“One thing I have asked of the Lord, this I ask:
To dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.” (Psalm 27,4)
Dear relatives and friends of Igo, dear confreres,
Someone told me that Igo always remained a seeker. Here I would like to try to follow this searching path with you.
Igo was born in 1937, the second of five children, in Sorengo, Ticino, and lived in Chiasso until he was five years old when he moved with his family to his parents’ home in Flums, where he first had to learn Swiss German. There he attended primary school. His uncle, Ernst Manhart, was a missionary, first in Manchuria, in Beijing and then in Taiwan. His older brother, Ernst, was already at the Missionary Society’s Grammar school, where he followed him.
When he and his brother Ernst came home for the summer holidays, they worked all summer as cheap helpers on their second uncle’s farm. At boarding school, classmates told them they would get much more money elsewhere. Then, in response to an advertisement, Igo applied for a job with a building contractor. He recounts in his curriculum vitae: “Up to general qualification for university entrance – and I was particularly proud of this – I was able to earn the entire boarding school and study costs myself.”
After Igo’s time in the seminary and his ordination to the priesthood, he studied Sociology at the Catholic Action Mission School in Lille, France, where he also worked in a parish together with worker priests. He then spent a year as a religion and sports teacher, spiritual director and vice-prefect at Torry, Fribourg.
In the autumn of 1966, he was sent out to Taiwan. Our first Taiwan missionaries, before the communists came to power, had all previously worked in Manchuria or Beijing, so they spoke Mandarin Chinese. Seventy per cent of Taiwan’s population, however, speaks the southern Chinese Minnan dialect. Igo was now part of the younger group studying Taiwanese at the Jesuit language school. Since the students at the school spoke almost only English, he moved out to a Jesuit workers’ centre where everyone spoke only Taiwanese.
After studying the language for a year, he was assigned to Luye, where he did missionary work with his brother Ernst. Luye is an area where there were hamlets each with Amis, Bunun and Taiwanese populations. In 1968, he represented Franz Senn during his home leave, in the extensive parishes of Guanshan and Chishang, and then returned to Luye.
Igo initially learned Taiwanese without the Chinese characters. He returned to the language school to learn Mandarin Chinese, including characters.
The 1969 regional chapter in Taidong demanded “that the Taiwanese mission be taken up consistently, because the future of the Church lies with that section of the people who assert themselves as a cultural unit”. Therefore, the Society leadership asked Wolfgang Grichting to conduct a pastoral sociological study in Taidong, on “The Value System in Taiwan 1970”. Since Igo now spoke both Chinese and Taiwanese, much of the fieldwork was left to him. The study was extended to cover the whole of Taiwan. Grichting published the study in English and Igo in German.
In 1972, a concept was worked out for a task force of young SMB missionaries in which Igo, together with Roland Twerenbold, Josef Eugster and Ueli Scherer, should have tackled the Taiwanese mission on a supra-parish level. Unfortunately, the project came to nothing due to changes in personnel planning. Igo was then study prefect of the Taiwan-Region.
In 1974 he was called back to Immensee by Superior General Amstutz as head of the Mission Department. His main task was to work out the possible deployment of specialists, e.g. in Kalimantan (Indonesia) and Haiti.
Igo writes of this time: “In the mission house we developed the form of equips: about four people, priests and lay people, a team for missionary work. The concern for these missionary teams, which I had put together from 1974 onwards as the person in charge of the mission department, and which I had deployed mainly in Latin America, led me in 1978, together with my confrere Louis Zimmermann, to begin a search: Where and how can we give our lay co-workers, in addition to their development aid motivation, supporting faith experiences.” So much from Igo.
In the course of this search, Igo came across the Integrated Community in Munich in 1978, and he was immediately fascinated by its theology, by the way of living together, by the tangible joy and charisma of the young people who wanted to commit themselves completely to the church. At that time, he never dreamed of joining the integrated community, as he says. On the contrary, in their enthusiasm Louis Zimmermann and he began an attempt to build up a similar ” Community ” in Immensee together with team returnees.
During a three-month stay in the integrated community, which was approved by the society’s directorate, he worked on construction sites on the one hand, where he expanded his knowledge and skills as an electrician. On the other hand, he was impressed by the wealth of experience and theology he found in the congregation. He wanted to bring this enthusiasm into the mission house, but experienced much doubt and rejection. This was the time of his visitation trip to Latin America, where attempts were being made to build up base communities of the local inhabitants. There were setbacks in the development of missionary teams. Equips were no longer wanted everywhere, as one bishop told him directly: “You will help Latin America most if you ensure that there are real Christian communities in Europe”.
Finally, Igo asked the Society’s leadership for permission to move to the Integrated Community in Munich, as a new “missionary outreach”. There he became a pastor, guest house administrator, learnt bookkeeping and worked in construction as an electrician. In 1985, as a member of the priestly community of the Integrated Community, he took over the parish of Hergensweiler, later a parish in Munich.
When Bishop Mwoleka from Tanzania sent a group to Germany for training, Igo became their companion as priest and German teacher. Then he became mission procurator for Tanzania. Later, he went to Tanzania himself, supposedly only for a short time to enable a colleague to take a holiday in his homeland, but as he saw that the tasks there were growing, it became four years.
Then a branch of the Integrated Community was established in Rome, which later taught the “Theology of the People of God” at the Pontifical Lateran University. Igo accompanied this beginning as caretaker, in the garden and in the reception.
And so it went on: he accompanied the start of a small school in Urfeld, worked in the parish of Urfeld and finally became a parish priest there “in solidum”, i.e. together with others.
At the age of 72, he then returned to Hergensweiler, actually retired, but still active for a further ten years. Only two years ago, when he retired to the old people’s home, did he experience something like retirement.
For many SMB confreres, his commitment to the Integrated Community was incomprehensible, which Igo regretted very much. Because he did not experience the SMB and the Integrated Community as incompatible, he says in his will: “That is why I am proud of the Bethlehem Mission Society, to which I owe so much, and at the same time I thank God for the gift of the Integrated Community, because in it completely new horizons opened up for me once again.”As I said, Igo was a seeker all his life. We want to rejoice with Igo that he was able to find so much joy.