Henk was born in Hoogkarspel in the Diocese of Haarlem on the 10th August 1928. He followed the usual White Father training programme at the time for Dutch confreres; Novitiate and Theology in ‘s-Heerenberg, where he took the Missionary Oath on the 21st June 1954, and a final year of Theology at Monteviot in Scotland. He was ordained in Galashiels on the 26th May 1955.
He had a sound judgement; could be strict and dogmatic. He worked with method and order, and described himself as a perfectionist. He had a strong will, was a hard worker, very friendly, somewhat nervous, ever ready to give a helping hand.
In September 1955, Henk went to Amsterdam State University to study Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy. He was awarded his doctorate in June 1963. In September 1963, he began teaching Science at our Minor Seminary run jointly with the MSC Fathers at Santpoort-Driehuis. In July 1965, he wrote, «The contact with the students is fascinating.» He was also responsible for Ongoing Formation session for science teachers in the region.
In October 1967, Henk arrived in Tanzania to teach science at the Junior Seminary in Nyegezi, in the Diocese of Mwanza. Its Rector was Fr. Ferdinand Mwalimu, a diocesan priest who had studied Sociology. Henk wrote in December 1967, «My nature is planning ahead and wishing some security for the future». He always had a certain fear that he would be replaced by a Tanzanian but in the end, he stayed at Nyegezi for 27 years until he celebrated his 66th birthday!
There was a science laboratory but it only had a limited set of instruments. It took Henk two years to find the funds to bring it up the standards required. Then he looked for funds for a chemistry laboratory. In collaboration with others, he wrote textbooks for the science subjects.
In 1976, the seminary began to take in students for Forms V and VI. This was a dream come true for Henk. However, it also meant much more work for him as he had to prepare classes and organise lab activities at this higher level.
Mwanza town is on the shores of Lake Victoria and boasted a yacht club. Henk began sailing for relaxation. He was elected Commodore 11 times and this involved not only meetings and other social activities but also organising sailing competitions!
As he approached the Silver Jubilee of his Priesthood, Henk wrote in February 1980, “After 12 years in Nyegezi, I cannot get enough of it. A beautiful and rewarding service.» The confreres of Mwanza Diocese elected him as their representative to the Regional Council of Tanzania and Kenya. He was also a member of the Financial Council for many years.
The income of the Junior Seminary was made up of a quarter from school-fees, a quarter from Rome, and half from the Diocese. In 1982, the funds ran out. During June-July, 4 teachers toured all the parishes in the diocese explaining the situation during the Eucharist and asking for cash or produce. The parishioners collected money, rice, cassava, potatoes, onions, beans and peas. From then on it became a yearly collection. Another step towards self-reliance.
At the seminary, the students already had fields with vegetables, maize and cassava. Now they started fishing and raising pigs. With a group, Henk started making envelopes for sale. An old maize-mill was repaired and a machine for stripping rice husks was put in place to raise money.
In 1983, the electricity supply regularly failed. This was a problem especially for evening study. Solar energy was installed. This meant a lot of work as it involved installing panels, batteries, alternative wiring and lamps. It was a huge investment but the electricity bills decreased. The water-pump also worked on electricity. This problem was solved by installing enormous water-tanks for rain-water, one of which had a capacity for 100.000 litres. They were topped up when the electricity worked.
In December 1984, Henk wrote, «I am wondering whether to keep teaching until my pension, precisely when there is such a lack of priests. … I enjoy differential-comparisons, statistics, probability-calculations and what not. That is not the problem. In all those years I have kept the sense of prayer and pastorate, and that remains my first priority». In that letter he wrote too how, when he arrived 1967, only the rector was a Tanzanian diocesan priest, the remaining staff White Fathers. In 1984, Henk was the only White Father remaining. «Yet I do not feel the least tension due to these changes». As a matter of fact, in addition to his full schedule of teaching he became the co-rector, and for a period acting-rector because of the late appointment of the new rector.
In June 1994, Henk became Regional Bursar for Tanzania-Kenya, and also house-bursar and guest-master at Nyegezi. It proved to be much more work than expected. He wrote about it in March 2001: «I am a perfectionist, wanting to finish what is on my desk». He did so on week-ends, including Sundays. During the day, the electricity was regularly off; when he noticed it had returned during the night, he got up to do his photocopying.
Henk returned to the Netherlands for good in June 1995. He wrote the previous April, «I have given my best years to Africa; that will forever remain a source of joy for me». After some months of rest, he went to Vaassen to set up our new community and he became its superior. He was happy there; however the community was dissolved in 2002. After spending six months in Dongen, he joined the Heythuysen community in January 2003. He sometimes had the feeling that his university education in a very specialised area created a distance with the other confreres, so he rarely spoke about it.
Henk went cycling on a daily basis; Sundays he usually went to say Mass in a local parish. He always prepared his homily carefully. He was ready to solve anybody’s computer-problems. Yearly he went on pilgrimage, some years more-often, and often lasting more than a week. When he reached 80, he stopped as it was becoming too tiring. However, he still continued going to Medjugorje for a few more years He enjoyed reading.
Following a nasty fall in September 2016, Henk never really recovered. He died peacefully in his flat on the 20th January 2017. The characteristic of Jesus which Henk highlighted in his life was: «Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God» (John 3, 2).
Together with relatives and friends we buried him in our cemetery at St.Charles, Heythuysen on the 26th January 2017.
Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr.