Comboni Brother Erich Stöferle Rest in Peace
Comboni Brother Erich Stöferle died after a long illness at Silverton, Pretoria, on November 30. He was 76.
Born in Ringingen, southern Germany, on August 3, 1947, Br Erich joined the Comboni missionary formation in 1967 and made his first religious profession on May 1, 1970. In 1974 he was assigned to Kenya where he served from 1975-86. He then returned to Germany and worked there until 1993. His second stint in Kenya was from 1993-99 after which he was assigned to South Africa, where he spent the rest of his life.
Br Erich suffered from frail health. He had only one lung which was also compromised due to cancer. However, he had a faith and will of steel. His last home-leave was this year from mid-June to early September 2023. On his arrival in German Comboni community at Ellwangen he had a health crisis but received good medical attention. As soon as he felt a bit better, the determined missionary returned to his beloved mission in South Africa.
Fr Robert Ndungu, the local Comboni superior of Silverton, noted that at the beginning of October, Br Erich was not feeling well, and his voice was no longer audible. Yet, Br Erich delayed a visit to the doctor for a few weeks and resorted to taking natural remedies such as ginger, lemon, honey and garlic. This helped to clear his voice, but his overall health situation did not improve.
Despite difficulty, Br Erich still managed to fix, with the help of an assistant, a new eave in the parish of St Augustine in Silverton to protect the doors from rain. This turned out to be his last project in the parish.
On Thursday, November 29, after breakfast, Br Erich drove himself to Little Company of Mary for his chemotherapy. He came back and joined the community for lunch and served himself a generous portion of pasta, joyfully participating in the conversation and openly sharing about his more than 20 years of struggle with cancer. Evening prayer, supper and recreation all unfolded normally that day, with the active presence of Br Erich.
At around 4:45 am the next morning, Br Erich asked Fr Raul Tabaranza to call for medical assistance. The community then gathered in prayer around the bed of Br Erich, and Fr Ndungu administered to him the sacrament of the sick. When the paramedics arrived, Fr Erich was dead.
Fr Jeremias dos Santos Martins, a former Comboni provincial superior of South Africa, said he had “lost a friend, a companion, a confrere, someone with a gentle heart sometimes disguised under the cover of a hard and tough man”.
“Although it is not advisable to ‘classify’ people, Erich was a true ‘German type of person’: direct, organised, punctual, hard worker, tough with himself. With his death, it can be said that the last seed of the Comboni German-speaking confreres in South Africa, fell on the ground to give abundant fruit,” Fr Jeremias said.
The Comboni Missionaries started their presence in South Africa in 1924 with members of the German-speaking province.
Fr Jeremias remembered Br Erich as being “straightforward in his relationship with others, a meticulous worker, skilled, disciplined, never idle, creative, looking ahead to improve things in the house and in the garden, painting, restoring, adjusting things, taking care of the small details so that everything was functioning properly. Despite coming across as a bit harsh in his relationship with others, he had a very gentle, soft, attentive and caring heart.”
As provincial treasurer for some time, Br Erich experienced some tension with the confreres whose ways of dealing with money clashed with his approach, which was extremely cautious, systematic and detailed in presenting the financial accounts.
Br Erich lived a life that was faithful to prayer and his missionary spirit. Although he was busy during the whole day, prayer was a must for him, at a personal and community level. He was a reflective person and focused on what mattered to his missionary life. He liked singing and was a good helper in guiding the community during prayer.
Some years of his mission ministry were dedicated to promoting the Comboni magazine Worldwide, travelling as far as Durban and Cape Town to speak about the mission and to pass his missionary spirit to other people.
Those who knew Br Erich well remember him as the silent sufferer. He had severe health complications but he lived his life normally and courageously carried the heavy cross of his poor health, preferring to suffer in silence.
On December 2, the Comboni Community and the parish of St Augustine in Silverton celebrated Br Erich’s Requiem Mass, presided over by Fr John Baptist Keraryo Opargiw, flanked by confreres from Mahube Valley, Silverton and Kensington. Many parishioners braved the great summer heat in order to give Bro. Erich a decent send-off.
Three days later, on December 5, the mortal remains of Br Erich were transferred from Pretoria to Maria Trost, Lydenburg, the cradle of the Comboni mission in South Africa, where he now rests together with many other confreres in the hope of a glorious resurrection.