Francis Thibault 1947 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)

Francis was born at Luceville in the Diocese of Rimouski, Canada on the 12th June 1947. At primary school in Saint-Albert-le-Grand he was considered a brilliant student. After finishing 7th class, his Parish Priest brought him to Rimouski so that he could sit the admission exam for the Junior Seminary. Francis was already thinking about becoming a priest. So at the age of 13 years, he became a boarder at the Junior Seminary in September 1960. Up to that time he was considered to be reserved even shy but life at the seminary allowed him to mix with the other students and to take part in the sporting activities.

In 1964, the White Fathers organised a missionary exhibition at the Junior Seminary. Francis was very much taken by the African sculptures and drums on show. Later on he wrote, “The two White Fathers present spoke to us with great enthusiasm about Africa and the pastoral activities in their countries of mission. The distributed the magazine “Mission” which I read with interest…I was attracted to the White Fathers because they worked in Africa. For me, the White Fathers were supermen because of their activities and dedication. They seemed to me to be zealous, optimists, working on behalf of the poorest and wanting to do something to change the face of the world. They were men of God and I felt called to be like them.”

Francis entered the novitiate of the White Fathers in Quebec in September 1968. It was a period of training in community life, prayer, and sharing of responsibilities. One year later, he began theological studies at Eastview near Ottawa, Ontario. Now, he discovered international community life which pleased him a lot. He took his Missionary Oath in Eastview on the 6th May 1972 and he was ordained priest in his home parish of Luceville on the 12th May 1973. The biblical text on his ordination card and which was with him all his life, was from Psalm 16 (15) “C’est toi, Seigneur, mon partage et ma coupe. Mon destin est dans ta main. Le lot que j’ai reçu est le plus beau” (cf Ps 16, 5-6.)

During his years of training, Francis’ professors saw him as the man with the welcoming smile. Everybody in the community respected him, he was attentive to others and always ready to be of service. He was a man of prayer with a solid faith and piety. He also possessed a great sense of sharing. He was always ready to invite the European confreres to stay with his family during the summer holidays.

In August 1973, Fr. Thibault left for Africa. His first appointment was to Zaire (now DRC) more precisely to the region of Ituri. He started in Logo in the Diocese of Mahagi. The parish had 40,000 Christians scattered though 35 villages. Even if the priests visited each village three or four times a year, there was no time for personal contacts with people. This necessitated training leaders locally to preside over the Sunday prayers.

Francis got down to learning the local language, Alur. As there was no language school in this part of the country, he had to manage things for himself with the help of the personal notes of the confreres and the aid of a catechist with whom he walked every morning in order to learn the rudiments of this language.

1975 was a turbulent year in Zaire with many changes taking place. Political decisions radically affected the life of the Church. Some changes gave rise to feelings of foreboding and insecurity among the Christian population. Christian youth movements were banned, non African Christian names were forbidden and the Catholic press was suppressed. Yet the life of the Church continued. Pastors organised catechism courses in each village and appealed for volunteer catechists.

In a letter to the Canadian Provincial, Francis wrote, “I have not accomplished anything superhuman or heroic during these last four years in Africa. But I was very pleased with all the Africans and my colleagues. I love this missionary life and I am ready to begin again.”

Francis returned to Canada in April 1977. After some months of rest, he returned once more to Logo. In 1981, he was appointed to the parish of Aba in the north of the Diocese of Mahagi. This meant learning a new language, Lingala. The long journeys on bad roads tired him out causing sleeplessness and stomach problems. Soon the Regional advised him to return home and get some strength back. He returned to Canada in January 1982.

After a well deserved rest, Francis accepted an appointment to Canada for missionary promotion work in schools in the Québec region. This was a difficult apostolate for him because he did not feel at ease in the large secondary schools. In 1986, he was appointed superior of the Provincial house in Montreal while also taking on the task of local bursar. This was a delicate task which he carried out adroitly. He gave compassionate attention to each confrere while emphasizing the importance of community life and welcoming visitors.

In 1989, it was time to think about returning to Africa. The Regional reminded him that he was needed in the Congo because he was very much missed by the confreres who had known him there. Francis was appointed to Ugonjo again in the Diocese of Mahagi. With another confrere, he shared responsibility for a Training Centre for Pastoral workers. Sessions were organised for leaders of Christian communities and retreats given to priests and religious. Work also began on a translation of the New Testament into Alur, the local language.

Francis spoke about his wonder at the faith and hope of all the Congolese which he met every day, “These people are poor. They meet many difficulties. They can be put down and disheartened but they stick it out and help one another. As for me, my presence among them is only a drop in the ocean but I am happy to be here with them. I take each day as it comes seeking God’s presence in my life.”

Francis did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in September 1992 after which he returned to Ugonjo. Here he was to suffer two painful events. On the first occasion four robbers disguised as soldiers arrived at the mission and threatened the Fathers at gunpoint and took away anything they could lay their hands on: money, radios, tools even the car of the fathers. Some months later the same confreres underwent a similar robbery only this time a watchman of the mission was killed. Francis was very traumatised by these violent attacks and the Regional thought it best to transfer him to a more secure post. Fr. Thibault was appointed to the Regional house in Bunia in the neighbouring diocese. He became the bursar and was in charge of receiving visitors. However, he still felt ill at ease. The painful experiences at Ugonjo gave him nightmares and the genocide in Rwanda affected him a lot. He could no longer concentrate and showed signs of stress. In May 1994, he was asked to anticipate his home leave and return to Canada and take the necessary time for rest and receive treatment.

After resting some time in his family, Francis felt much better and accepted to go as superior to our house on rue Argyle in Ottawa. His kindness, his sense of service and organisation and his attentiveness to others contributed to keeping the Ottawa community a harmonious and joyful one.

Francis left Ottawa in 1999 to take up the job as local bursar in the Provincial house community on rue de l’Acadie in Montreal. He was familiar with the way the house functioned as he had been superior there previously. He carried out his duties sagaciously until June 2005 when he left for Mexico.

Francis went firstly to Querétaro. It was difficult enough for him as he had to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture. As he had a good reputation as bursar, he was put in charge of purchases for the kitchen and for the maintenance of the house. In 2009, he was appointed Sector Treasurer and went to live in Guadalajara. He also accompanied our Mexican students who wanted to have a community experience and prepare themselves to work in Africa. This was a new experience for Francis as he had never been involved in Formation work before. However, he was happy to share with these young people his experience and his missionary enthusiasm.

On the 23rd July 2012, Francis returned definitely to Montreal. He needed rest, to relax and regain his strength as the smallest activity seemed to tire him out. His doctor advised that he follow therapy to deal with his stress. One began to see the first beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease; he was beginning to mix up the present with the past, had serious problems with his memory, and was becoming more and more confused. He took up residence in our retirement home in Sherbrooke where the nursing staff could look after him and make sure that he took his prescribed medication.

Fr. Thibault lived in Sherbrooke until the 15th December 2015. There was a marked deterioration in the state of his health and he was brought to the Hotel-Dieu hospital for evaluation. The doctor told us that Francis ought to go to a centre specialised in long term care where the medical staff could look after him in a more appropriate way. Francis was admitted to the Centre d’Hébergement de Soins de Longue Durée in Asbestos, Québec. Little by little he got weaker just to the point where he became incapable of recognising the confreres, relatives and friends who came to visit him.

Francis returned to the Father on the 6th September 2017. His funeral took place in the presence of his mortal remains in the Chapel of the Missionaries of Africa in Sherbrooke. After cremation, his ashes were buried in the cemetery of Luceville, his native village. May the Lord grant him the peace and eternal joy promised to his faithful servants.

Michel Carbonneau, M.Afr.

Gabriel Bapst 1926 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)

Fr. Gabriel Bapst was born to a farming family on the 2nd September 1926 at Chandon in the Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland. When he was two years old, his mother died when she was expecting her fifth child. The family moved to Avry-sur-Matran but three years later his father died from tuberculosis. Gabriel was then sent to an orphanage run by religious sisters at La Roche not far from Fribourg. He was to remain there until he was sixteen years of age.
Continue reading “Gabriel Bapst 1926 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)”

Andreas Edele 1934 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)

Andreas was born in 1934 as second last of 10 children into a family who was operating a small farm. His father, who worked in the local salt-mine, died in 1942. In November 1945, at the age of 11 years, he entered the re-opened “Missionsschule” in Haigerloch. In 1948, he moved on to the White Father’s school in Grosskrotzenburg, where he finished his secondary education with the “Abitur” in 1953. He studied Philosophy in Trier from 1953 till 1955. Continue reading “Andreas Edele 1934 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)”

René Konings 1929 – 2017 (PE n° 1085)

René was born on the 9th June 1929 at Essen in the countryside around Antwerp not far from the Dutch border. He came from a farming background. There were ten children in the family. He attended the Junior Seminary of Hoogstraten before entering the White Fathers at Boechout in September 1948. He was following in the steps of his uncle, Piet Koninigs (+1986). His younger brother, Herman, followed him in turn into the Society. Continue reading “René Konings 1929 – 2017 (PE n° 1085)”

Ghislain Jageneau 1923 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)

Ghislain was born on the 31st October 1923 at Diependaal in the Limburg Province of Belgium. His father was a solicitor and the family belonged to the gentility. He did his secondary schooling at the St. Joseph’s College in Hasselt. He entered the White Fathers at Boechout in 1941. Novitiate followed in Varsenare and he studied theology in Heverlee. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 5th April 1947 followed by priestly ordination on the 29th March 1948. Continue reading “Ghislain Jageneau 1923 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)”

Léopold Lalonde 1927 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)

Leopold was born on the 3rd September 1927 at St-Clet in the Diocese of Valleyfield, Quebec Province, Canada. He attended the local primary school before following his secondary school studies at the College Sainte-Marie in Montreal. He entered the novitiate of Saint-Martin at Laval near Montreal on the 1st August 1949. He went to ‘s-Heerenberg in the Netherlands for the first three years of his theological studies. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 9th June 1954. His final year of Theology took place in Monteviot, Scotland where he was ordained on the 4th January 1955. Continue reading “Léopold Lalonde 1927 – 2017 (PE nr. 1085)”

Helmut Huber 1942 – 2017 (PE nr. 1082)

After a long illness, borne patiently and with deep faith, Fr. Helmut Huber died in the hospital of Bad Aibling during the night of the 18th/19th May 2017.

Helmut was born in Amberg. His father was the headmaster of a school, a profession that meant many changes of domicile for the family. At Hahnbach, Helmut lived a carefree childhood with his brothers and sisters in a deeply Christian milieu. He attended the primary school there but in 1952, he returned to Amberg for his secondary school studies. His natural good humour made him a well-liked companion and friend. His teachers held him in high esteem and they dispensed him from the usual oral exams because his written work was so good when he came to sit his Baccalaureate exam. Helmut met the White Fathers when the Society opened a house in Amberg in 1959. However, he kept such contacts a secret from his parents until it was clear to him that he wanted to become a Missionary of Africa.

Helmut began his philosophical studies in Trier in May 1961. His did his novitiate in Hörstel from 1963 to 1964. He had already acquired a good knowledge of English from his secondary school studies but he had no clue of French so he asked to be sent to Totteridge, London for theological studies. The request was granted. He took his missionary oath there on the 27th June 1967. He was ordained priest at Regensberg on the 29th June 1968.

However, Fr. Huber’s first appointment was not to Africa but to Germany. He was asked to become part of a team promoting the missions and missionary vocations in secondary schools in Germany. In order to prepare himself, he spent some time at the promotion house of the White Fathers in Sutton Coldfield in England. He also received permission to go on a fact-finding mission to East Africa where he met Frs. Wolfgang Buth and Ildefons who were working in the Parish of Kamsamba in the Diocese of Mbeya in Tanzania. Naturally, he did not know Swahili, so for the Sunday Mass, he learnt some phrases by heart and was able to say some words to the surprised Christians of the Parish. They were very impressed at this ‘Mzungu’ who knew their language without having lived in Tanzania. However after the Mass when they talked to him in Kiswahili, they observed that the Holy Spirit had abandoned him as he could now only speak English.

Helmut finally arrived in Africa in 1972. He was appointed to the Cathedral Parish of the Diocese of Mbeya in Tanzania. He zealously learnt Kiswahili by buying a paper everyday and reading it from cover to cover. In 1976, he was appointed to the parishes of Mkulwe and Kamsamba in the Rukwa valley. It had a hot and humid climate and malaria attacks were frequent. The two parishes had 50 outstations, which he served with a Canadian confrere. The safaris were often done on bicycle because of the many rivers and the scarcity of bridges. The local people nicknamed him « Fr. Samuel ». He took a great interest in the ways and customs of the different tribes and began to learn their languages. He took many photos illustrating the daily events of the lives of the people. He drew up maps of all the parishes and outstations and he used these to illustrate the talks he gave on the missions when he was back in Germany on home leave.

In 1980, after a medical examination in Dar– es-Salaam, he was advised by the doctor to return to Germany on the next plane. In Amberg, he underwent an urgent operation for a cancerous tumour, which had already destroyed one of his kidneys. The operation and the subsequent convalescence was a great success. Helmut’s great trust in God, his ardent desire to return to Tanzania and his sense of humour helped during this difficult period. No matter that there was a long period of recuperation, he asked for some responsibility in the Province as soon as the cobalt treatment was finished. In October 1981, he took on the responsibility for the community in Munich. It was a difficult time as there was a lot of construction going on. He saw his principal task to be opening the house for mission promotion. He was a gifted artist, his many drawings and caricatures will stamp him in our memory, and his linguistic ability made him popular during meetings with young people.

In 1988, Helmut’s doctors agreed that he could go back to Africa, this time to Nairobi in Kenya. It was big moral boost for Helmut and made him confident that he had defeated the cancer. Moreover, Nairobi had excellent medical facilities.

Fr. Huber was appointed to a slum parish in the East of Nairobi. Fr. Arnold Grol, a Dutch White Father has founded the Undugu project, which tried to look after the street children in the poorest parts of the city. Multi purpose halls were used as school rooms in the affected districts and centres were set up where children could eat and sleep. A training centre was installed to give instruction in carpentry and metalwork and most important of all, a mechanical workshop, which gave the street children some hope for a better future rather than running around the streets all day trying to collect salvageable rubbish. Helmut gave himself wholeheartedly to this work, which was called Kwetu. This activity totally suited his personality and his interest in giving these young people some sort of security and hope for the future in their young lives.

Helmut left Kenya in 2000 to take up a new appointment on the island of Pemba, off the coast of East Africa. First of all, he spent some months in the Benaco refugee camp in Tanzania where about 100,000 refugees from Burundi had sought refuge. In January 2001, the new community of four White Fathers made the sea crossing from Dar-es-Salaam to Zanzibar, a voyage of about 50 kms. A few days later, they arrived in Pemba. Their aim was to create relationships with the Muslim population, training young people and adults and giving language courses. All this was neutral territory, which did not touch on religion. Personal contacts could be established. Pastoral work was more problematical. Christians formed only 0.01% of the population and they were scattered all over the island.

Following his annual medical check-up in 2004, the doctors discovered that Helmut had developed skin cancer. Because of this, he returned, to Germany in 2005. He became an esteemed member of the Munich community. In 2012, still ready to undergo new experiences, he responded to an appeal from the Irish sector, which was looking for confreres to help them out in our house in Dublin. In 2014, he responded to the same appeal from the community in Jerusalem in order to look after the pilgrims coming to visit St. Anne. He did all this joyfully and enthusiastically.

At the beginning of 2015, Helmut suffered a stroke and his health began to deteriorate markedly. In November 2016, he was hospitalised as doctors tried to verify the causes of high levels of water on his brain. They tried to reduce the pressure by an operation carried out in the beginning of February 2017. There were complications and this was the beginning of the end for Fr. Huber. He caught pneumonia and was put into an artificial coma. He underwent some neurological rehabilitation at Bad Feilnbach but this was interrupted by hospitalisation at Bad Aiblin. Other infections followed and Helmut’s weakened body could put up no more resistance. It was really a blessed release when he died at the Bad Aiblin hospital during the night of the 18th/19th May 2017 in the house where he had proclaimed the Good News all his life.

Günther Zahn, M.Afr.

Rob  van  Iterson 1927 – 2017 (PE nr. 1084)

Rob was born in The Hague on the 5th February 1927. His formation saw him pass through ‘s-Heerenburg, Thibar, Tunisia, where he took his Missionary Oath on the 29th June 1953, and Carthage where he was ordained on the 18th April 1954. His stepbrother was a Cistercian monk in Rochefort, Belgium.

Rob had sound judgment, was a good planner and innovator, spoke his mind, which gave the impression that he was inclined to be bossy. However, he was cheerful and a hard and methodical worker always ready to render a service. He had an artistic bent and liked to carve things although he could do ordinary repairs as well.

In August 1954, Rob was sent to teach in the Minor Seminary of the White Fathers at Sterksel, Netherlands. After two years, he was appointed to Malawi. He studied the Nyanja language and culture with the help of a Mr. Raphael at Likuni. After pastoral work in Likuni and Chiphaso, he moved to Madisi Parish in September 1957. Madisi was the youngest parish in the Vicariate. The White Sisters had started doing pastoral and development work in the Parish and not the usual health care and education work. They visited the villages to instruct neophytes, set up Catholic action groups among the mid-wives and training sessions with the wives of teachers. This was the first time that such an initiative was tried.

Rob was appointed Parish Priest of Namitete in April 1959. This was a much larger place. It had a technical school run by a confrere, a hospital run by sisters and a primary school. One of the priests was from the Malawian Diocesan clergy. The population was very diverse due to seasonal workers coming to harvest the tobacco crop. There were also a dozen different churches of various persuasions. Another disrupting factor was that many people went to South Africa to work in the mines. The parish comprised 4,500 Catholics and 1,500 neophytes, which meant a lot of building. Rob built a church, dormitory, dining room and kitchen for the higher classes of the primary school as well as houses for teachers.

Rob wrote in January 1962, «The most important task, particularly now during the independence-struggle, is forming leaders, not only among the so-called elite, but in the villages too, in every Christian community.» He was elected as the diocesan representative in the Regional Council and he was on the Diocesan Liturgical Commission during Vatican II.

In October 1964, Fr. Van Iterson became the Parish Priest of Likuni. This involved looking after a hospital, a printing press, the editing of the “African” newspaper not to mention the diocesan garage. In the beginning of 1966, a freak storm blasted the roofs off 6 classrooms and 3 dormitories of the secondary school in the space of five minutes. Fortunately the students were on holiday, but a lot of school-material was lost.

Rob became Diocesan Treasurer in May 1966. His first task was to liquidate the surplus stocks held in the diocesan stores as goods were appearing in the local shops again. He also streamlined the financing of projects. During the day, he was kept on the go by all sorts of transactions and it was his custom that after “high tea” he would do his bookkeeping sometimes up till 10 o’clock at night!

Rob followed some courses in 1970 and in November, he became Spiritual Director to the novitiate of diocesan sisters and became involved in the congregation. His Regional wrote in March 1973, “ The Sisters appreciate his solid spirituality. He is quite a gifted confrere.”

In February 1976, he was asked to help-out at Vubwe parish in neighbouring Zambia. He returned to Ludzi parish, Malawi in April 1978. In May 1979, he became Bishop’s secretary in Lilongwe. In 1980 was asked to plug some holes, which saw him serve in Mtengowathenga in September, in Nyamitete in November before ending up in Mpherere in May 1981. This last post was a real rural parish being both remote and mountainous. His Regional wrote in April 1984, «Someone one can rely on, an excellent efficient organiser and administrator. He takes great pains for self-control; some blow-ups are inevitable as he cannot stomach shoddy jobs or dawdlers». In February 1987, Rob moved to Likuni. The hospital now had 2 doctors and a dentist. A totally Malawian staff of 70 ran the printing press. There was also a centre for the study of the language and culture. The pastoral work had a partly urban and a partly rural character. Confreres frequently passed through or stayed the night because of the garage and other business. This could be pleasant enough but could also be burdensome if there was a lot of pastoral work on his plate.

Rob moved to Kanengo in January 1991 for part-time pastoral work. He did bookkeeping for the WF District Treasurer two days a week. He also attended monthly meetings regarding the printing press and the Diocesan Financial Committee. He commented in July 1993, “That demands much home-work, and definitely much patience.” In addition, he gave some weekend sessions for the Malawian Sisters to prepare their chapter, and he took part in it as a spiritual adviser. He took all these responsibilities with him when he moved to from Kanengo to Chezi in October 1993. He assisted in the pastoral work of the parish, mostly visiting villages at weekends.

Fr. van Iterson returned to the Netherlands for good in November 1996. He wrote, “I am grateful and happy with what I could do … trusting and hoping that they in their manner will find their own way,” and later on «The vision inspiring me: Together with and by the people building a self-confident community in mutual respect and trust».

He joined our Vaassen community as an energetic elderly member, «not dwelling on what is no longer possible, but gratefully at the service of what still is.» He set-up a carpentry-shop and started repairing things. In May 1998, he became the coordinator of the start-up community in Leidschendam. When that was discontinued in 2005, he moved to Dongen at the end of January. He became the resident painter, carpenter and handyman. When anyone needed a board or shelf, he got one. He made a bird-table in the form of a Greek temple, which quickly attracted the local birds of the avian variety.

Roy moved to Heythuysen in January 2015. He loved reading and music and enjoyed a cigarillo. He developed back problems and had trouble walking. In early 2017, he suffered additional problems and had to be hospitalized. He died peacefully in hospital on the 31st May 2017. The characteristic of Jesus that Rob highlighted in his life was “ Where did this man get all this? … Is not this the carpenter?” (Mk. 6, 2-3)

Together with his relatives and friends we buried him in our St. Charles’ cemetery on the 7th June 2017.

Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr.

Jan Knoops 1931 – 2017 (PE nr. 1084)

Jan was born on the 20th October 1931 at Opglabbeek in the Belgian Province of Limburg. He studied at the Junior Seminary of Saint-Trond and in September 1951, he entered the White Fathers at Boechout. His brother, Piet Knoops (+1998) had already been working as a White Father in the Congo since 1947. He entered the novitiate at Varsenare in September 1953 followed by theological studies in Heverlee. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 6th July 1957. He was ordained priest on the 6th April 1958 (Easter Sunday) by Bishop Marcel Daubechies, M.Afr (+1988) at that time Vicar Apostolic of Kasama. Those in charge of his training underlined his very shy temperament plus the fact that he was not very communicative. Jan was supernatural by nature, thoughtful, calm and always in good humour. In community, he was discreet and sensitive. He radiated a tranquil joy. He was not a great intellectual but a hard worker. Regarding his appointment, he asked for and received an appointment to the Congo, thus following in the footsteps of his brother, Piet.

On the 15th April 1959, Jan took the plane to Bukavu and was appointed to Kabare. His older brother, by a dozen years, worked in the same diocese. Jan felt small beside his big brother whom he admired a lot. Appointments followed on a regular basis: 1961, Katana, 1963, return to Kabare, back to Katana in 1964 but this time for medical reasons as he was suffering from fever and unexplained headaches. Jan was much appreciated for his formation work with catechists. After his first home leave in Belgium, Jan returned to Kabare. However in September 1967, he was forced to seek refuge in Mweso in the Diocese of Goma because of unrest in the area following the Mulelists rebellion. He was to stay one year in exile before returning to the Diocese of Bukavu where he became curate in Mbagira. He did the Long Retreat at Villa Cavelletti, near Rome in 1970. On his return to the Congo, he was appointed to Ciherano and then to Murhesa. In the meantime, everybody noted that Jan was undisputedly gifted for practical matters. So, he was always asked to be the bursar of the community. In many places, he repaired buildings, and organised the vegetable garden. In the fields of the Parish, he introduced the population to the soya bean with some success.

Jan did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in 1983 and he was a founder member of the team sent to Mubumbano to set up the parish there. He was to work there for a dozen years and revealed himself to be an excellent builder and contractor. He built everything; the presbytery, educational establishments and the dispensary. People came from everywhere to view his masterpiece: the Parish Church of Mubumbano. Little by little, he became the master builder of the diocese and constructed living accommodation, churches, outstations and schools.

His reputation spread beyond the borders of the diocese. In 1998 and 1999, we find him in the diocese of Kalemie working in the parishes of Christ-Roi and Lubuye. When he returned, he was asked to undertake the renovation of Burhiba.

Jan knew that nothing was more important for development and the health of people than drinking water. His creativity and technical know-how meant he could work miracles in this area. He built canals to bring water to the big centres and so brought clean water closer to where people lived.

There is one point that merits special attention regarding Jan’s missionary activity. He was devoted to the “Daughters of the Resurrection” a congregation founded by Sister Hadewych of the Holy Sepulcher of Turnhout in collaboration with Fr. Werenfried van Straaten founder of ‘Church in Need.’ Jan’s brother, Piet, was their chaplain since their foundation and he was considered as their real ‘spiritual father.’ Jan himself, had built several convents for this young congregation that was expanding fast and he continued to maintain or extend their houses. During the last years of his life in Africa, Jan helped them in their more recent foundations in the Diocese of Kindu, entrusted to our confrere, Bishop Willy Ngumbi. Jan had developed a system of wells with winches and everything and made exclusively with local materials, which was quite a technical exploit.

Jan was laid low by a thrombosis, which left him half paralyzed, on the 28th November 2015. A quick repatriation was absolutely necessary. On the advice of the Provincial leadership team, his departure would be definitive. Everybody knew how much Jan had dreamed of dying in Africa and to be buried beside his brother. He found it very difficult especially as he could not now build some wells he had promised the sisters. In February 2016, he took up residence at our house in Munsterbilzen. His family and his confreres gave him great support. However little by little, his health continued to deteriorate. On the morning of the 21st March 2017, he died peacefully. Jan was the faithful servant who had completed his service and now enters the house of the Father. May he rest in peace.

The Liturgy of the Resurrection took place on Saturday 25th March 2017 in his native village of Opglabbeeck before a large congregation. About a dozen confreres concelebrated. Jan was buried in our cemetery at Varsenare.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

Jan Dekkers 1934 – 2017 (PE nr. 1084)

Jan was born in Eindhoven on the 10th November 1934. He followed the usual formation programme for Dutch candidates and studied at Sterksel and St. Charles near Boxtel in the Netherlands before going to Alexandria Bay, U.S.A in September 1955 for the novitiate. He studied Theology in Eastview near Ottawa, Canada. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 20th June 1959. He was ordained priest in Tilburg on the 2nd February 1960. Then it was off to Rome to study Dogmatic Theology in September 1960. He obtained his Licentiate in June 1962 and then did the Pastoral session in Totteridge in July 1962 before finally leaving for Africa in February 1963.

Jan had a sound and practical judgment and a pleasant disposition. He was a hard and steady worker both accurate and reliable. He preferred to remain in the background but always ready to render a service. When unexpected matters arose, he could become flustered and a little nervous, which could give the impression that he was unsure of himself.

On 19th February 1963, Jan left for Tanzania. He went to Kibara Parish which, at that time, was part of the Diocese of Mwanza. He learnt the local language and culture and got some pastoral experience. In September 1964, he moved to Kipalapala Major Seminary to teach Dogmatic Theology. 130 students were expected and there was a staff of 9 White Fathers of various nationalities and one Tanzanian diocesan priest. In 1967, the Government put agriculture on the national school curriculum, and several seminarians started to cultivate a patch of land or raise chickens. That year, 4 Tanzanian diocesan priests joined the staff, one of them as Rector. There were also priests from some other congregations. This meant fewer White Fathers were needed and Jan could return to parish work.

Jan returned to Mwanza Diocese in January 1968. He was appointed to the island parish of Nansio. He wrote: «Quite a change from the well-regulated quiet school-life to a life full of variety and unforeseen happenings in the parish.» In April 1971, he returned to Kibara, where he had started in 1963. It was an extensive parish with 17 outstations and he could cover up to 300 km a week by motorbike. There were 22 primary schools, and local men and women volunteers taught the religion periods.

In November 1973, a storm in the evening tore off the roof of the parish church, which had been built only five years previously, and deposited it 25 metres away. As the sacristy was lower, it remained dry. Over a strip of 18 kms, many houses lost their roofs. The next morning, many parishioners came to help with the propping-up of the 9 church rafters. An additional problem was that, for six months, no corrugated sheets or cement was available!

In 1976, Fr. Dekkers moved to Buhingo, first as Curate and then, in 1977, as Parish Priest. He began to get interested in the training of catechists especially those in charge of outstations. In February 1984, he moved to Magu as Parish Priest. He was elected to the White Father Regional Council of Tanzania as the representative of the confreres of Mwanza Diocese.

In November 1992, he, along with two other confreres, was appointed to Geita Diocese to start a new parish in Bukoli. In order to get acquainted with the people of the diocese, he visited all the parishes! The Bukoli parishioners were happy to receive them, and Jan liked it there. He wrote in August 1993, «We have a good house community, for me it is the first time in all my 30 years of priesthood that I live and work with confreres younger than myself».

Gold mining was an important activity in the Parish. This drew many people from other regions and the parishioners were from various ethnic backgrounds. One surprising consequence was that the priests regularly found gold nuggets on the collection plate! Jan wrote in February 1995, without giving further details, «Our new parish is making progress; fellowship is growing».

In November 1999, in fact on his 65th birthday, Jan began a new assignment: He became Director of the Catechists Training School at Bukumbi in what is now the Archdiocese of Mwanza. Bukumbi was a historical place in White Father history. It was the first parish in Tanzania, erected in 1883 and covering an area that included present day Burundi. In the little grass covered church three bishops were ordained for service in East Africa. Now Jan found a compound that boasted a hospital with three doctors and 190 beds, a Nursing and Mid-Wives Training School, a secondary school for girls, and a Catechists Training Centre that had been started in 1957. The catechists’ course lasted for nearly 11 months and in 1999, Jan started with 24 families and eight sisters from six dioceses. The catechists’ course covered subjects such as the Bible, Church History, Swahili, Pastoral work and Sociology. The wives got instruction in religious knowledge, cooking, hygiene, knitting and childcare. If it was possible, each woman received a second hand sewing machine and they could take it home with them at the end of the course. Each house had a vegetable garden and a plot for maize and rice. There were seven teachers both men and women, and one of them looked after the kindergarten. Naturally babies arrived during the year; there were 11 births in 2011. In the presbytery, Jan lived with two other confreres who worked in the Parish. Another confrere worked, with the help of local people, at synchronizing soundtracks on video tapes into Swahili. They could be bought at the centre for use in the villages.

On the 16th November 2008, Jan wrote, «I think it is important work; we increasingly need more good Catechists, for their work is still the least indispensable to the church. It is a major asset that they come with their wives and little children, so that the whole family receives a formation. It is a pleasure to see what progress they make». After his Golden Jubilee of Oath, he wrote on the 25th June 2009, «I am just carrying-on being a happy WF.» In July of 2010 the Centre welcomed 120 catechists from Mwanza Archdiocese for three days of study and prayer. Lodging and feeding them took quite a bit of organizing.

On the 3rd September 2012 Jan handed over his job to a diocesan priest. He stayed on and assisted in Bukumbi parish. He returned to the Netherlands for good on the 7th July 2013. In saying good-bye, he told the Provincial, Charles Obanya, “I have found fulfillment and joy in the various appointments and work throughout the years. I am going back with a sense of satisfaction». Fr. Charles thanked him «for the many years of dedicated service in Africa and for your sense of humour.»

Jan moved to Heythuysen in August 2013. He began to develop symptoms of the feared illness of the elderly. During the course of 2014, he began to need special care. He died peacefully in his room on the 29th June 2017. The characteristic of Jesus which Jan highlighted in his life was: «Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful». Lk.6, 36.

Together with relatives and friends we buried him in our St. Charles cemetery on the 5th July 2017.

Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr.