Theo de Jong 1925 – 2016 (PE nr. 1081)

Theo was born in Nes, on the island of Ameland, Netherlands on 18th May 1925. He followed the usual formation programme of the White Fathers at the time: studies in ‘s-Heerenberg where he took his Missionary Oath on the 22nd July 1953 followed by further theological studies in Monteviot, Scotland. He was ordained priest in Galashiels Parish on the 10th June 1954. His paternal uncle was Johannes Cardinal de Jong (+1956) who played an important role in history of the Church in the Netherlands.  Theo had a sound judgment with a facility for matter-of-fact critical assessment. He could find it difficult sometimes to put his thoughts into words. He was a very dedicated person with great simplicity and gentleness; he was someone one could rely on. However, he knew what he wanted and persevered until he got it. He could be somewhat emotional and nervous, and his teachers wanted him to develop his self-confidence.

In December 1954, Theo left for Rwera Parish, Mbarara Diocese (later Archdiocese),Uganda. It was a densely populated region and Theo found the inhabitants very sympathetic. Rwera was the most recent and smallest parish in the diocese, with 5.000 Catholics. He served there with Bro.Tobi Kizza (+1961) from Uganda as well as confreres from Canada and Poland. Bro.Tobi was already 85 years old and he had known Cardinal Lavigerie in his younger days. A big difficulty was that the parish had two language groups, each with their own culture.

In 1956, Theo spent a year in Mbarara with its 20,000 Catholics. In 1957, he was in Nyakibale parish before going to Kitabi parish in 1959. He calculated that in 1960, on his pastoral safaris, he had slept in 60 villages and he had taught in many schools. He wrote in June 1961, “All that time I have been very happy, and my health could stand it very well”. After some months in Mushanga parish, Theo moved to Kabale diocese, which had been erected from a part of Mbarara diocese in September 1962. He served successively in the parishes Bukinda, Rushoroza, Nyakibale, and again in Rushoroza. In all the parishes where he lived and worked, he did a lot of house visiting and made countless safaris to outstations. He was someone who was close to the people. He did the Long Retreat in Villa Cavalletti, near Rome, in September 1969.

Fr. De Jong started suffering from high blood pressure in 1970 and it was thought better that he return to Mbarara Diocese. He spent a year in Mushanga Parish before moving to Kagamba Parish in 1971 as curate. He became Parish Priest of Ibanda Parish in December 1979. With another confrere, he was asked to start a new parish in Kazo in October 1988. Kazo was formerly a part of Ibanda. At that time, there were 10,000 Catholics but a Church and a presbytery still had to be built.

Some years earlier Theo had got interested in the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. In January 1984, Theo heard that 20 people from a parish in the neighbouring Fort Portal Diocese would, during a Eucharistic celebration, take a solemn pledge to abstain from alcohol. Theo had seen the evil consequences of alcohol abuse, similar to AIDS, so he took his bicycle, cycled to the ceremony and was greatly impressed. He decided to become a member himself, and asked members from Fort Portal Diocese to help him start the movement in Mbarara Diocese beginning in Ibanda. In no time, they had 2.000 members. When he was appointed to Kazo, he continued to promote the movement, which attracted large numbers of people. In 1992, the Bishop appointed him spiritual adviser and director of the Pioneers for the whole diocese. It became his lifework.

Theo visited all 34 parishes and all 230 outstations in the Diocese promoting the Pioneer Movement. In 1998, he moved to to Tobi Kizza House in Mbarara, and from there he continued his special apostolate. He engaged a driver who did many practical jobs for him, such as getting everything ready for the meetings. Theo could give the impression of being naive, but he knew what he wanted and he could go to unexpected lengths to achieve it. Thus, he was not afraid to ask Protestants for funds for projects and he received contributions from them to fund the Pioneers.

By 2004, about 8,000 people had taken the pledge. One could see that it helped the members to make progress, not only spiritually and socially, but also economically! Theo was nearing his 80th birthday and he asked the Archbishop for a diocesan priest to lead the movement. The Diocesan Treasurer was appointed. Theo wrote on the 31th December 2004, “I plan to stay on a while, particularly to visit the far-off teetotalers, and to celebrate the Eucharist in church-villages, often far from Mbarara.”

In May 2005, Theo returned to The Netherlands, joining us in Heythuysen. He was and remained an avid cycler. Previously he had cycled great distances and even in his later years, he was still on his bike whenever possible. He also enjoyed party games.

In April 2016, Theo needed more intensive care and in October, he was taken by ambulance to hospital. He returned home a few days later. He died peacefully in his flat on 19th November 2016 in the presence of a confrere. The characteristic of Jesus, which Theo highlighted in his life, was, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other cities also” (Luke 4, 43). Together with relatives and friends, we buried him in our St. Charles Cemetery on the 24th November 2016

Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr.

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