Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka and other priests garland a portrait of late American Holy Cross missionary priest Richard William Timm at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Sept. 16. (Photo: Rock Rozario/UCA News)
Church officials and other dignitaries hailed late American Holy Cross missionary Richard William Timm as a “gift to Bangladesh” for his more than six decades of outstanding service in education, research, social development and human rights.
The tributes were paid during a memorial Mass and commemoration program at St. Mary’s Cathedral in capital Dhaka on Sept. 16.
About 500 people, mostly Catholics, attended the event while following state-mandated health guidelines due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Father Timm, who died in South Bend in the US state of Indiana on Sept. 11 at the age of 97, served in Bangladesh from 1952 to 2016, before returning to the US because of poor health. He will be buried in South Bend on Sept. 18.
In a memorial speech before presiding over the Mass, Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario hailed Father Timm as a great missionary and friend of Bangladesh.
“He lived on this earth for 97 years and he was a member of Holy Cross Congregation for 80 years and 71 years as a priest. He spent 66 years of his life in Bangladesh accepting this country as his friend. Father Timm is alive in our memories, his great works, in his relationships with us. He is alive in our spirit and inspirations, knowledge and ideals, witnesses of values,” the Holy Cross prelate said.
The priest’s dedicated life of service will keep him alive among generations, he said.
“He dedicated his life in many roles — scientist, professor, researcher, writer, educationist, development and human rights pioneer. He is alive with us as a social scientist — he researched human beings of the society and undertook human development,” said Cardinal D’Rozario.
“He played a strong role in establishing justice and human rights. He was a great advocate and activist to support the poor and marginalized including indigenous people. He embraced and loved the little ones, and he spoke in favor of their rights.”
Caritas Asia president Benedict Alo D’Rozario noted how Father Timm had transformed from an educationist-scientist to a development and human rights pioneer.
“In the first part [1952-70], he was an educationist, researcher and scientist. In the second part, he was a relief and rehabilitation worker, development pioneer and human rights activist. How did this transformation happen? He himself has written about it to his scientific friends: ‘People are more important than worms.’ That realization and transformation took place in Manpura Island where he stayed for six months for relief and rehabilitation after the 1970 cyclone,” said D’Rozario, who had worked with the priest since 1982.
He said the life and works of Father Timm were not just causes for celebration and inspiration but should become subjects of research and study.
Aroma Dutta, a development activist and ruling Awami League parliamentarian, became emotional as she paid tribute to Father Timm.
“Father Timm was great man with a big heart. He was selfless in service and very courageous in protecting human rights of all. By blood he was an American and by blood he was a true Bangladeshi. We are heavily shocked due to the passing away of a great human being — a selfless worker and fearless man,” Dutta said.
She recalled first meeting Father Timm in a Catholic parish in the 1980s and they had a father-daughter relationship as they worked for development and human rights.
“I have always called him father and he regarded me as his daughter. I feel as if I have lost my own father,” said Dutta.
Senior Holy Cross nun Pauline Gomes said Father Timm’s extraordinary yet simple life was a model for all.
“He was such a great personality and busy man, yet always available for anyone needing help. He led a very simple and humble life and taught people frugality. He will be remembered as an extraordinary model of dedication and service for generations,” Sister Gomes said.
Father James C. Cruze, provincial of Holy Cross Fathers in Bangladesh, said Father Timm’s love for the people of Bangladesh was unique and his life was “a gift to Bangladesh.”
“Father Timm has made so many contributions in education, development and human rights and it is well known to all. For his great role during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, he was honored in 2012 from the government. His love for people is our inspiration,” Father Cruze said.
“Father Timm deserved full citizenship in his lifetime for his great services to the nation. Even after his death, efforts need to be taken so that he can be bestowed this honor.”