Divine Word Missionaries blog will share some of the latest mission updates from around the world. The more than 6,000 Divine Word Missionaries are serving in 84 countries with a variety of provinces/regions that are then grouped into four zones, namely, the European zone (EUROPA), the Pan-American zone (PANAM), the Asia-Pacific zone (ASPAC), and the Africa-Madagascar zone (AFRAM). The zones may work as geographical sub-zones wherever this seems suitable. Check back often for real-time stories from the missions.
Brothers in China
Jul 24, 2018
I was paging through “A History of the Divine Word Missionaries,” a familiar book here at the Mission Center offices, and came across a section where the authors broke from their straightforward format to present a series of first-hand accounts from missionary Brothers who served in China during the 1920s through the 1940s. They worked in the Henan province, known back then as Honan.
The years of World War II were rough times for our missionaries serving abroad, particularly in China. In the parts of the country controlled by the Chinese government, which fought with the Allied nations, our German missionaries were placed in internment camps for the duration of the war. In the parts of the country controlled by the invading Japanese powers, our American missionaries were placed in camps. Shortly after they were released from the camps, our missionaries were back in a precarious situation as civil war broke out in China. When the communists were victorious, most of our missionaries were forced to leave the country.
In addition to this uncertain period, these reports reflect a time when the Brothers were our order’s workforce. They manned the printing presses and machine shops. They raised crops and repaired the farm equipment. As you will read, when our schools needed desks, they did not order them from a supply company. The desks were built by our own Brothers in a carpentry shop.
Finally, these reports read very much like the articles you will find in our magazine, Divine Word Missionaries Mission Update, except that they were written more than 60 years ago. I have selected a few of these reports that I hope you will find as fascinating and enlightening as I did.
Brother Hubert Etz, mechanic: “I joined the society in Steyl in 1914 when I was 26 years old. During World War I, I had to work at Krupp [a munitions factory] in Essen in the mechanic shop there; I had 40 to 50 mechanics under me. After the war, I came to St. Wendel’s [a Divine Word seminary in Germany] where I serviced and repaired cars, carts, plows, harrows, mowing machines and so on—all of the farm machinery. Then I volunteered for either New Guinea or Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies), but I landed instead in Honan. At first, there wasn’t much work to be done. Then one of the priests asked me to make 60 iron beds for the minor seminary; another ordered 50 for apprentices and words. Bishop Belotti of Nanyang needed 350 of them, and soon I was delivering iron beds all over Honan. Somewhat later I was making stoves, carts for the hospital patients, and the like. Alongside my ordinary work, I was engaged in building. In 1932, I was in charge of building the teachers’ training college, 22 meters long, 14 meters wide and three stories high. It has eight classrooms, five single rooms and a dormitory with 50 beds. In 1935, we put up a hospital with 33 rooms, two stories high. In 1936, there was a chapel to be built, and so it went on. In China, you had to be able to do almost anything.”
Bro. Etz returned from China in 1952 and went to St. Wendel’s once more. Here he took up his former work of training apprentices and died in 1963.
Brother Thimo Holzer, carpenter: “I joined the society at St. Wendel’s in 1912 at the age of 17. In 1924 I came to Honan, where Father [George] Fröwis came to meet me at Sinyang [now called Xinyang] railway station on All Souls’ Day. There was a display of fireworks going on when I entered the Catholic mission for the first time. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to learn Chinese, and I was free for half a year to do so. In 1925 already, I was engaged in building with Chinese helpers. When they spoke, I understood practically nothing, and I myself could manage only a few broken phrases. It’s better to say nothing than to talk nonsense without intending to! We had to use whatever place was free as a workshop and the woodshed was five minutes away from the workshop; we had only twisted pieces of wood to work with. My own tools from Europe arrived only when this building was finished! I soon noticed that one had to get used to disappointments. Today, the carpenter’s shop is fitted out with good German machines, and it’s a pleasure to work there.”
When he returned from China in 1954, Bro. Holzer went to Chile, where he worked for another 16 years. He died in Steyl in 1978.
Brother Cornelius Cottbus, mason and carpenter: “When I entered Steyl in 1933, I was 27 years old. Four years later I came to Honan. The first thing I did there was to build a house for the Oblates. That was followed by a granary for the mission and then a priests’ house. We didn’t build anything during the war; I was interned with the others in 1942. When the war was over, I repaired the houses that had been bombed at the central station in Sinyang. Then I took over the carpenter’s shop. We made hundreds of desks for our schools and cabinets for the hospital. In the end we were taking on jobs mostly for the railway company.”
Bro. Cottbus returned to Steyl in 1949 and died there in 1953.