“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word” (Lk 2,29)
“After dinner at the Mission House, the old missionaries go to their rooms, or stay in the lounge, leafing through the papers or chatting together. Somewhat aside sits Emil who is no longer able to read. His confrere, Franzsepp, helps him. Right now, he’s reading a personal letter that arrived by mail for Emil. I find the scene very touching, the patience of the reader and the attention of the listener”. (Markus Isenegger., taken from the note in my book 2015, “talk about trees” …)
I often enjoyed it in the last few years, as Emil sat at breakfast and told us how he marched for an hour every day: down to Küssnacht, then up to the Gesslerburg and back to the Mission House via the Tellerenweg. Or the other direction down to Lake Zug and then the 70 steps up to Immensee Station. He loved to tell stories. Hardly any of the current world issues came up, although he listened to audiobooks about Caesar and the Gauls. Emil preferred remembering relatives, places, hamlets and people he had known; who was married to whom or when someone was born.
Emil experienced many changes. His family lived in Rothenburg, in Eschenbach, in Ermensee and Inwil. In the last place – Inwil, – his father worked as a hoof trimmer, going from farm to farm and knew many farmers around.
Emil attended the 5th primary class with the new teacher, Isenegger, who was only 18 years old. This teacher later became my father. Already after the first week of school Emil had to leave the 5th grade as he was assigned to relatives on the farm, Hirzelen, in Rain. According to him, this was a hard and difficult time. He had to get up every morning at four o’clock and arrived at school a little late at eight o’clock, where he would soon fall asleep. Nevertheless, he writes: “Food, shelter and treatment were good.” At fifteen, Emil would have liked to become a bricklayer but could not find an apprenticeship. His father found him a place with a farmer in Dierikon. There he met a boy, who was studying for the priesthood at a monastery school. “This chance meeting didn’t leave me in peace,” writes Emil. Immensee became his destination. At the age of 25 he made his High School diploma there, followed by Theology at the seminary Schöneck.
Emil occasionally went to see his former teacher, Isenegger, probably to ask for aid for his studies. And so it was that as a boy I met Emil, a budding missionary. Shortly before leaving for Rhodesia, he visited our family again. I was fifteen then. (Markus Isenegger)
When I, (Josef Elsener), as a young student came to the High School in Immensee – it was at the time of the Second World War – there was an older student a few classes above me, He was a late vocation and because he had spent more than 700 days in military service, he had to repeat one grade. He was said to have been a corporal with the Grenadier elite troops. You can imagine how impressed we were with him and looked up to him in awe. We could sense his military directness that never left him all his life.
After his ordination, Emil received his missionary destination for what was then Southern Rhodesia, and he was sent to the University of London to study for an English teacher’s certificate. This was his real calling, to be a teacher and educator. After emigrating to Southern Rhodesia in November 1955 and after a year of introduction, he began teaching at the Teacher Training College at Gokomere Mission, combined with weekend pastoral work in the suburbs of Fort Victoria. Later he managed the newly opened Teacher Training College at St. Anthony’s Mission in Zaka. When the diocese of Gwelo opened a home for immature and delinquent African boys at Driefontein Mission in 1960, Emil was appointed to run it. Here he was in his element. Unfortunately, after a few years, the home was closed by the government. After two years as Vicar in Fort Victoria (Masvingo), Emil expanded his catechetical knowledge in a year-long course at the Catechetical Institute “Pro Mundi Vita” in Brussels. From 1967 he worked as a teacher at the newly opened Secondary School at Silveira Mission. At the end of 1974, he was appointed full-time prison chaplain. As such, he held the rank of major, was uniformed and responsible for 18 major and minor prisons in the Midlands province of Rhodesia. It was the time of the beginning of the Independence War for Zimbabwe. At first there were about 50% criminal and 50% political prisoners, towards the end about 90% political prisoners. After Zimbabwe independence (1980), Emil returned to Switzerland. (Josef Elsener).
(Markus Isenegger) As soon as Emil had finished his missionary service in Africa, he was faced with a new task in his homeland: he became the mentor of the benefactors of our missionaries. Initially, he was assigned the areas of Zurich, Schaffhausen and Lucerne and lived in Zurich. Later he took over the areas of St. Gallen and Graubünden and lived in Kronbühl SG.
At 69 years, Emil became administrator and director of the holiday home Obersaxen GR. Since the number of guests varied, Emil often had to manage the operation alone and be an all-rounder: hotelier, pastor, chef, managing director and gardener.
After completing the job in Obersaxen, Emil worked from Immensee partaking in liturgical services. Already in his mid-eighties, he took over a 50% job in Bünzen and stayed there for five years (2005-2010).
Emil had a multifaceted life. Looking back, he writes: “My life has been something of a vagabond existence; I’ve been wandering around the world a lot. In plain language, a tramp”. Thus, he looks back over his life, not only with military directness, but also with wit and a touch of self-irony.