Lodewijk De Winter – everybody called him Lode or Louis – was born on the 11th April 1926 at Bevel in the Province of Antwerp, Belgium. His father was administrator, founder and leader of many different associations and cooperatives. The most famous one was the Boerenbond, a farmers association. Lode began his secondary schooling in Antwerp but did his final years at the Junior Seminary of Hoogstraten. In December 1946, he entered the White Fathers at Boechout. His Parish Priest noted with enthusiasm, “What good-luck to see a priestly vocation hatch out among the people of Bevel. That has never happened before!”After his novitiate in Varsenare, Lode left for North Africa where he pursued his theological studies. He took his Missionary Oath at Thibar on the 27th June 1952 and he was ordained priest at Carthage on the 5th April 1953. During his years of training, Lode was described as devoted and generous, helpful and obliging. He never put himself forward and never raised his voice. He was described as being intelligent, but he was more gifted for practical things. In fact, at Thibar, he was in charge of the electrical installations. He was very pious and was profoundly attached to his vocation.
Lode fulfilled his ‘military service’ obligations by following a six month course at Louvain University. On the 20th April 1954, he took the plane to what was then called ‘Baudouinville’ (now called Kirungu). He began as curate in Nyunzu and then worked in Mateo before ending up as a teacher and bursar of the Junior Seminary of Lusaka (DRC). Herman Hoste (+1985) the Regional pointed out that “Lode does a better job as bursar than as a teacher because the courses are taught, in fact, in Swahili which he does not know very well.” In June 1957, Lode was appointed to Liapenda firstly as curate and then, in 1959, as Parish Priest. He built many schools and the same Regional wrote that he had found the milieu and pastoral work that suited him very well, “under his rather cold exterior, he is tactful and considerate. He does not get angry. He seems to have a sound judgement and does not hesitate to take the necessary decisions” After his home leave in 1961 and the Long Retreat in Villa Cavaletti, near Rome, he returned to Liapenda. He directed the post until August 1975. He then left the Diocese of Kalemie for Kongolo and became Parish Priest of St. Matthew Mulumba Parish in Kabalo. This little town had three parishes and Lode’s section also had 43 Small Christian Communities scattered throughout the surrounding countryside. On Sunday 5th May 1980, Lode celebrated at Kabalo and before a very large crowd, the Jubilee of the Catholic Church in Zaire (now DRC), in the presence of Bishop Jerome Ngay. He then left for his home leave and profited from the occasion to do a pastoral theology session at Arbresle in France. He also followed the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. He remained Parish Priest of Kabalo until 1985. At the end of June 1986, he was appointed Parish Priest of Sola where he was to remain until the end of August 1993.
In October 1993, Lode was asked to change Dioceses once again. He was appointed as teacher at the Catechetical Training Centre at Kinkungwa in the Diocese of Kasongo. Here he collaborated with Mathieu Janssen, the Director of the Centre. His long pastoral experience served as the basis of his teaching. During his leave in 1996, he followed the Missionary Discipleship Today Session in Jerusalem.
Following the crushing conquest of the Congo in 1997 by Laurent Kabila and his A.F.D.L (Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo-Zaïre), another rebellion, led by the RCD – Goma, broke out against the A.F.D.L in the east of the country. As a result, Lode sought safety at Kalima. However due to the circumstances, Kalima was completely cut off from the rest of the world as there were no phones or air transport. This meant a great deal of anxiety for his family and confreres. In December 1999, Lode, now 73 years of age, informed the Regional, Patxi Otondo, that he was certainly ready to return to Kinkungwa but he did not think that he could make a fresh start anywhere else. He had done his share.
On the 13th December 1998, Lode returned to Belgium for good. He went to stay with his widowed sister, Julia, who still occupied the family home in Bevel. There he enjoyed years of tranquil happiness pampered by his sister and watched closely by his nephew by marriage who was a doctor. As long as he could, he helped out in the Parish. At the request of the Polish confreres, he gave French courses over a number of months for candidates preparing to leave for Africa. Over the years, he regularly stood in for the chaplain of the Bethlehem Sisters at Pugny in France. The Sisters of Berlaar and the Parish of Gestel could always count on him. He took part in the meetings and feasts organised by the Belgian Sector or the community of Antwerp while his health permitted him to so.
All during his life, Lode was without doubt one of the most regular participants in the Ongoing Formation programmes organised by the Society. He closed the series by attending the 70+ Session in Rome in September 2015.
At the beginning of February 2017, Lode fell and broke his hip. The convalescence was difficult and at the beginning of April he was transferred urgently to the Sacred Heart Hospital at Lierre. He died there peacefully on the 4th April 2017.
The Liturgy of the Resurrection took place on Easter Monday 17th April in the Church of the Our Lady of the Assumption in Bevel. There was a very large attendance, the family was well known and the village had supported Lode’s missionary work. Many confreres concelebrated. He is buried in our cemetery at Varsenare.
Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.