Mourning the loss of the ‘shepherd’

Lae News, Normal

THE Catholic diocese of Lae is mourning the death of its retired Bishop Henry van Lieshout – the first bishop of the diocese.
A statement from the diocese communications office yesterday stated that Bishop Henry died peacefully sitting in his chair while preparing to conduct the Christmas Eve mass for his parishioners near Lae’s Papuan Compound.
Parishioners had gathered on Christmas Eve for the traditional service when they found that the bishop had not arrived.
A search later revealed that the bishop had died in his chair at home.
Bishop Henry was born in 1932 in Venlo, Netherlands, and joined the Mariannhill Mission Society and was ordained a priest 50 years ago in 1959.
As a young priest, he came to PNG in 1960 with a small team of Marriannhill priests assigned to Lae to develop the beginnings of the Catholic church in the Lutheran church stronghold of Morobe province.
The foundations for the mission in Lae had been laid by the then Fr Leo Arkfeld, who was the first parish priest of the Lae diocese, and, later, the bishop of Wewak.
Fr Henry van Lieshout, as he was known then, was appointed the first bishop of Lae in 1966 at the age of 34, making him one of the youngest bishops in the church at that time.
Diocese spokesman, Fr Geoffrey Lee, said under pastoral leadership of Bishop Henry during the past 50 years, the Lae diocese had grown from modest beginnings with less than 2,000 members in 1950 to 30,000 at present.
Fr Lee said the many churches, schools, a variety of communities, lay-movements and associations offered an eloquent picture of the activities of a pastor who never felt the urge to make impressive public appearances but preferred to keep a low profile.
“That was just what made him loved by the faithful and kept him in close contact with people of all levels,” he said.
Several years ago, Bishop Henry encouraged the establishment of the radio station Catholic FM 103.7, the radio station of the Lae diocese, which he took a keen interest in.
He also played a major role in the development of the Mercy Centre at Omili in Lae which serves the needs of the sick in the area.
Bishop Henry retired at the age of 75 in 2007, having served as bishop for 40 years.
He was succeeded by Bishop Christian Blouin after the celebration of his jubilee in March that year.
Bishop Henry’s services to the Catholic church in Morobe province were recognised in the year of his retirement when he was awarded a Grand Companion of the Order of the Logohu with the title of “Chief”.
The diocese of Lae is now preparing to celebrate its golden jubilee next year and had looked to Bishop Henry as the key man for the celebration.
Sadly, the celebrations will now be held without the presence of the “Shepherd” of the Lae diocese.
A requiem mass will be held at the St Mary’s Cathedral in Lae at 10am on Wednesday.