Père Maurice Callant (1920 – 2018) (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

Maurice was born on the 14th July 1920 at Oudenaarde, Diocese of Gent, in the Province of East Flanders, Belgium. He came from a middle class family background. His mother was headmistress of a secondary school and his older brother was a diocesan priest. Initially, Maurice attended the secondary school run by the Josephite Fathers at Grammont and he finished in the Notre-Dame College in Oudenaarde. In May 1941, he sent a tiny little card to the superior of Boechout with just one sentence, “I wish to be part of the Society of the White Fathers.” He joined the following September. The war going on at the time had a considerable influence on his formation. He did his novitiate in Sainte-Croix near Bruges from 1943-44 because Varsenare had been requisitioned by the occupying German forces. He studied theology in Heverlee from 1944 to 1946 and in Marienthal from 1946 to 1948. He took his Missionary Oath in Heverlee on the 6th April 1947 followed by ordination to the priesthood, also in Heverlee, on the 29th March 1948.

During his years of training, Maurice was described as having his heart in the right place, very generous and always ready to be of service. He had a deep piety. Nobody described him as a great intellectual but his kind heartedness made up for a lot. Of an even and calm character, he always seemed to be in a good mood. He was an unassuming and social man. He liked manual work and he was reliable.

Maurice was appointed to Burundi and flew off with Sobelair on the 15th September 1948. His first posting was to Makamba in the Diocese of Gitega. As was customary at the time, he began as curate and he was put in charge of the primary schools while learning the local language in his ‘spare’ time. Fr. Benoît Hellemans (+1968), Regional of Burundi at the time, remarked that Maurice had problems grasping the nuances of the language at the beginning but thanks to his tenacity he would certainly succeed. Maurice’s devotion to expanding the school network began to bear fruit. At the end of 1955, Maurice was one of the co-founders of Gisuru. He had an extraordinary capacity for remembering names of people. Fr. Alfons Van Hoof (+1979) then Regional wrote in April 1956, “He is unflappable and is extremely patient. He is doing good just by his amiability and the fact that he knows everybody.” After his first home leave during which he did the Long Retreat in Mours, Maurice returned to Makamba in 1959. However, he was only there for two years as, in March 1961, he became Parish Priest and founder of Martyazo in the Diocese of Bururi. His regional like so many others noted, “A great worker, common sense, never gets carried away, has his two feet on the ground. He walks like a man of the earth, slow and strong. He does not get angry, does not get impatient. He seems to have things under control at the mission and the people respect him.” Maurice took time out in 1966 for some recycling at the Missions Étrangères de Paris on Rue du Bac. He returned to Makamba but only to prepare a new foundation at Mabanda where he moved to in August 1967 not only as Parish Priest but as Dean. Fr. Louis Quintard (+2012), the Regional said this election as Dean embarrassed him. Maurice, who had just turned 50, wanted to introduce a number of pastoral reforms but this was difficult as so few new confreres were coming. Maurice was always very respectful towards the political authorities, something which did not please all the confreres, but in so doing, he always had the good of the parish in mind. He remained at Mabanda until his home leave in 1976. When he returned, he became superior at Rutana where he worked until 1984. During his home leave in that year, he did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. In 1985, he was appointed to Masango in the Diocese of Bubanza.

Like so many other missionaries, Maurice was expelled from Burundi on the 19th October 1986. He commented, “Thanked for my services to Burundi since 1948.” He added these words to a form that he had filled out at the office of the Provincial in Bruxelles. Apart from that, we have not found any ‘official’ letter from him in the archives. There was no written communications or anything about the life he lived. Extreme discretion? In the Flash-Burundi, a confrere testified, “Maurice finished his apostolic ministry in Burundi in the same way that he had carried it out for nearly 40 years: discretely, modestly and profoundly. He was an experienced Parish Priest who knew how to steer his parishes of Mabanda and Rutana through all sorts of dangers with an enlightened zeal. Southern man from the Mosso (Gisuru), Maurice has something to thank the Lord for, because of all the good that has been achieved through his apostolic ministry. No one doubts that his gift of wisdom will help him find his place wherever he is sent.”

Thanks to the intervention of Ward Schoofs (+2017) who had been thanked already for his services in 1985 by the regime of President Bagaza, Maurice was immediately appointed chaplain to the ‘Heiderust’ home in Genk by Mgr. Dupas, Vicar-General of the Diocese of Hasselt. He served there for nearly 14 years and as he had done in Burundi he showed himself to be friendly, kind, modest, attentive and always ready to be of service. In 1991, his sister, Elizabeth died at Renaix and in 1994, his elder brother/priest died at Alorst. In 1999, Maurice went off to Rome to attend the beatification of Fr. Edward Poppe. At the end of 2000, Maurice decided to retire and resigned from his post as chaplain. Jef Vleugels, Provincial, proposed he go the community at Katelijnevest in Bruges which he accepted with joy. At the beginning of March 2004, he asked to join the community of elders at the Kasteel, in Varsenare. He spent many tranquil years here, always faithful to himself, listening to the conversations, laughing often in his beard, intervening rarely but always timely. He stubbornly continued to walk, firstly with a stick and then with a walking frame because he absolutely did not want to be transferred to Avondrust. Typical Maurice! In the night of the 9th and 10th February 2018, he fell. He died quietly later that afternoon, discretely as he had lived his life. We buried him on Thursday 15th February surrounded by his family, many friends, religious and his confreres.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

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