Tribute to Alois Graf †

Born2.12.1935Graf Alois
Ordained priest22.3.1964
Zimbabwe: pastoral work and construction of primary schools: Holy Cross, St. Joseph's, Chinyuni 1966–1971
St. Alois Mission: Director, pastoral work1972–1976
Zhombe: Leitung, Dean1977–1978
Bondolfi: Head, Pastoral Work1979–1986
Immensee: Information service
Rutenga: development of new parish, Dean1988–1996
Machaze/Mozambique: Reconstruction of the parish, pastoral work1997–2021

“I thank Africa for allowing me to become one of them,
in the name and power of Jesus.”
(from Loisl’s will)

It says on the envelope of Alois Graf´s will (popularly known as Loisl): “In case of death: make it short!” I don’t think that will be so easy for the speaker. When I see the photo of Loisl, I allow myself to say: that is a man who thinks, shows mischievous humour, expresses peasant shrewdness and is mentally awake. Where did Loisl come from?

Hirsenegg in Luthern, Lucerne hinterland.

Hirsenegg, a very hilly farm, is located above Luthern, in the agricultural zones two and three. Loisl grew up there with a sister and five brothers in a real farming family with little money and great simplicity. When Loisl announced that he wanted to become a priest and missionary, he had to collect money to pay for his studies. That was not very pleasant. His desire to become a priest certainly grew stronger at the pilgrimage place of Luthern Bad where Father Schürmann, known as Götti (godfather), helped him to reach his goal. Loisl went to grammar school, studied at the seminary and was ordained priest in 1964.

At Hirsenegg there was not only simple happiness; there were also dark times: His father died early as a result of a bicycle accident on a pilgrimage in Bramboden. Later, the barn burnt down because his grandfather smoked a pipe in the hayloft. Röösli, Loisl’s only sister, died early of cancer. These were blows of fate that Loisl had to bear.

In the land of Vashona and Amandabele.

After studying English in London, Loisl left for Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in 1965. Loisl loved the Shona language and learned it quickly. As an outgoing missionary, he found access to the people and culture in a short time. Bishop Alois Häne recognised that this young man was a good organiser and had his own opinion. Over the years, he was responsible for several stations: Chinyuni, St. Alois Mission, Zhombe, Bondolfi, Matibi, Rutenga. During the war, the Smith regime and the white military ordered him to leave Zhombe Mission. This hurt him very much. In Rutenga he built up a new parish with a meeting centre. At the same time, he was also Dean and for some years school manager. In all these areas, he was a very capable man.

Loisl was a good talker and had many stories from life in Africa, so was very suitable for the information service back home. For two years he worked in the information service in Immensee and made many valuable contacts for himself and the SMB. Three times he was delegate from Africa to the General Chapter.

Machaze in Mozambique

In 1996 he substituted for Alex Stoffel in Mussurize (Mozambique) for a short time. This prompted him to offer his strength and missionary zeal in this impoverished neighbouring country of Zimbabwe. In Portugal he attended a crash course in Portuguese and in 1997 took over the neglected, war-torn parish of Machaze in Mozambique, accompanied by three SJI sisters from Zimbabwe. It was a start amongst ruins. Loisl lived in the sacristy of the damaged church for almost two years, the sisters in a cottage. Once Loisl woke up in his cramped little room. He suddenly saw a cobra which disappeared in the midst of boxes. He had to carefully move all the boxes and crates outside until he found the cobra.

In the last 25 years, Loisl rebuilt and expanded Machaze with a kindergarten and a meeting centre. With much diligence and perseverance, he made Machaze and the many outside centres flourish. Loisl, a missionary with heart and soul, spoke English, Shona, Portuguese and Chindau. That is why he was so connected to the people who loved him. He wrote in his will, “I thank Africa for allowing me to become one of them, in the name of and with power in the spirit of Jesus.”

Loisl as a person, friend and his hobbies

Loisl cultivated friendships with people he loved for years, but not by writing letters. That was clearly not in his nature. He writes: “I ask the forgiveness of all those whom I have offended, especially by my laziness in writing to my relatives and my many friends. I myself have often suffered from it.”

Loisl also enjoyed leisurely times, always with a tobacco pipe in his mouth. He was a keen fisherman at the Shashe Dam in Driefontein or down at the Lundi river with Bishop Häne or on the Göschener Alp with Dr Mark Albisser during home leave. He was a passionate card player, but had a hard time when he lost. In Driefontein he collected the fine honey from the honeycombs.  On home leave he joined the hunters in Luthern, held the Hubertus Mass for them and then went with them for a day’s game hunting. Once he shot a roebuck.

Above all, Loisl was a good host. He could cook good, spicy  meals, and there was always a beer or a whisky for an aperitive. That was Loisl: sharing life with others in a cosy atmosphere. He always said, “To share together, that really does me good!”  He was right.

Loisl often struggled with life: He survived car accidents, kidney colics and broken ribs. In Machaze he built up a small animal farm: Chickens, rabbits and ducks and a cat. Theologically, Loisl was interested, had questions, could insist almost stubbornly on his own ideas. He loved football, especially Manchester United and Liverpool, was informed about world politics and praised the “Willisauer Bote” as one of the best Swiss newspapers. All this belongs to Loisl and much more.

Today we say: Thank you Loisl for all that you have been for us: missionary, human being and friend. We miss you very much, Ciao Loisl, goodbye in the land above the clouds. Tichazo onana Chisara zvakanaka!

Josef Christen