Jubilarian JAAP NIELEN, 65 YEARS A MILL HILL PRIEST. A glowing tribute.
Jaap was born on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1928 – the first link between two clever and spiritually outstanding persons. Twenty-four years later, after his ordination as a Mill Hill Priest, he was sent to Rome to study philosophy and obtained his Ph.D in 1955. Having completed his studies he was appointed to the major seminary in Roosendaal, The Netherlands, where he lectured in philosophy for four years after which he received, to his utter delight, his appointment for Cameroon.
Except for two interruptions – from 1962-1963 as philosophy professor in the Pastoral Institute in Ggaba [Uganda] and from 1978 to 1979 to lecture in philosophy in the major seminary in Roosendaal, Jaap remained in his beloved Cameroon expending himself in pastoral and educational activities.
One phenomenon stands out in Jaap’s missionary life: his interest in people. Something Jaap was convinced about is that a vocation to be a missionary is to bring Jesus into whatever circumstances our superiors place us. And to have in all you say and do the same mind as Jesus, the same sentiments of his heart, the heart which He emptied on the cross. In his contribution to a General Chapter he wrote:
“Our religion is not a set of doctrines nor is it a handbook for a better world. Our religion is a person, Jesus of Nazareth. He is God showing us how God had intended human beings to be. He is the authentic human person. He does not fit into any culture, because he shows up every culture. He has come to purify every culture.”
There are no roses without thorns and there is no missionary life without problems. Jaap, with his brilliant mind and the gift of being able to look well ahead of his contemporaries, was destined to experience this. One of these occasions was when he founded the St. Augustine College in Kumbo. He made this a multiple stream college offering grammar school studies, agricultural studies, technical studies, etc. Students who realised somewhere along the line that they had chosen the wrong study could change course without leaving the college. Parents of students, who were not able to pay the fees could pay in kind with foodstuffs from their farms which Jaap would use to feed his students. Unfortunately… authorities with static ideas stopped this development. Undeterred Jaap decided to start a third stream of students next to the two streams of grammar students and the many classrooms and tutors, he was left with. Again… he was stopped.
When he was parish priest in Wum his frequent visits to outstations near and far gave new life to these fledgling communities. He started a home-craft centre with newly designed stoves which had three cooking places, were built of sun-dried blocks and proved to be very economical in the use of firewood. He had plans to provide people in the various mission stations with the equipment to press palm-kernels and got drawings made to build a central market between the outstations where people could sell the oil and purchase their various household needs. Again, he encountered stiff opposition.
During his six years as parish priest of Njindom he built a church in Teze-Ngie and started to build the church in Mbengwi. Notwithstanding the regular visits he made to all the mission stations and the Presbyterian hospital in Acha Tugi, he still found time to visit the Mbengwi Prisons and spend time there with the detainees.
Returning from Roosendaal to Cameroon in 1979 Jaap was appointed to the Cathedral Parish in Bamenda Town. There, as Vocations Director, he started with a few assistants to organise vocation meetings in the parishes and the yearly vocation camps. With Sister Bernarde [of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary] het set up a catechetical team to teach doctrine classes in 15 government and private colleges. He worked with Brother Huub in the Bamenda Central Prisons and together with him founded there the Juvenile Reformatory School on June 10th 1983. He gave much of his time to the patients in the Bamenda General Hospital, the Military Hospital, the various private clinics and was the promotor and stimulant of the Vincent de Paul Society.
During the time he was parish priest in Bafmeng he started the “Life-Schools” for illiterate girls. He noticed that there was no secondary school in the whole area. To give many children a chance for post primary education he made plans to build a secondary school in the way he originally had planned the one in Kumbo [grammar studies, agricultural studies, technical studies, etc.]. He applied in the required way for permission to start it, but again… static ideas, no vision towards the future, no chance for the development needed, no approval to answer the obvious needs of the people. Fortunately, there were no objections made for the renovation of the Fathers’ house and the many churches he built in the mission stations.
Some years after Jaap left Bafmeng, Father Brian Byrne [of the Kiltegans] started a college in Bafmeng the way Jaap had planned it. It has more than 1200 students.
Jaap was a very grate help and consolation to the people who survived the Lake Nyos disaster that took place during the night between the 21st and 22nd August 1986. He made an old convent near the main church available for these people and using round sticks, planks and sheets of zinc, got many shelters and kitchens quickly built for them in his mission compound. He assured that all these people had every day something to eat and got the needed medical treatment.
Leaving Bafmeng he went to the “Mother Parish Njinikom” where he showed a great devotion to the spiritual welfare of the patients and the parishioners in general, took care of the good running of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, contributed much of his energy to the growing of the mission stations, started the building of the Balikumato church and got additional benches made in the main church.
Having been four years in the “Mother Parish Njinikom” he went back – for a short time – to the Cathedral Parish in Bamenda Town, left in 2003 Cameroon for the Netherlands and became the Parish Priest in the 12 Apostles Church in Heemskerk/Beverwijk till Wednesday April 19th 2017 when he went to Vrijland in Oosterbeek.
It does not surprise us that 2 Timothy 3:10-13 became Jaap’s own text:
“You know what I have taught, how I have lived, what I have aimed at; you know my faith, my patience and my love; my constancy and the persecutions and hardships that came to me in places like [Antioch, Iconium and Lystra] Kumbo, Wum and Bafmeng – all the persecutions I have endured; and the Lord has rescued me from every one of them. You are well aware, then, that anybody who tries to live in devotion to Christ is certain to be attacked.”
Huub Welters mhm