Martien was born in Veghel, North Brabant, Netherlands on the 6th April 1934. He followed the usual Missionary of Africa formation programme at the time, which meant studies in Sterksel, Santpoort, St.Charles,’s-Heerenberg and Totteridge where he took the Missionary Oath on the 13th July 1960. He was ordained priest in Veghel on the 2nd February 1961.
Martien had a sound judgment coupled with idealism and optimism. He was cheerful and ever ready to render a service. He preferred to keep the peace rather than take hard decisions. He persevered and worked at his own pace. He loved all kind of sports and semi-classical music and he could play the guitar and harmonica.
On the 12th December 1961, Fr. van de Ven left for Kahangala Parish, Mwanza Diocese, Tanzania. He lived with the family of a catechist for a month in order to learn the local Kisukuma language. He also learnt Kiswahili when it became the national language of the country.
Right from the beginning, Martien felt that being a missionary was to spread the ideals of Jesus and to improve the quality of life of the people. At his Golden Jubilee, he wrote, “I wanted to cooperate with Bishop Blomjous, as he had an inter-cultural vision about how the Church ought to present itself in Africa, to unite with their culture and way-of-life. Vatican II confirmed this vision. Hence, we used their songs and music, and their cultural feasts. In 1954, Bishop Blomjous appointed the young Canadian, David Clement, as Parish-Priest in Bujora with the commission to integrate the Sukuma language and culture into the Liturgy. ‘Klementi’ founded the singing and dancing group ‘Bana-Sesilia’, from which developed the current ‘Bujora Cultural Centre’. My life has been enriched by their culture. I learned about putting things into perspective. I lost my Western superiority.”
Martien moved to Bujora parish in 1962 but in September 1963, he received an appointment to Nyegezi Junior Seminary to teach mathematics. In August 1965, he moved to Sengerema as Parish-Priest. The parish grew from 2,000 to 48,000 people in a short period. The St. John of God Brothers built a hospital of 300 beds with a large polyclinic attached. The Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo came to help. Five training programmes were set up in phases, for nurses, midwives, lab-assistants, x-ray and medical assistants. The Government built a secondary school. The parish was pastorally involved in both institutions. Martien built a hostel with four large guest rooms to welcome passing White Fathers on their way to Mwanza.
At the end of 1980, the Bishop asked Martien to become the Diocesan Treasurer of Mwanza. He did so with such great dedication, that the Dutch White Fathers asked him to become the Treasurer of the Province in September 1985. In addition to the financial administration, he had to reorganize the accommodation for the Dutch confreres in the Netherlands. Heythuysen was bought in January 1986. The cemetery of the old St.Charles was moved to the new St.Charles in Heythuysen. Some houses were closed, a couple of others opened; some of the restructuring overlapped and matters could get complicated!
Fr. van de Ven returned to Tanzania in January 1993. He went to Buhingo Parish in Mwanza Diocese. It had 200.000 inhabitants, of which 8.000 were Catholics spread out over 54 outstations. In December 1993, he wrote, “I spend a lot of time visiting those villages and I am enjoying it … The inspiration and energy I am drawing on comes from my conviction of being a missionary.”
In May 1995, Martien was asked to become the Treasurer of the White Father’s Province of Tanzania and Kenya. He lived in Nyegezi near Mwanza for 6 years and carried out the job with his customary dedication. In 2001, as he was 67 years of age, he began the dialogue with a view to finding a quieter task. However, when the Dutch Province unexpectedly lost its Treasurer, Martien kindly offered to help. Quite a few matters had to be dealt with; for various reasons, the Provincial House had to relocate to Dongen from Boxtel and two others communities joined it. They moved in July and August 2002.
Martien returned to Tanzania in September 2003. He had a room in the community of Nyegezi but his appointment was to carry out research into Sukuma culture at Bujora and to do pastoral work among the Sukuma people. He assisted in setting up a Cultural Centre and putting on record the history, language, religion and customs of the Sukuma people (ca. 6 million). Books, manuscripts, articles, etc. were catalogued and registered for safekeeping preventing them from getting “lost”. Using a digital camera, he put a lot of material on CD disks so that they could be consulted on computers. Thus the work of Bishop Blomjous and “Klementi” which had started in the 1960s, continued. Western tourists were beginning to come but the majority of visitors were from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Many groups from Primary Schools were also visiting. By April 2005, the staff comprised of one diocesan priest and 15 laypeople as well as Martien. He was inducted into the Assembly of the Elders that year, which meant that he had to learn the special language used exclusively by them. He wrote in March 2011, “A bigger honour and nicer crown on my work one cannot imagine … As missionary one deals with the whole person, as individuals and as members of the community. Hence, ‘transmitting the faith’ and ‘development-work’ cannot be separated”.
Martien returned to the Netherlands for good in November 2009. He moved to Heythuysen in January 2010. The previous month he had written, “This was not an easy decision after having lived and worked 50 years with people dear to me”. He was appointed one of the two representatives of the WF residents, and a member of the Sector Council. Once a month he celebrated the Eucharist in churches in and around Veghel. He helped the elderly particularly as a driver, and continued his work for the Bujora Cultural Centre. His maternal uncle, our confrere Jan Hendriks (+ 1964), wrote something about Sukuma culture in every letter home. Martien translated those letters sending them to the Bujora Archives.
He enjoyed listening to quiet music and to visit relatives and friends. In the course of 2014, he began to give up some of his services but kept his job as driver as long as he could. On 13th February 2017, he died peacefully in his flat.
The characteristic of Jesus, which Martien highlighted in his life, was “… like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt.13, 52).
Together with relatives and friends, we buried him in our St.Charles cemetery on the 18th February 2017.
Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr.