In Tuesday’s post, I mentioned that over the past month the Oblates have mourned the passing of two of our leaders in our efforts to promote peace and justice. Today, I would like to remember the life of Bishop John Minder, OSFS, who presided over the local church of Keimoes-Upington, South Africa, for more than thirty years, including the tumultuous years when the country was emerging from the horrors of apartheid.
Bishop Minder was the sixth of a string of Oblate bishops who served the local church in Keimoes, and eventually Keimoes-Upington. He embodied one of the principal tenets of Catholic social teaching, solidarity with the entire human family. For his Episcopal coat of arms, Bishop Minder chose a one word motto for how he envisioned his life as a bishop: condolere, a Latin word meaning “to have compassion.” To have compassion, to “suffer with” other people, is what it means to be in solidarity with people. Bishop Minder did not see his role as a bishop as being separate from or above the people of his diocese. Rather, he understood his vocation as a challenge to serve the people of God by entering into their suffering and suffering with them. In doing this, he followed the example of our patron bishop, St. Francis de Sales.
While bishops are required by church law to submit their resignations to the pope when they turn 75, Bishop Minder did not believe retirement was a time to sit back and enjoy all that he had accomplished in his life, for there were still plenty of people suffering and in need of an experience of God’s compassion. In remarks at Bishop Minder’s memorial mass, Oblate provincial Fr. Jim Greenfield, OSFS, recounted a quote from Minder before his retirement, “Just six years before the pope accepted his resignation for reasons of age, Bishop Minder was quoted in a newspaper article: ‘If I live to be 75 and I am able to retire, I would like to stay here and take over a parish.’ He kept his word, for he worked as a parish priest in Keimoes-Upington for nine years after his retirement, giving flesh to the word compassion.”
Optimism and gentleness are two notable characteristics of Salesian spirituality. Bishop Minder demonstrated both during his time as a bishop in South Africa, especially during the turbulent period after apartheid. He believed in the goodness of all people and that people were open to conversion. Nevertheless, he also spoke the truth and sided with those who were oppressed, not the oppressors. Fr. Greenfield told another story of Bishop Minder’s optimism balanced with a realistic sense of whose side he was on, “In 1994, as South Africa held it first democratic, multi-racial elections which gave the country its first black president after a long history of white rule, Bp. Minder embodied hope and optimism: ‘I think all races are going to do their best to make a success of the new South Africa,’ he said in an interview with the media.
Yet, his optimism did not falsely color the truth of his commitment to equality and the strength of his position. He asserted where he stood on apartheid and how he differed from others:
‘There are, of course, some die-hard white people who are not happy about things. People who are opposed to real democracy are dissatisfied, but I can’t tell you what they are doing or saying, because they are not my friends.’
His ability to clarify his stance with charity, honesty, and gentleness, while not condemning his political foes, speaks to the wider position of respect that he had for all people.”
Bishop Minder was a gift to the Oblates, the Church of South Africa, and the Church throughout the world. We pray that his optimism, gentleness, and passion for justice will continue to inspire people to have a missionary spirit and to witness to the God who always sides with those who are oppressed.