Ward Schoofs 1923 – 2017 (PE nr. 1089 – 2018/03)

Ward (Edward or as he was often called ‘Warre’) was born on the 28th August 1923 to a big family at Kinrooi in Limbourg Province, Belgium. He was the second child in a family of ten children. His father was the headmaster of a school. Ward attended secondary school at a college run by the Holy Cross Canons (Crosiers) at Maaseik. We should note in passing, that all his life, Ward was a passionate defender of the Kinrooi dialect. He entered the White Fathers in Boechout in September 1941. His sister, Mia, had already entered the Sisters of the Child Jesus and her younger sister, Hélène, would follow her later. Ward’s younger brother Willy would also enter the White Fathers. During the novitiate in 1943, the novices had to move out and hand over the place to the occupying German Army. They took up residence at Sint-Kruis near Bruges. Ward took his Missionary Oath in Heverlee on the 6th April 1947 and he was also ordained priest there on the 29th March 1948. During his years of training, Ward was described as a friendly and cheerful character always ready to to be of service. He was very active, determined, a man of duty and a leader. He was very pious but moderate and balanced and “he will have to watch over and overcome his natural shyness.”

On the 13th November 1948, Ward took off from the old Melsbroek Airport en route for Burundi via Leopoldville. His first posting was to Mutumba which was in the Vicariate of Gitega at that time. He was one of the founders of Rumonge Parish in 1951. He was sent to Ngarara in July 1955 where in addition to fulfilling the duties of curate, he was in charge of schools and a teacher at the Police Academy. Two regionals, Benoit Hellemans (+1968) and Alfons Van Hoof (+1979) noted that the management of the schools was going very well and they both underlined that Ward was an excellent confrere.

During his first home leave in 1958/59, Ward did the Long Retreat in Mours, France and then returned to Ngagara. In 1961, he was appointed Superior of Gihanga where he was to spend many years. This parish became part of the Archdiocese of Bujumbura, which had been erected in 1959, by the transfer of eleven parishes from Gitega Diocese. Ward built many outstations, set up many cooperatives, provided access to drinking water as well as teaching religion at the local technical school. In July 1964, Fr.Braekers, the Regional noted, “he is very zealous, he keeps close to his parishioners and he is kind to them. He seeks contact with the people” and he concludes by remarking that the “parish is prospering.” Ward started a special method to enourage family prayer. In 1972, he was elected a Regional Counsellor as well as being a member of the Bishop’s Council. In that same year, he was put in charge of the Development Office of the Diocese of Bujumbura. Fr. Louis Quintard (+2012), the Assistant Regional described him as being “a bit laid back (he never got angry), but patient and tenacious in carrying out his long-term projects.” In the meantime Gihanga was incorporated into the Diocese of Bubanza, which had been founded in 1980.

During the presidency of Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, missionaries had to get their residence permit renewed every year. Many missionaries did not have their permits renewed and on the 4th March 1985, it was the turn of Ward to get permission to leave the country permanently. A dumbfounded confrere reacted, “Ward, the wise man! A catastrophe for Gihanga, but fortunately he has worked a lot with the laity and prepared for the future, a great pastor is leaving, a good counselor, a friend of all, and his bishop will regret sincerely his departure.” Ward was on the eve of his 63rd birthday and had spent 37 years as a missionary in Burundi.

For a number of months, Ward wondered if he should give the Congo a try or whether he should wait for an eventual return to Burundi. His increasing deafness clinched it and he decided to accept an appointment to our community in Genk. He wrote, “I have to begin all over again. Basically, it is the utmost poverty but curiously, it is also a great richness. You have to let go of everything and put all your trust in Him. It is your plank of salvation and you can only be a ‘missionary’. You have no more control over your life, no more control on the path you have to take. One can only follow the path that God points out to you and commit youself totally to it.”

At the end of 1985,Bishop Paul Schruers, the Coadjutor Bishop of Hasselt, appointed Ward as curate of Bret-Gelieren, a couple of kilometres from our house in Genk. It was a dynamic parish with lots of activities and organisations. Besides the youth movements and the choirs, there was a very active missionary circle, a men’s league, and a gun club. For the first few years, Ward taught catechism to the children. There were a number of Eucharistic celebrations on Sundays and Ward devoted himself to visiting the sick not only in hospitals but in their homes as well. The population appreciated him very much. Ward became Superior of the Genk community in 1987 and in 1993 he was coopted on to the Provincial Council.

In 1999, Ward was officially in residence at Genk. In November 2010, he moved to Munsterbilzen. Moving and walking were becoming more and more difficult but his mind remained lucid and alert. He continued to be the great storyteller that he always was. In November 2017 – he was the last really old person in our community of Munsterbilzen – he took up residence in the Nursing Home run by the Sisters of the Child Jesus at Hasselt. Here he met up again with his sister, Hélène. He died peacefully on the 12t­h December 2017. The farewell liturgy took place on the 18th December in the Parish Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Bret-Gelieren followed by burial in our cemetery in Varsenare. May he rest in peace.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

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