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Farewell to Bro. Lucian Vonlanthen †

Born  4.6.1923Vonlanthen Luzian
Joined the SMB  23.9.1949
Missionary in Rhodesia / Zimbabwe, Building Activity,
Gardening (Serima 1959-61, St. Anthony, Chikwingwisha)   1952-1964
Hospital administrator Driefontein  1964-1978
Administration of the seminary  1979-1987
Hospital coordinator of the diocese Gweru  1988-1998
Real estate manager Immensee  1999-2014
Deceased  23.4.2018

 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassionate hearts,
kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

In recent months it became very quiet around Bro. Lucian. He would only say short phrases such as: “Ça va, mhoroi, good morning, mazviita” In about one and a half months, he would have celebrated his 95th birthday. Apparently, he didn’t want that, he died very peacefully this week. Let us take a closer look and pay tribute to his long life.

Lucian was the sixth of sixteen children, born into a baker´s family in Giffers in Canton Freiburg. After public school he did his apprenticeship as gardener and worked as a flower gardener in Montreux, Winterthur, Zofingen and Scuol-Tarasp. Wherever he worked, he joined the Catholic Journeymen’s Union. In 1948 he entered the Mission Seminary at Schöneck. During that time he took a four month, intensive training with Beat Gasser, a well-known sculptor. After studying English in London, he was then ready to travel to Africa for his missionary work in Rhodesia.

Bro. Lucian, the versatile, gifted missionary

At Driefontein Mission, Lucian was introduced into the Shona language and Shona culture, mostly in the mornings. In the afternoon he went to work in the carpentry and sawmill. After a year, Father John Gröber brought him to Serima as he needed a good brother to help with the development of the new mission station. Serima Mission was very basic at that stage, no electricity, no running water, a small room, a simple kitchen. Lucien’s main work was in the vegetable garden and orchard. He planted a hedge to protect the garden from goats, and a eucalyptus grove and encouraged the students to work with him. Father Gröber was free to plan and build his art church in Serima together with the workers of his woodcarving school. Lucian was with him for nine years.

After his well-deserved first home leave, he was entrusted with different assignments in St. Anthony´s, Zaka and Chikwingwisha, Gweru. But soon, he was called back to Driefontein, this time not as gardener or carpenter, but as the administrator of the TB Sanatorium and the Muvonde Hospital, which employed American doctors. Bro. Lucian wrote: “I just have to wonder at the variety of such a task. Apparently a person can often do more than he trusts himself. For fifteen years we shared joy and sorrow with the doctors, European and African sisters, lay missionaries, staff and patients. It was taken for granted that I belonged to the Driefontein inventory.”

Bishop Tobias Chiginya saw Bro.Lucian’s great skills as an administrator and transferred him to the national Seminary at Chishawasha in Harare as steward. Again, Bro. Lucian worked well and faithfully, but also found time to get to know Harare better during his weekly shopping. He was in Chishawasha for nine years.

Later, a capable man was needed for the post of Health Coordinator for the Dioceses of Gweru and Mazvingo, with six hospitals and nine clinics. Bro. Lucian said YES to this new task which brought many varied duties to him: Doctor replacement, obtaining medical records for The Medical Council of Zimbabwe, immigration and work permits. After seven years, Bro. Lucian could introduce Sr Alphonsa Tapererwa as his successor.

But rest and reduced activity did not exist for him. A new request came to him from the Bondolfi Teacher Training College near Mazvingo, again as administrator. Financially the college was “in a mess”. Heaps of unpaid bills; butchers and bakers no longer provided credit. How were they to feed 500 young people? Bro. Lucian actually succeeded, with strict budgeting and correct bookkeeping, in bringing the college finances in three and a half years back into a positive balance. He writes: “A happy ending to my exactly 47 years of missionary work in Zimbabwe.”

In 1998, he returned to Switzerland, and once again took on responsibilities in Immensee: building maintenance and real estate, key deposit, upkeep of the cemetery and the archive of building plans.When his strength failed, he moved in 2014 to the nursing department. He became ever weaker until he left us quietly on Monday morning.

What we admire about Bro. Lucian

His real missionary vocation. The nurturing of his vocation in a healthy spirituality. His availability, willingness to take on changing tasks without complaint, with inner calm and serenity, utmost gratitude, a distinguished, pleasant character in his dealings, conscientiousness in his various tasks, enjoyment of  little things, modesty in lifestyle and good language skills: French, German, English and Shona. He concluded the resumé of his life with the words: “Deo gratias”.

Josef Christen