Fr. Juan Calvo Serrano left us on the 28th November 2014 to enter the house of the Father and to enjoy the fruits of the promise made by the Lord to his good and faithful servants. He was born on the 20th June 1932 at Arnedo, in the Diocese of Calahorra y La Calzada-Logroño, a well-known town in the La Rioja region of the north of Spain. When he finished secondary school, he decided to join the Missionaries of Africa. He did his novitiate in Maison Carrée, took his Missionary Oath in Thibar in 1955, and was ordained priest in Carthage on the 1st April 1956.
Juan’s first appointment, after his priestly ordination, was to Rome to study Philosophy at the Gregorian University. He obtained his Doctorate in 1960. In that same year, he was appointed to Sainte-Anne in Jerusalem but only stayed a year, as he was needed to complete the team at the newly opened Philosophy Seminary of the Missionaries of Africa at Logroño in Spain. He stayed until 1964 combining his philosophical bent and practical knowledge so necessary in the first years of a seminary that was still finding its feet. Juan’s first appointment in Africa was to the Samo-Nord people in Tougan in Burkina Faso. An accident obliged him to return to Spain much earlier than foreseen. Two years later, fully recovered, he returned to Tougan. He learnt the local language and began pastoral work, firstly as a curate and then as superior until 1971. He was superior at Kiembara from 1971 to 1978. He then took some sabbatical time out for recycling which he spent partly in Paris and partly in Spain. He returned to Africa but this time to Mali. He was appointed curate at San and was there from 1982 to 1986. In his final year there, he became Diocesan Treasurer but only for a few months. In fact, he had to return to Spain for health reasons. A year later, we find him in Banfora in Burkina Faso as curate. In 1990, Juan did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. After this period of renewal, he returned to Burkina Faso where he was put in charge of the Diocesan Construction programme of Bobo Dioulaso. During this time, he prepared and presented many development projects on behalf of religious congregations and needy people.
One of his many projects was the construction of the new novitiate of the White Fathers at Samagan. He followed that by building the Mater Christi Centre (Training Centre for Religious) near Bobo Dioulasso. He devoted himself entirely to this project. He went to Spain for some time to buy materials especially for the installation of the bathrooms. A full container brought all this material safe and sound to its final destination. He was present every day at the building site in spite of the harsh sun that fell on the ground stripped of all vegetation. He was very pleased with the outcome of this very successful project. He was present along with many other people when it was formally opened and blessed.
Fr. Juan remained in this responsible job until 2006. However, another accident forced him to return to Spain and this time it was for good. He received medical treatment in Pamplona. He was appointed to the Missionary of Africa community at Benicassim (Castellon). His great qualities and practical knowledge merited the esteem and affection of many people in Africa.
For the last part of his life, Juan lived in Benicassim. He was very limited physically but his mind was clear and alert. He found it difficult to move around and he could hardly walk. His hands trembled a lot with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, which deeply embarrassed him and, by discretion, prevented him from participating in meetings with acquaintances and friends. Little by little, his health got worse mainly due to diabetes and high blood pressure. Diabetes affected his sight, which meant he could not read nor take part in community prayer.
However, Juan kept his good humour and his liking for all sorts of sports right up until the end. He followed sport on television by placing himself very close to the TV set. He was an avid supporter of Real Madrid and knew by heart the names of the players and the results of the matches.
During the summer of 2014, his nephews brought him to his native town of Arnedo where his sister lived. It was his final family visit. When he returned to Benicassim, he continued to be faithful to prayer and community meetings until he died.
During the night of the 27/28th November 2014, Fr. Juan suffered a major cerebral haemorrhage that left him unconscious. An ambulance brought him to the Emergency Unit at the General Hospital in Castellon. The Doctors said that the damage was irreversible. In their opinion, he only had a few hours to live. On the evening of the 28th November at around 19.20, they allowed his confreres to gather around his bed to spend his last moments with them. Juan had a last moment of lucidity and when he saw the confreres gathered around his bed and praying for him, he smiled placidly. He died quietly and serenely at 19.30.
On the 30th November 2014, the confreres, his family, friends and acquaintances celebrated the Eucharistic in the presence of his body in the chapel of our house in Benicassim, Fr. Aurelio Sanjuan, Sector Treasurer of Spain, presided in the name of the Provincial Delegate. He emphasised, among other points, the wisdom of Juan and his practical knowledge, which he used to help many people. His ashes now rest in the chapel of our house at Benicassim. May he rest in peace.
Odilo Cougil, M.Afr.