Ratan Tirkey (right) with Father Louis Francken at Constant Lievens Hospital and Research Center. (Photo supplied)
Catholics and Jesuits in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand are mourning a Belgian priest who worked tirelessly to educate tribal people and the downtrodden.
Father Louis Francken died on Oct. 5 in Constant Lievens Hospital and Research Center in Mandar, a suburb of Ranchi, the state capital. He was 82 and died of age-related illnesses.
“His first love was education and until the end he was dedicated to his work educating tribal people and the downtrodden so that they can become self-dependent and improve their socioeconomic conditions in society,” Father Ajay Soreng, secretary to the Ranchi Jesuit provincial, told UCA News.
“By losing him, not only the Jesuits but tribal people, especially Catholics, will miss him as an able educator and excellent administrator who worked very hard to make it real.
“Father Francken served the province in different capacities — as college principal, secretary to provincials, language teacher to seminarians and director of the social service center. Even though there were many times when the province faced a financial crunch, he was never afraid to take risks.”
Even during his last days, the Belgian priest was with the children at the Jesuit-run orphanage in Kishor Nagar. The center caters to orphans and poor and single mothers' children, giving them education and financial support.
Father Francken was born on July 28, 1938, in Wuustwezel in Belgium. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1957 and came to India in 1964. He was ordained a priest in 1970.
The priest taught economics at Jesuit-run St. Xavier’s College in Ranchi for several years and served as its principal from 1982 to 1986.
From 1987 to 1993, he was director of Xavier Institute of Social Service, a well-known management institute in Jharkhand.
A simple and humble man, Father Francken dedicated his life to bringing higher education to the people of the state. Even in his 80s, his commitment and dedication could be seen as he rendered his valuable service as director of Kishor Nagar, a home for boys, to educate them, Father Soreng said.Due to his age and ill health, he had resided at Sadbhavna, a Jesuit Provincialate community, over the past few months. When his health deteriorated further, he was admitted to Constant Lievens Hospital and Research Center on Sept. 11.
“Father Francken never discriminated with regard to caste or religion because his only motive was to educate children from any background,” Ratan Tirkey, a member of the Tribes Advisory Committee, Jharkhand, told UCA News.
“I have no hesitation to say that the standard of health and education in the state is only because of Belgian priests like Father Francken.
“Obviously we will miss him so much because of his simplicity and dedication to his work, but we appreciate Father Francken for what he has done for us, especially the tribal community. Thank you is not sufficient.”
Father Francken was buried on Oct. 6 in Kishor Nagar, where he was last posted. Due to Covid-19 protocols, only a few Jesuits and close friends attended his Requiem Mass and burial ceremony.
Jharkhand has 1.4 million Christians out of a state population of 33 million, mostly tribal people.