Tribute to Josef Haag †

Born5.7.1930CH-po-Haag Josef 036-07
Ordained priest26.5.1957
Zimbabwe: St. Joseph's: pastoral work, supervision of school centres1959–1966
Mutero: pastor1967–1974
Mashava/Madangombe: pastoral work1975–1981
St. Anthony's: pastor1982
Bangala: pastoral work
Chiredzi:, pastor, Dean1992–1997
Moyo Musande: pastoral work1998–2005
Mvuma: leadership, pastoral care2006–2017
Driefontein, Chaka: pastoral care2018–2021

“The Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:45)

Dear faith community,

I was with Joseph Haag at St Joseph’s Mission Station. He lived and worked at one of the two largest field centres: in Chinyuni. That was in 1964, and later Joseph became my superior in Mutero. Even then I was impressed by his calm, precise work. – Today I can tell you more about his life.

Josef Haag worked in Zimbabwe for 54 years. He was a zealous and gifted missionary. He was able to work for many years without any health problems. He died of an acute illness on 4 February 2021 in Driefontein at the age of 91.

Josef grew up in Gabris, Canton Thurgau, and attended grammar school in Immensee. He obtained his Matura with a straight six. In 1951 he joined the Bethlehem Missionary Society and was ordained priest in 1957.

In the same year, at the age of 27, Joseph left for what was then Southern Rhodesia. It may surprise us that it took him only half a year to learn English and the Shona language. Very soon he took over the establishment and organisation of the field schools from St. Joseph’s Mission. This was generally one of the main tasks of the missionaries, because the aim was to establish Christian centres, and the schools were an important base for this. Joseph worked with great zeal, so much so that Bishop Alois Haene appointed him Superior of the Mutero Mission in 1967. From then on, a series of pastoral posts followed: Mashava (1975-1982) during the Liberation War, St Anthony’s (1982), Bangala (1983-1991), Chiredzi (1992-1997), Moyo Musande (1998-2005) and Mvuma (2006-2018). Fellow brother, Joe Elsener, says: “Josef Haag was an excellent connoisseur of the people and their traditions in the Chilimanzi District. Fellow brother, Gabriel Imstepf, is impressed by how Josef Haag kept indexes of family names: “Josef knew almost every Kraal. Because of the registers he knew about parents and children and could tell who had already had Communion and who had not yet had Confirmation.” He was trully a good shepherd who knew all his sheep.

During the Liberation War, Fr Haag was stationed in Mashava. Fellow brother, Markus Isenegger, recalls how Fr Haag was taken out one morning by three guerrillas for the first contact with the guerrilla leader. It seems that danger and loneliness in Mashava hardly bothered the missionary.

Josef Haag also took on tasks beyond the parish. He served several times as Dean in the different areas of the diocese and was also active as study prefect on behalf of the SMB community (2001-2005). In the run-up to meetings, he  studied the documents thoroughly. Thanks to his excellent memory, he was able to support confreres with his reliable recollection of details.

For school and Church he also acted as a prudent builder, most recently in the construction of the Mvuma Church Centre.

In 2018, Joseph handed over the Umvuma parish to a local pastoral worker and moved to the SMB regional house in Driefontein. But there was to be no question of retirement. He made himself available as a pastoral worker to the parish of Chaka, 20 kilometres away. He soon took up residence there again and spent only one night a week at the Regional House. Gabriel Imstepf recalls the SJI Sisters stationed there saying, “Fr Haag is a blessing for us and the whole population.” If, in addition to all the many things that went well, he also made mistakes, it was certainly not from omission; if anything, it was from overzealousness. – In his will, Joseph writes at the end. “To those whom I have wronged, I ask forgiveness. And those who think they have wronged me, rest assured that I have forgiven. – Au Revoir in heaven.”

Walter Kaufmann