Fr Oskar Wermter SJ
26 January 1942 – 12 October 2023
He was in his 81st year of life, 62nd year in the Society, 52nd year of Priesthood and he celebrated 44 years of Final Vows before he died, in the early hours of Thursday, 12th October, 2023
Oskar Walter E Wermter was born in East Prussia, Germany at the height of World War II. Together with his mother and elder sister, Maria, who was able to be with him when he died today, he had to flee and they eventually settled in Cologne where Oskar completed his schooling.
He entered the Jesuit novitiate of the East German Province, Peter Faber Kolleg, in Berlin, on 11 April 1961. He studied philosophy at Berchmanskolleg, Munich, from 1964 to 1966 and then spent two years in Rhodesia as a regent, studying sociology at the University. Theology followed first at Sankt Georgen, Frankfurt, for two year and then at Heythrop, London. Ordained priest in Berlin on 11 July 1971, he returned to Rhodesia the following year after a course in Media in Dublin and took up his first appointment, priest in charge at Mhangura in 1973.
In 1979 he became socius to the provincial, Fr Henry Wardale, thus personally embodying the amalgamation of the two missions into the new province set up by Fr Arrupe. In 1983 he moved to St Albert’s Mission as superior but found the administration of a large mission and its institutions frustrating as it took him away form the pastoral work which he saw as his priority.
In 1987 he moved to Campion House and took up an appointment as Social Communications Secretary for the Bishops’ Conference. This work in writing and media was to dominate the rest of his life. He was responsible for setting up the department, editing the periodical, Crossroads and moving into the new premises at Africa Synod House. Throughout this period Oskar kept up a pastoral ministry, taking on regular weekend supplies in the high-density suburbs, notably in Chitungwiza at St Theresa’s and St Monica’s.
In 2002, he became the director of the pre-novitiate programme, based at Chishawasha and the following year he moved to be the director of the Jesuit Social Communications project with offices in Churchill Avenue. He lived at St Peter’s Mbare and took a full part in the parish, writing a chronicle of events, notably the painful disruptions connected with Murambatsvina, which must have reminded him of his own displacement from his home during the war in Germany.
He also took over as editor of Mukai/Vukani, a jourrnal of theological reflection, in June 2003 and continued in the role for ten years. In Mbare he visited Nazareth hospital for infections diseases, an apostolate he continued long after he had left the parish. In 2013 he moved to IMBISA, the umbrella organization for the bishops of Southern Africa. Here too he was responsible for Theological Reflection while living at the Holy Name, Mabelreign, and serving as assistant pastor in the parish.
In 2016 he began to complain of headaches and he came to Richartz House in April 2017 where he underwent an operation to remove fluid that was pressing on his brain. A period of convalescence at Richartz and Emmaus followed before a second operation was performed to put in a shunt. Further convalescence followed. A collapse in June the same year while at Emmaus put him back into hospital where meningitis was diagnosed. When he was discharged from hospital, he joined the Richartz House community.
Prone to be serious, Oskar seemed to seldom laugh. His contemporaries remember his first Mass at Heythrop after ordination, where, with grave countenance and solemn voice, he began, ‘The theme of this Mass is joy.’ A good linguist, a prolific writer of pamphlets and newspaper articles, and a compulsive worker, Oskar found it hard to relax. He always wanted to get on with the next job. He found sickness and old age hard to take and even in his last months, in and out of hospital, he was asking the provincial what his next job would be!
He left a list of his publications:
Listed below books and brochures I have published. A few do not have my name as author because they were written for ZCBC or IMBISA etc.
- Oskar Wermter, Zwischen Schwarz und Weiss, Als Missionspharrer in Rhodesien, 1976, Herder (vor der Unabhaengigkeit)
- Healing and Salvation in the Church (Englisch und Sona), Compiled by Secretary of the Theological Commission of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, Secretaer der Theologischen Kommission der Katholischen Bishodskonferenz von Zimbabwe, around 1990.
- The same: Communion Between the Living and the Dead,
- Oskar Wermter SJ, Politics – for Everyone and By Everyone, A Christian Approach, Paulines Publications, 2003, Nairobi, Kenya
- Oskar Wermter SJ, MISSIO, Menschenrechte in Simbabwe, mission 2002, Human Rights in Zimbabwe, The Church and State Disregard for Law and Order
- Oskar Wermter SJ, MISSIO, Simbabwe – der Wahrheit ins Auge sehen, Verantwortung uebernehmen, Die Kirche im Umfeld von Gesetlosigkeit, mission 2008
- Oskar Wermter SJ, Citizenship, Conscience and the Common Good, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung / Foundation, Essays 2013 – 2015
- Oskar Wermter SJ, People, Power and Participation, a collection of Essays, published by IMBISA and Mambo Press, 2013
- Mission of a Rural Doctor, Dr Elizabeth Tarira, 1951 – 2012
- Christians and Citizens, IMBISA (Regional Bishops’ Conference) 2016
- Pastoral Charity, Ongoing Formation of Pastoral Priests, IMBISA 2013
- Oskar Wermter SJ, Man and Woman He Created Them, Mambo Press, 2007, 2013
- Oskar Wermter SJ, Catholicity of the Church, Mambo Press, 2010
- Oskar Wermter SJ, Abba, Father, In Communion with the Father, Son and Spirit, Mambo Press, 2010
- Oskar Wermter SJ, Mbare Reports, 2005 – 2012, Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation 2013 (diary notes of a time of civil disturbances and public violence)
- Evangelization, Communication, Formation, IMBISA Conference 2015,
- WORD AND IMAGE, Guidelines on Communication, Media and the Church, IMBISA 2014
- Oskar Wermter SJ, Crossing Border Lines – Faith is Journey, 2018, Harare, Zimbabwe
Oskar Wermter has been editor of Catholic Church News, CROSSROADS Newssheet of ZCBC, Mukai – Vukani and published articles on a regular basis in the daily press. Some of this material is also accessible on JESCOM blogsites. He also wrote articles, essays, spiritual texts in Shona, though most of them are in English.