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Educationist Swiss missionary dies in Indonesia

Father Waser Ernst Anton dedicated himself to education and social development in the country for over 40 years
Father Waser Ernst Anton, who served in Indonesia from 1977, is hailed for education and social development services

Father Waser Ernst Anton, who served in Indonesia from 1977, is hailed for education and social development services. (Photo supplied)

Published: September 08, 2023 03:50 AM GMT
Updated: September 08, 2023 06:32 AM GMT

Catholics are mourning the death of a Swiss-born missionary priest who dedicated himself to education and social development in far-flung areas of Indonesia for over four decades.

Father Waser Ernst Anton, a member of the Society of Divine Word (SVD) died in  Wangkung, on Flores Island in Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province on Sept. 7. He was 94.

The priest had suffered from lung problems and was admitted to hospital on Aug. 21 before being allowed to return home about a week ago.   

Many Catholics posted on social media platforms to mourn his death and expressed their closeness to him.

Father Waser arrived in 1977 and had been mostly based in Flores.

In 1983, while serving in a parish in Ruteng Diocese, the priest founded St. Klaus Kuwu Junior and High School, a top private Catholic school. The priest had said his special attention was education for girls when the Church was more focused on building schools for male Catholic cadre, such as seminaries.

In 2002, he also founded a school in Werang, West Manggarai Regency.

The schools were handed over to Ruteng diocese in 2004 under the auspices of the Ernesto Foundation, named after him, where he served as a board member until retiring in 2020.

The priest also helped communities by building roads and clean drinking water pipelines when Indonesia was experiencing an economic crisis in the 1990s.

"In almost all of the Manggarai area, Father Waser is known as the 'drinking water priest' and 'cement sack priest.' He has built so many churches and school buildings and provided clean drinking water pipelines for residents," Ruteng diocese said in a statement.

Scalabrinian Father Ansensius Guntur, a former of student of the priest, said he was grateful to him for his education.

The priest, now serving in the Philippines, told UCA News how he almost dropped out of school as his parents could not afford the school fees.

“He was willing to pay for my school fees until I finished high school. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am today," he said.

He said that for five years he and two friends had always stayed with the priest during school holidays.

“Every morning he celebrated Mass and even before going to bed he would come to our room to make the sign of the cross on our forehead,” he said, adding that the experience of being close to a priest made him choose to be one.

Father Valerianus Paulinus Jempau, principal of St. Klaus Kuwu Senior High School, said the priest "embodied Jesus' invitation to follow Him by leaving everything behind and carrying the cross."

"How could it not be, Father Waser left Europe, his family, then built the foundation of education in Manggarai," he said.

“Even though his body is gone, his spirit is still in the heart of our school community, likewise in the hearts of the people of Ruteng diocese," he added.

Muhammad Boe, a Muslim from West Manggarai district, said he remembered how the missionary came to his village in Naga in 1995, buying teak wood for various infrastructure projects he was building.

"With the wood, he also built schools, churches, and mosques," he said.

Aleksius Jana, a teacher at St. Klaus School for 32 years said he remembers the priest's closeness to children, both at school and boarding which “made him a lovable figure.”

Benediktus Gara, a teaching staff member for 16 years, remembered him as a hard worker, disciplined, consistent with his plans and work.

His strict principles, he said, also made the priest "less able to collaborate with fellow priests" whom he considered unsuitable for him.

The priest is scheduled to be buried on Sept. 10.

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Respectful farewell to the Reverend Waser Ernst Anton. In Paradisum Deducant te Angeli.
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