profile of Jan Lenssen, M.Afr.

Jan Lenssen died a few days ago in Belgium and already his profile was sent to all the Belgian confreres in Dutch, as Jan was from the Limburg province, in a Dutch speaking part of Belgium. Jan was provincial of Belgium and first assistant to the Superior General. He had a very intense life too. The official translation of the profile, in French and English, will follow in due time, but here comes an unofficial translation, quickly made for your information. The Webmaster. 

Jan was born on 13 July 1941 in Kaulille in the province of Limburg, but the family would soon move to Bree. The family consisted of five boys and three girls. The father was a teacher and co-founder of the Legion of Mary section in Bree. An uncle of his mother, Father Laurens Coninx, worked as a White Father in the diocese of Mahagi (where he was to be murdered in Aba in November 1964), and her brother, Laurens (junior), worked in the diocese of Bunia. Jan followed the Greek-Latin humanities in the St-Michael’s’ college in Bree, where he was active at the KSA (Association of the Catholic Scouts). In September 1959, he followed his older brother Rik in joining the White Fathers in Boechout. He did his novitiate in Varsenare and the theological studies in Heverlee. His father died in February 1965. On 25 June 1965 Jan took his missionary oath and on 25 June 1966 he was ordained a priest. During his years of formation, Jan is described as a talented young man, very balanced, exemplary and helpful. He knows what he wants and is capable of taking on a leadership role. He devoted himself very diligently to the apostolate activities. He is a man with practical and common sense and a calm, delicate and discreet way of dealing with things. From 1966 to 1970, he studied in Rome, first theology at the Gregoriana, then morality at the Alphonsianum, ending with a thesis on “The catechumenate after Vatican II”. 

In September 1970, Jan left for Rwanda and learnt Kinyarwanda at the Language Centre (CELA) in Kigali. In February 1971 he was a priest in Masaka, a “paysannat” not far from Kigali, where from 1973 to 1975 he took on the task of “visiting professor” of canon law at the Major Seminary in Nyakibanda. He is also “vice-secretary” of the Episcopal Conference. In 1974 he became a parish priest and the following year he handed over the parish to the Pallotine Fathers. In April 1975 he went on leave and made a study trip to Malawi and Mali. Despite Bishop Perraudin’s personal intervention to the Superior General, Father Vasseur, in order not to take away “one of the best missionaries we absolutely need”, in September 1975, Jan succeeded his brother Rik in the missionary animation of the diocese of Hasselt, and became a professor of moral theology at the Major Seminary in St. Truiden. The Hasselt missionary animation group was very active and Jan regularly wrote in the “Schakel”, the diocesan magazine for missionary animation and deepening of faith. At the beginning of December, Jan becomes provincial assistant of Belgium. He is a delegate at the Chapter of 1980 and in June 1981 he is appointed provincial. He would remain so for two mandates. During these years he was also a member of the National Missionary Commission, of the Inter Diocesan Pastoral Council, of the National Vocation Commission, and of the Committee for Missionary Institutes. He founded the “Blue Torre” centre in Varsenare, installed a community at the Milcamp Avenue in Schaerbeek, but closed the one in Auderghem. In 1983, he also had to manage the “forced return” of many brothers from Burundi. At the 1986 Chapter, he was elected the first General Assistant. In the same year, he became a representative of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in the World Council of Churches in Geneva, a task which he will continue to perform until 2013. He was especially in charge of the ecumenical dimension in pastoral work, including solutions of solidarity towards the poorest.

Jan’s first reaction to his appointment in Rome: “It is a grace to be so closely involved in the joys and tasks of the entire family of the White Fathers and the African Church”. Within the General Council, he was especially responsible for financial and legal matters, elderly brothers and the ecumenical movement. He was also the pivot of the year of commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Cardinal Lavigerie.

In July 1992, Jan took a well-deserved sabbatical, partly in France and partly in Great Britain. In July 1993 he returned to Rwanda and joined the parish of Nyamirambo in the crowded capital of Kigali. It was there that he met the genocide: “That Friday, after the death of Habyarimana, a kalashnikov against my belly, guarded by interahamwe, next to my confreres, death was doing its job: at my feet a few bloodily murdered children they had pulled out of my arms; a mother was bleeding to death while holding close her child. Machete and rifle were going up and down, and in the church – “sanctuary” – grenades were exploding. Death has nestled itself in my deepest heart ever since that day in April 1994. Together with several Belgian confreres, Jan was evacuated to Belgium on April 14. Since many parishes were evacuated because of the violence of the war, most of the confreres also had to flee temporarily. In August 1994, Jan was asked to go back to Rwanda on an ‘exploratory trip’ in order to see if the confreres could return, which, to a limited extent, was the case.

Jan himself returned to Rwanda as a regional on 7 December 1994. He will fulfil two mandates, which will be extended until the end of 2000. In January 1995 he became president of the Association of Religious Superiors, both male and female. The main concern was then to deal with the tragic events and to start a long road to reconciliation. In 1997 Jan wrote:  “We are in the movement of a Church conscious of its integration into human history, even into sin… We are aware of the imperfections and even the faults that we may have committed during this century of missionary commitment… We hope one day to find the understanding, openness and atmosphere to make the truth… In this reconstruction work we would like to join the efforts of other churches and their communities, our Sisters and Brothers”. During these years, Jan was also secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Ecumenism. In 1998, he participated in the Chapter. At the end of 1998, he had to go on sick leave for the first time. 

When his task in Rwanda was over, he was appointed in Tanzania in May 2001 and went to study Kiswahili in Kipalapala. In October, he moved to Nairobi (Kenya) in our community of Saint-Charles Lwanga on Ngong Road. He was appointed National Executive Secretary for the Commission for Ecumenism of the Bishop’s Conference of Kenya and Professor at the International Mission Institute “Tangaza” in Nairobi. He had pastoral commitment in the parish, visited AIDS patients in the nearby hospital of the Coptic Church, and cared for street children. He proudly testifies: “The ecumenical workgroup of the Kenya Bishops’ Conference is coming to life”. He deals with ecumenical themes in the Catholic radio programme. Jan is still an active member of the Mission and Evangelization Commission of the World Council of Churches, which is a rarity for Catholics. This led him in 1989 to San Antonio in the USA, in 1996 to Salvador in Brazil, in 2005 to Athens and in 2010 to Edinburgh. At his farewell in Kenya at the end of 2008, the General Secretary of the Episcopal Conference stated: “Fr. Lenssen leaves behind a Commission that is growing and creating impact more than ever envisaged.

At the beginning of 2009, Jan was appointed to Belgium, officially for the African pastoral service in the two vicariates of Brussels, for the White Fathers, more specifically in our project Centre AMANI. He soon became a member of the Ecumenical Committee of the Churches of Brussels. In March 2010, as part of the French-speaking Catholic Radio (RCF Bruxelles), he launches a weekly programme “Rencontrer l’Afrique” (broadcasted several times). Jan and his AMANI staff both seeked out and briefed the speakers. It was a feat of strength to find relevant speakers each time. The 250 causeries were broadcast from March 2010 to July 2014. In the meantime, it was discovered that Jan was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Appropriate medication will apparently keep the disease under control for years to come. He took several steps to facilitate the financing of AMANI projects. Every year he made a booklet in French and Dutch, for the Week of Unity. Jan was answering many calls from the Rwandan community (baptisms, marriages, deaths…). He followed their charismatic group “Miséricorde divine”. In 2012, he will be responsible for his community. After 25 years, he resigns as a representative of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. In May 2014, the evolution of his illness will no longer allow him to fulfill his many tasks and he asks to be dismissed. In November 2015, he left for Genk ‘at rest’. In May 2016, the International Ecumenical Movement of Kenya awarded him the decoration ‘Ecumenist Hero’. In October 2016 he will participate in the session for the over 70s in Rome. However, sitting still is not for Jan. He still has so many plans ahead and there is so much to do. His body is increasingly failing him, but his will is driving him forward and his agenda is still full…. A holy fire that has propelled him all his life and that has made his life so fruitful for many.

At the beginning of September 2018, Jan will come to Evere because of the need for medical follow-up. A walker allows him to carry on with what he is still planning enthusiastically. At the end of July 2019, he was taken to St. Michael’s clinic, where, after unsuccessful attempts, he was transferred to palliative care. Jan died there peacefully on August 10.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

Provisional profile of Fernand Gruber

Here is Fernand Gruber’s provisional biography, the final one will appear later in the Petit Echo.

Fernand was born on June 10, 1934 in Ingwiller, diocese of Strasbourg, in the Bas-Rhin.Alsacien, and proud to be so, Fernand has always loved being with his family, with his two sisters, with his mother. She remained a widow because Georges, her husband, was mobilized by the Germans in 1944, and no news of him was ever received afterwards; probably disappeared on the Russian front. Despite much research and consulting many archives, Fernand did not succeed in elucidating his father’s fate, which had a strong and lasting impact on him.

His primary school was first in German from 1940 to 1944; then, from 1945 to 1948, in French. As for his secondary studies, they were first held at the White Fathers’ minor seminary in Altkirch in Alsace, and then continued in Bonnelles in Seine-et-Oise.

This was then the normal process: philosophy at Kerlois – novitiate at Maison Carrée; his theology, begun in S’Heerenberg (Netherlands), was interrupted by military service in France and Germany; demobilized, he then went to Totteridge for three years of theology. He was ordained a priest on 29 June 1963 in Strasbourg.

Then began six long years of study. Given Fernand’s intellectual abilities, accompanied by good language skills (French, German, English), the leaders of the Society wanted to prepare Fernand for a particular service of mission: he was oriented towards the study of the problems raised in our missions by the presence of churches of diverse denominations, especially Protestant, and more generally, it was to bring him into the field of ecumenism.

He first studied Catholic theology in Paris where he obtained a degree in theology in 1965. Then a year spent at the Protestant Faculty of Theology in Paris for a doctorate. He then moved to the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Celigny, Switzerland, after which he spent a semester with ecumenical bodies in the United States. And, finally, two years of study at the Institut Supérieur d’Etudes Œcuméniques in Paris. We are then in June 1969. The gates of Africa will open for Fernand. Zambia welcomed him.

Since September 1969 Fernand has been at the Ilondola language centre where he learns Bemba, which he speaks very well; this allows him to be at ease as a curate in Chiboté, in the diocese of Mansa. He enjoyed the daily contact with the parishioners, taking an interest in their way of life and their concerns. However, he had to provide an “interim” at the minor seminary in Bahati for two years. After that he found himself vicar in the parish of Nsakaluba – and religion teacher in the boys’ college.

But his doctrinal skills led him to be appointed to the National Major Seminary of Zambia, first in Kabwe and then in Lusaka. He taught dogmatic and pastoral theology, liturgy, ecumenism and… the Bible. While being dean of studies, and in charge of a rural parish.

It was with regret that he left Zambia for Saint Anne of Jerusalem on September 16, 1981. His main activity until July 1998 was the “Revue Proche-Orient Chrétien” of which he was the administrative secretary. In charge of the library, he was also “vicar” of the German parish of Jerusalem. This lasted 18 years.

From September 1998, his life will take place in Europe. First in France, where he was provincial secretary for five years. Then, in December 2003 in Germany, in Frankfurt where he devoted himself to parish ministry.

Tired, he then settled in Mours, where, for five years, he provided the “reception” service, while ministering in the area. He gave himself totally to it; and Brother Muratet, treasurer of the house, told us: “Fernand leaves an excellent memory at the service of the White Fathers community as to the visitors; he knew how to raise a lot of affection, friendship and esteem”.

The time for retirement came in 2012. First in Bry-sur-Marne, from 2012 to 2015. Then, wishing to get closer to his family and the Alsatian area, he was appointed to the retirement home of the African Missions in St. Pierre. He was hospitalized in the summer of 2018 at the Sélestat hospital from where he left us on July 16, 2018.

Brother Gabriel Muratet, who gave the homily at the funeral, underlined Fernand’s influence until the end of his life. This is witnessed by this group of men, telling him on the porch of the church: “Not all of us are good practitioners, but we come to the church this day to gather the moral heritage left to us by this child of the country, the missionary Fernand Gruber. We will miss him”

Thank you, Fernand, for having been an excellent confrere and a good worker in the different fields of apostolate that were yours. God welcomes you to his home, where you have found your father, whose memory has remained alive in you all your life, and your mother.

Jean-Marie Vasseur, M.Afr.

Profile of Pierre Du Suau de la Croix

Here is the provisional biographical note of Father Pierre Du Suau de la Croix. The final notice will be published later in the Petit Echo.

On March 4, 1923, Pierre was born into a doctor’s family in Houga d’Armagnac in the Gers. He was the fourth in a family of 7 children. He lived a happy childhood and adolescence where, in a very Christian context, a strong personality developed, helped by Scouting. From that time on, his artistic vocation became clearer. His family gave him painting lessons in Auch, where he lived at the time.

The missionary call rang out very early. He matured at the seminary in Auch, which accompanied him up to the philosophical studies. He then went to the novitiate of the White Fathers at Maison Carrée (1941-1942).

It was then the classical White Father formation, interrupted however by the war, which led him to participate in 3 landings: Corsica in September 1943, Italy in January 1944 and Provence in September of the same year. The Alsace campaign followed, which led him to the summer of 1945, when he was demobilized. He then devoted four years to studying theology in Tunisia. He was ordained a priest in 1949 and was appointed to Upper Volta Burkina Faso, where he went in 1950 to the diocese of Nouna.

Le Sourou was his first post, transferred in 1952 to Zaba, the parish he founded. He learned three languages. The apostolate, with its different aspects: worship, catechesis, etc., absorbed him totally, and he kept a good memory of these thirteen years of rural pastoral work, including the time spent in Tansilla. He returned on leave in 1957 and 1963, but the very hot climate that weakened him made him realize that a change of country was necessary. It was Rwanda that welcomed him.

He lived there for 25 years, a country he loved very much. The landscape, of course, but above all the population whose difficult language he learned. This allowed him to be an active pastor in Rwaza in the volcano region. He carried out an overwhelming pastoral activity there. But in 1990 he was asked to put the parish apostolate on hold to take care of the decoration of the churches full-time: mosaics, stained glass windows and paintings. Before setting up his studio in Kigali, from where he radiated throughout Rwanda, he worked with a master glassmaker in Paris who introduced him to the stained glass technique. He would have liked to continue this work that he enjoyed and that many visitors admired, but the events of 1994 forced him to accept the regional’s invitation to take advantage of the evacuations of foreign nationals by French soldiers. In April 1994, he was back in Paris.

He was 72 years old at the time and felt fit. Also, after a good rest period, he accepted the proposal that the provincial sent him, a proposal from Fr. Louis Blondel in South Africa: “You must come and join me because I have a training centre and we want to create an art workshop there”. So in June 1995 he landed in Johannesburg, and headed for OrangeFarm 80 km away. He bravely switched to English, and very quickly, orders poured in so that he was often absent from his community (2 French, 1 Irish and 1 Canadian) and had to abandon the Art workshop project. His car then took him for several weeks to Transvaal, Lesotho, Swaziland,… A work that was particularly close to his heart was a Way of the Cross with 15 stations and a Way of Light with 15 stations. It took him four months. Alas, “climbing scaffolding sometimes several metres high to paint frescoes and mosaics began to become a problem at the age of 80”. In June 2005, the decision was made to return to France. Pierre had spent 9 years in South Africa and it was hard for him to get away with it.

In September 2005, Pierre was in Billère. It will be difficult for him to become sedentary after years of independent living in different countries. But the studio that was reserved for him allowed him to continue his artistic work: mosaics at the entrance of the house, various paintings, among others, Notre-Dame d’Afrique. He then wrote: “the fraternal help of the community, prayer and the daily Eucharist are a source of optimism and joy”. And in fact, the testimonies concerning this period tell us about a Pierre with a certain spirit, commenting on television, always a fan of car racing and football.

But, the infirmities, the old age, brought an addiction that Pierre lived with difficulty, making his life painful for him and for his entourage yet very considerate.

However, through his suffering, he keeps a serenity underlying one of these last writings: “For me, old age is not a shipwreck as General de Gaulle said. It is rather the forthcoming view of the port after a crossing full of pitfalls from which I have been protected by the Lord. Also, my prayer is a magnificat, that of Father de Foucault: “Lord, I surrender myself to you. Do with me as you please. Whatever you do with me, I thank you.”

Thank you Pierre. You leave us the memory of a confrere whose works continue to be admired by visitors, both at the entrance to the house (mosaic) and in the chapel (Notre-Dame d’Afrique), a memory of a confrere zealous for the apostolate, full of an artistic ardour that has allowed him to embellish our lives.

Jean-Marie Vasseur, M.Afr.

Provisional notice of Rolf Rosin

This is the provisional biography of Rolf Rosin. The final biographical note will be published later in the Petit Echo.

Rolf was born on May 6, 1940 in Karlsbad, in the province of Sudetenland, created as an autonomous province in 1918 by the German speakers. The Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy was in decomposition and in order not to be integrated into the Czech Republic, founded on 28 October 1918 in Prague, the German speakers preferred relative autonomy. After the Second World War, Sudetenland’s autonomy was abolished and most German speakers took refuge in Germany. Rolf’s family has chosen Bamberg in Bavaria as their new place of residence.

He grew up with two brothers in a very Christian and musical family. He attended the Deutsche Gymnasium in Bamberg and on July 18 he passed his baccalaureate. His religion teacher testified that he was one of the most attentive to religious themes and was therefore not surprised that Rolf decided for a missionary life.

In September 1962, he returned to the Major Seminary of the White Fathers in Trier. From 1964 to 1965 he did his novitiate at Hörstel and then, for theology, he went to Totteridge. On June 26, 1968, he took his missionary oath and was ordained a priest in Bamberg on June 29, 1969.

He was then appointed to the Diocese of Kasama in Zambia. He attended the language course in Ilondola and, in February 1970, began pastoral activities in the Mulobola parishes, then Chilubi and Malole for more than thirty years. In his letters to relatives, friends and benefactors, he speaks mainly of three realities of his life in Zambia: the political and economic situation, the parishes with a few dozen branches, the small Christian communities and their glorification in Europe.

His formators found that Rolf was noticed for doing the tasks required well without exaggeration. In his pastoral work, he suffered from this quality. With the exception of six months as a replacement for the diocesan treasurer in Kasama and as a treasurer in the language centre in Ilondola, he has worked in the three very large parishes of Ilondola, Chilugi and Lubishi. All three consist of a centre and a few dozen branches or sub-centres, visited only two or three times a year by the priest to celebrate the Eucharist. The Bishop came irregularly to the branches to give the sacrament of confirmation. Pastoral care was provided by catechists.

After the Second Vatican Council, the Church developed the “small Christian community” as the vital organism of pastoral care by creating small groups that met every week to read the Gospel in the given social context. Rolf was well aware of the situation in Zambia and when he was on holiday in Germany and Austria, he was surprised by the enthusiasm of Christians who, from afar, saw these small Christian communities as miraculous solutions to pastoral problems both in Africa and in Europe. He talked about it in all his letters to friends.

When Rolf arrived in Zambia, the country, which became independent in 1964, was in search of its identity. Politics proclaimed a “Zambian humanism” to solve economic difficulties. In August 1979, Christian church leaders issued a statement opposing scientific socialism, hidden in “Zambian humanism”, which would not help to overcome underdevelopment and would not guarantee the human rights of the people. Rolf, himself a refugee from Soviet communism, regularly mentions this problem in his letters. His concerns for the political and social situation surely have their origin in the fact that he had gone through the loss of his childhood country, exile and integration into another environment accompanied by material poverty.

Rolf interrupted his pastoral work three times, twice to go to Jerusalem, in 1979 to make the Great Retreat and in 1999 for the Bible course, the third time when he returned to Europe in 1985 for four years. He was appointed to Axams, 10 km from Innsbruck in Tirol where he lived in a community, newly established as a new project, with two confreres, Fr. Anton Mettrop, a Dutch confrere and Fr. Walter Vogt. The team was in charge of missionary and vocational animation. It will put in place all the means to make the Society known, not only in the parishes of the diocese and Catholic movements, but also beyond the diocesan borders. The confreres will open the doors of their homes by organizing reflection days for young people.

In December 1989, Rolf returned to the diocese of Kasama, but had to interrupt his stay several times to get treatment in Germany. In December 2006 he was appointed in the provinces. From 2007 to 2018 he was in charge of the bursar’s office in Haigerloch, in the community of elderly confreres.

During the last year of his life, he had to endure one more ordeal when the area sold Haigerloch’s house, the second foundation after Trier. The community has settled in a CARITAS house in Hechingen, about ten kilometres from Haigerloch. In February 2019, Rolf entered the university clinic in Tübingen where he died on the morning of March 2 and was buried on March 8 in the Missionaries of Africa section at Haigerloch cemetery.

Hans Vöcking, M.Afr.

Herman Bastijns, Profile (provisional)

Herman has been very much involved in the formation and in spirituality. As a consequence, many people knew him and were quite shocked when they learnt of his passing. That is why I took upon me to translate provisionally the profile that was sent from Belgium in the Dutch language before it is translated officially for the Petit Echo. Continue reading “Herman Bastijns, Profile (provisional)”

Gerard Reynaert, R.I.P. (1925-2018) (EAP Flashes – 2018/08)

Fr. Gerard Reynaert (1925-2018) popularly known as “mukulu” passed away on 03.05.2018 at Nsambya Hospital in Kampala. He lived 67 years of Missionary Life and almost all of them in Uganda. At 93, he was still the local bursar/guest master at lourdel house-vocations centre and chaplain to a community of Little Sisters of Saint Francis at Nsambya. The following was written about him in the Order of Mass celebrating his life:

Gerard’s faithfulness and commitment to the apostolate up to the last drop of his life and strength remain for us a powerful reminder of the strong recommendation of our founder, Cardinal Lavigerie: “My dear children, you are not explorers or ordinary travelers… You are apostles and only apostles. All your other interests must derive from that fundamental fact. I beseech you, revive within yourselves these great thoughts of the apostolate.”

This reminder is even more meaningful when put in the context of the 150th Jubilee of the foundation of the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (Msola). Fr. Gerard’s faith has been ‘a down-to-earth and practical faith’. It is, therefore, not by chance that he passed on, on the day when we were celebrating the feast of St. James, whose teaching strongly emphasizes such a faith: “Faith without good deeds is dead”. (James, 2:26)

Gerard’s way of life corresponded well to the life that all Missionaries of Africa are invited to embrace: ‘Simple way of life’. He was a real Biblical Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I will depart.” (1:21) He departed from this earthly life “naked”; he left behind almost nothing! What a powerful message and legacy in a world full of greed of all sorts of earthly things! What a powerful message and legacy in a world where the “culture of grabbing” is on the increase everyday! Jokingly, Fr. Gerard used to speak of himself as “Ow’empisa ennungi” (someone with good manners). May we too, in spite of our human weaknesses, always aspire to be ‘abantu ab’empisa ennungi’ (people of good manners).

Fr. Gerard was laid to rest at Nabulagala parish where he helped out for masses until his dead. The faithful together with some confreres kept vigil and celebrated several masses throughout the night praying for Gerard. The Archbishop of Kampala, his grace Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga celebrated the funeral mass surrounded by a great crowd of people that came to bid farewell to jjaja (grandfather).

MAY FR. GERARD REST IN PEACE!naert (1925-2018)

Some testimonies after the death of Herman Bastijns

The Provincial Delegate of Belgium published some testimonies received at the announcement of the death of Father Herman Bastijns. We thought we should share them with you.


It is with emotion that we receive here the news of Herman’s unexpected death. The news reached us just at the time of the Eucharistic celebration of the community at 6:15 pm. We thanked the Lord for his presence among us and for his contribution to the Society and beyond. During the meal that followed, with Stan, we talked about Herman, his family bond, the ways he marked us, his place in the history of the Society. His contributions in the fields of initial and ongoing formation have enriched many. And later his retreats, and also his recollections published on the web. His life and legacy are an encouragement to us all. In communion of prayer, while we also think of his own.

Fraternally,
André-Léon SIMONART, General House – Rome


Bethlehem, 09/08/2018

Thank you for informing me of Herman’s death. He was one of the formators when I came into contact with the White Fathers in Leuven. Since then, he has always inspired me with his deep prayer life and dedication. My deepest condolences.

 +Jan De Groef, M.Afr.


I am very touched by the return to the Father of Herman Bastijns with whom I had started the Ruzizi seminary and whom I had even had for a time as a formator at the Vital Decoster in the past. He also prepared me to succeed him for the Roman sessions 8 years ago. He had become for me a brother, a friend and a spiritual advisor. I can’t measure everything I owe him. May the Lord welcome him in his tenderness.

Fraternally,
Bernard Ugeux (Bukavu)


Thank you! I immediately transmitted the announcement to all our sisters. This is a death that will surprise many, for Herman was well known to many! We pray with you and with the confreres of Varsenare. Two deaths in a few days is hard to live with. Courage to manage all this…

Friendly regards, Suzy Haderman (MSOLA)


Receive my condolences for the death of Herman Bastijns, the great philosopher. I spent a good year with him in Kahangala in 1989 and learned a lot. I appreciated his intellectual, material, liturgical and spiritual talents. I will be in union of prayers with you at his funeral.

 Fraternally,
Patrick Bataille, Provincial delegate for France

Herman Konings 1937 – 2018 (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

Herman was born on the 7th March 1937 at Essen in the Province of Antwerp very close to the Dutch border. His parents were farmers and over the course of the years they had ten children. After secondary school at the Junior Seminary of Hoogstraten, Herman entered the White Fathers at Boechout in September 1956. It was the same year that his older brother René (+2017) left for Burundi. After the novitiate in Varsenare, Herman went to Heverlee to study Theology. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 28th June 1962 followed by priestly ordination on the 29th June 1963. Herman was described as a modest, helpful, friendly and very sociable person. He was not very talkative, but was interested in others. He was an unobtrusive man, always in the same good mood. He radiated benevolence and kindness. He did not get mad, but one should not push him too hard. He was pretty unshakeable, a little sceptical perhaps. He had practical common sense and he had undeniable artistic gifts.

Herman was appointed to Burundi. He left on the 22nd December 1963. He studied Kirundi at Muhanga. Fr. Michel Braekers (+1979), the Regional wrote, “He is a happy man who likes making people laugh. He loves making puns. He’s pretty good in Kirundi.” He was put in charge of the catechetical programme and youth work. Quite early on, it was noted that he did not enjoy great health and he had to rest a lot. In September 1965, Herman was sent to Giheta then to Bukirasazi (1966). After his first home leave in 1968, he became curate and bursar at Kibumbu. Fr. Louis Quintard (+2012) the Assistant Regional wrote, “As bursar of the post, he has never enough money, and he quarrels with the Treasurer of the Diocese over it.”

At the end of 1972, the Hutu rebellion was put down in what has been called the Hutu genocide in Burundi. In January 1973, Herman returned to Belgium traumatised by these events. He taught religion in a secondary school in Borgerhout and lived in our community in Berchem. He went to Greece with a group of young people. He took some sabbatical time following a Bible course and studying catechesis always with a view to teaching. After the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in 1980, he was ready to return to Africa.

Herman arrived in Ituri, Zaire (now the DRC) at the end of 1980. He taught religion in Bunia College. He had a full timetable and was much appreciated. However, at the end of the academic year in 1983, he decided to leave. He wrote to Jan Lenssen, Provincial of Belgium,” I still teach with the same enthusiasm but the mentality here is much too different from my own.” For some unknown

reason, because he had never been expelled, his application to return to Burundi was turned down. Maybe Rwanda?  The Regional Council of Rwanda agreed to accept him only after a long discussion. Herman had a reputation for being “progressive”. He arrived in Kigali in January 1984. After studying the language at the Language Centre, he was appointed curate at Kaduha in the Diocese of Butare. Herman dreamed of forming authentic Small Christian Communities. So he was allowed to join the parish of Rusumo in the Diocese of Kibungo, where Father Stany de Jamblinne worked along the same lines in the Eglise-Monde movement. Herman felt comfortable in this pastoral ministry. He painted tableaux and decorated churches. He supported local artists, who made decorative panels in bas-relief, characteristic of the region.

In April 1994, the genocide exploded in Rusumo and with other confreres, Herman was evacuated to Brussels on the 13th April. In September 1994, he spent many months at CREC-AVEX (Centre for Research and Communication) in Lyon, France. He was being thought of for the Audio-Visual Centre in Burundi. This projected appointment did not come to anything.  In September-December 1995, he followed the Discipleship course in Jerusalem and he returned there in March 1996 to work in the Archaeological Service and the Museum where, among other things, he highlighted the famous collection of oil lamps. His only complaint; “For four years, I had to manage without a budget!”

In October 2000, Herman was appointed to Rome in charge of Ongoing Formation and the organization of the Mid-Life Renewal programme.  He took on several administrative tasks in the city or in the Vatican and collaborated with Brother Karl Stärk in the photo library. He underwent heart surgery but made a complete recovery.

In July 2006, he returned definitively to Belgium where he joined the community in Namur and helped Gus Beeckmans in the Photo-Service restoring old historical photos. He stayed there for 10 years, always as thin as a rake, true to himself and a bit of a joker. He was a tad special, a critical observer of events who never raised his voice. However, he began to have serious breathing problems that required respiratory physiotherapy.

In October 2016, Herman asked to go to Antwerp. The Photo Service was being transferred and he wanted to be closer to his older brother René who was seriously ill. At the beginning of 2018 his breathing problems got worse and on the 9th March, he joined the ‘Avondrust’ community in Varsenare.

Herman was very grateful for the prodigious care he received and enjoyed breathing the pure air.  He joyfully pored over his art albums while preparing himself for the inevitable. He immersed himself into Carlos Mesters’ commentary on the Suffering Servant. In a notebook, he wrote, “Yes, the inevitable suffering of man, projected onto one person, Christ, in me”. He suffered terrible crises of suffocation. Towards the middle of April, he felt that the end was near. He noted, “Resurrection does not follow death, it takes place the moment of death itself. It is this beginning of a ‘different life’ that I am looking forward to.” He died on the 20th April 2018 at the hospital of Saint-Jean in Bruges. Marc De Wulf, superior of Varsenare was at his bedside.

On the 26th April 2018, we laid Herman to rest in Varsenare, surrounded by his family and many confreres. May he rest in peace.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

 

Marcel Peeters 1925 – 2017 (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

Marcel was born on the 5th July 1925 at Vremde in the Province of Antwerp, Belgium. He attended primary school in Boechout where his parents had settled. His father worked in the big port of Antwerp. He went to the Junior Seminary of Hoogstraten for his secondary schooling. In September 1943, Marcel entered the White Fathers at Boechout and followed the usual White Father training programme at the time, novitiate in Varsenare and Theology in Heverlee. On the 21th July 1949, he took his Missionary Oath in Heverlee and he was ordained priest in the parish church of Heverlee on the 8th April 1950. His professors underlined his solid devotion, his dedicated character. He liked order and cleanliness! He was not a great intellectual but he was a hard worker. He had a lot of practical knowledge. He was not considered a leader; in fact, he needed to be supported as he lacked self-confidence. He had a nervous disposition and often spoke without thinking, criticising things readily. One little fact, which made him stand out, was that during the scholasticate he began to study Kiswahili quite seriously.

Marcel was appointed to Burundi. First of all, in order to fulfil military service requirements, he had to follow a course at Louvain University. In April 1951, he became Warrant Officer-Nurse First Class in the reserve of the colonial Force Publique in the Congo. He left for Bujumbura on the 17th April 1951 with the now defunct Sobelair. He first went to Gatara and a few months later to Musenyi in the Diocese of Ngozi. He courageously got down to learning Kirundi but his shyness did not help. His first real appointment was to the new foundation of Buraniro where he was put in charge of schools. It was a parish with a lot of schoolchildren and endless sessions in the confession box. At the beginning of 1960, Marcel went on his first home leave during which he did the Long Retreat at Villa Cavalletti, near Rome. In December of 1961, on his return to Burundi, he became Superior of Buraniro. The Regional, Fr. François Thevenon (+1991) noted that Marcel was hanging in there despite the political tensions afflicting the country in 1961-62. Indeed, Marcel was falsely accused of playing politics and he was obliged to quit Buraniro. He stayed for some months in Muramba and Kisanze before returning to Katara, a place he did not particularly like. In January 1965, he was appointed bursar at Kasenyi.  He complained about its penury and the high cost of living. According to him, his books were always in the red which was not the case at all. His Regional commented, “He’s a born beggar; he knows how to get everything by his doggedness,” When he learnt about big expenses somewhere else, he could not stop himself from being extra critical. Yet the way he reacted scarcely troubled the confreres. It was his style and the confreres went along with it. In fact, on the contrary, they greatly appreciated him for his thriftiness. All over the country, Marcel was known and teased as being the “rich priest…”

Appointments followed one another. In July 1965, Marcel was Superior in Muhanga and in June 1968, he returned to Gatara but was on his way again after a few months, this time to Ijene, who’s Superior he became in 1970. He was always the devoted and caring pastor but was never the leader in a community. However, he was always ready to render a service. A confrere remarked, “In Ijene, he was a man of peace, loved and respected. The local authorities were afraid that he would be appointed elsewhere. Why? Why? Because he was the building block of peace and unity in the village community and throughout the district.” Much to his disappointment, Marcel was transferred to Buraniro in 1978. The parish now counted 42,000 Christians. As part of the catechumenate, the fathers organised reading and writing classes as well as some basic arithmetic with a view to improving the lot of the people. Bishop Kaburungu wanted to start “hill councils” so as to prepare for an eventual diocesan synod. At the end of 1979, Marcel did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. When he returned to Burundi, he was appointed curate in Gatara. No matter where he was, Marcel could count on the support of his family, and especially on the organization in Boechout called “Bricks for God” which helped him build churches and schools, construct bridges and reservoirs and buy school materials. In 1985, when tension mounted between President Bagaza and the Catholic Church, Marcel was one of the many confreres who received from the Government “permission to stay at home”. On the occasion of his departure, the Flash Burundi spoke of a “wise man, a fine connoisseur, an informed observer of so many things in the country, a charming man in community who could stand being teased constantly by his confreres, the White Father who for 35 years patiently built the Church of Burundi by accompanying thousands of young people on the path of faith”

On his return to Belgium, Marcel joined the community running the parish of the Sacred Heart in Antwerp. This meant that he was able to visit his old mother frequently. She died in 1987 at the age of 92 years. However in September 1988, Waly Neven, the regional in Burundi wrote to the Belgian Provincial,  “As for Marcel Peeters, the confreres are practically unanimous in saying that he would still do very well around here and that we would all be very happy to receive him among us.” Marcel still needed time to digest the events in Burundi and did not reply straight away. However, in December 1990, at the age of 65, he decided to go back to Africa. He returned to Ijene as curate. Apart from a short interim period in Giharo in the Diocese of Ruyigi, he was to stay there until 1997. His last appointment in Burundi was as chaplain to the community of Contemplative Dominicans at Rweza where he assured the pastoral services with the late Alex Verpoort (+2005) and Theo Neven (+2016). In 2003 the region decided to end this project and Marcel and the two confreres returned definitively to Belgium. Marcel joined the community in Antwerp. He always remained true to himself, the eternal but happy grumbler. Until the end of his life, he continued to financially support the nuns of Rweza…

At the beginning of 2016, his health declined significantly and he moved to the Nursing home of “Our Lady of Antwerp” a few streets away from our community house. He died of a heart attack on Friday 12th May 2017. The Liturgy of the Resurrection took place in the Parish church of St. Charles Borromeo in Antwerp on Saturday 20th May 2017 followed by burial in our cemetery of Varsenare.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.