Rob was born in The Hague on the 5th February 1927. His formation saw him pass through ‘s-Heerenburg, Thibar, Tunisia, where he took his Missionary Oath on the 29th June 1953, and Carthage where he was ordained on the 18th April 1954. His stepbrother was a Cistercian monk in Rochefort, Belgium.
Rob had sound judgment, was a good planner and innovator, spoke his mind, which gave the impression that he was inclined to be bossy. However, he was cheerful and a hard and methodical worker always ready to render a service. He had an artistic bent and liked to carve things although he could do ordinary repairs as well.
In August 1954, Rob was sent to teach in the Minor Seminary of the White Fathers at Sterksel, Netherlands. After two years, he was appointed to Malawi. He studied the Nyanja language and culture with the help of a Mr. Raphael at Likuni. After pastoral work in Likuni and Chiphaso, he moved to Madisi Parish in September 1957. Madisi was the youngest parish in the Vicariate. The White Sisters had started doing pastoral and development work in the Parish and not the usual health care and education work. They visited the villages to instruct neophytes, set up Catholic action groups among the mid-wives and training sessions with the wives of teachers. This was the first time that such an initiative was tried.
Rob was appointed Parish Priest of Namitete in April 1959. This was a much larger place. It had a technical school run by a confrere, a hospital run by sisters and a primary school. One of the priests was from the Malawian Diocesan clergy. The population was very diverse due to seasonal workers coming to harvest the tobacco crop. There were also a dozen different churches of various persuasions. Another disrupting factor was that many people went to South Africa to work in the mines. The parish comprised 4,500 Catholics and 1,500 neophytes, which meant a lot of building. Rob built a church, dormitory, dining room and kitchen for the higher classes of the primary school as well as houses for teachers.
Rob wrote in January 1962, «The most important task, particularly now during the independence-struggle, is forming leaders, not only among the so-called elite, but in the villages too, in every Christian community.» He was elected as the diocesan representative in the Regional Council and he was on the Diocesan Liturgical Commission during Vatican II.
In October 1964, Fr. Van Iterson became the Parish Priest of Likuni. This involved looking after a hospital, a printing press, the editing of the “African” newspaper not to mention the diocesan garage. In the beginning of 1966, a freak storm blasted the roofs off 6 classrooms and 3 dormitories of the secondary school in the space of five minutes. Fortunately the students were on holiday, but a lot of school-material was lost.
Rob became Diocesan Treasurer in May 1966. His first task was to liquidate the surplus stocks held in the diocesan stores as goods were appearing in the local shops again. He also streamlined the financing of projects. During the day, he was kept on the go by all sorts of transactions and it was his custom that after “high tea” he would do his bookkeeping sometimes up till 10 o’clock at night!
Rob followed some courses in 1970 and in November, he became Spiritual Director to the novitiate of diocesan sisters and became involved in the congregation. His Regional wrote in March 1973, “ The Sisters appreciate his solid spirituality. He is quite a gifted confrere.”
In February 1976, he was asked to help-out at Vubwe parish in neighbouring Zambia. He returned to Ludzi parish, Malawi in April 1978. In May 1979, he became Bishop’s secretary in Lilongwe. In 1980 was asked to plug some holes, which saw him serve in Mtengowathenga in September, in Nyamitete in November before ending up in Mpherere in May 1981. This last post was a real rural parish being both remote and mountainous. His Regional wrote in April 1984, «Someone one can rely on, an excellent efficient organiser and administrator. He takes great pains for self-control; some blow-ups are inevitable as he cannot stomach shoddy jobs or dawdlers». In February 1987, Rob moved to Likuni. The hospital now had 2 doctors and a dentist. A totally Malawian staff of 70 ran the printing press. There was also a centre for the study of the language and culture. The pastoral work had a partly urban and a partly rural character. Confreres frequently passed through or stayed the night because of the garage and other business. This could be pleasant enough but could also be burdensome if there was a lot of pastoral work on his plate.
Rob moved to Kanengo in January 1991 for part-time pastoral work. He did bookkeeping for the WF District Treasurer two days a week. He also attended monthly meetings regarding the printing press and the Diocesan Financial Committee. He commented in July 1993, “That demands much home-work, and definitely much patience.” In addition, he gave some weekend sessions for the Malawian Sisters to prepare their chapter, and he took part in it as a spiritual adviser. He took all these responsibilities with him when he moved to from Kanengo to Chezi in October 1993. He assisted in the pastoral work of the parish, mostly visiting villages at weekends.
Fr. van Iterson returned to the Netherlands for good in November 1996. He wrote, “I am grateful and happy with what I could do … trusting and hoping that they in their manner will find their own way,” and later on «The vision inspiring me: Together with and by the people building a self-confident community in mutual respect and trust».
He joined our Vaassen community as an energetic elderly member, «not dwelling on what is no longer possible, but gratefully at the service of what still is.» He set-up a carpentry-shop and started repairing things. In May 1998, he became the coordinator of the start-up community in Leidschendam. When that was discontinued in 2005, he moved to Dongen at the end of January. He became the resident painter, carpenter and handyman. When anyone needed a board or shelf, he got one. He made a bird-table in the form of a Greek temple, which quickly attracted the local birds of the avian variety.
Roy moved to Heythuysen in January 2015. He loved reading and music and enjoyed a cigarillo. He developed back problems and had trouble walking. In early 2017, he suffered additional problems and had to be hospitalized. He died peacefully in hospital on the 31st May 2017. The characteristic of Jesus that Rob highlighted in his life was “ Where did this man get all this? … Is not this the carpenter?” (Mk. 6, 2-3)
Together with his relatives and friends we buried him in our St. Charles’ cemetery on the 7th June 2017.
Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr.