Remembering Bishop Baaij
Fr. Sanil Michael, SCJ and Fr. Gabryel Kazimierz Angel, SCJ, of the South African Province, as well as Judy Boland, manager of the Nazareth retirement community where Bishop Baaij spent the past 25 years, contributed to this story
A cool and slightly overcast summer’s day was the setting for the Funeral Mass of Bishop Evert Baaij, SCJ, on February 9. The Mass was celebrated at Corpus Christi Church in Humewood, Port Elizabeth.
With a church full of fellow clergy, SCJ confreres, friends and loved ones, especially from Nazareth House where the bishop was chaplain for the past 25 years, the Mass began with a favorite hymn of the bishop’s, “Our God Reigns.”
With the bishops of Aliwal North and De Aar in Rome for a meeting, Bishop Joseph Potocnak, SCJ, served as the main celebrant. Concelebrants included the vicar general and current apostolic administrator of the Port Elizabeth Diocese; Fr. Peter Surdel, SCJ, provincial superior of South African Province; and Msgr. Joseph Kizito, vicar general of Aliwal North Diocese. Nearly 50 clergy took part in the funeral.
In his homily Bishop Joe Potocnak recalled his early missionary life in South Africa with Father Evert Baaij. Bishop Joe was with him in Colesburg and he spoke of his fond memories of going with Bishop Evert to home Masses, including those on rural farms. Bishop Joe said that after driving all day, celebrating the Eucharist in many locations, Bishop Evert would come home late and then make an hour of Eucharistic Adoration for all those people whom he had visited.
Bishop Evert was instrumental in helping international workers stationed at the large Xhariep Dam maintain their faith, said Bishop Joe. He had a wide knowledge of languages. Many of the workers, living near the dam during its construction, came to Bishop Evert for spiritual direction, blessings and prayers. Bishop Joe also spoke of Bishop Evert’s constant availability to the sick. He was a “wounded healer,” said Bishop Joe. Living at Nazareth House the past 25 years, dealing with his own health concerns, Bishop Evert “always found time for the sick and tried to make them cheerful and happy,” said Bishop Joe.
Tributes were shared at the funeral, including letters from Fr. José Ornelas Carvalho, SCJ, superior general, and Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, provincial superior of the U.S. Province. Although Bishop Evert was born in the Netherlands and lived in South Africa for the past 55 years, he remained a member of the U.S. Province.
Other tributes came from Pope Benedict XVI via the Prefect of the Pontifical Office of Evangelization of Nations, and another from the Prefect of Propaganda Fide. There were also letters from the South African Catholic Bishop’s Conference, the archbishop of Durban, the bishop of Aliwal North, and Aliwal North’s Bishop Emeritus Lobinger.
The tributes made it clear that while the bishop may have had his challenges, he will be dearly missed by many throughout the country and that he had an incredible desire to do good for others.
Throughout the Mass Bishop Baaij’s favorite hymns were sung with enthusiasm, including “All That I Am,” “Sweet Heart of Jesus,” “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.”
“On the way back to our parish, we visited a friend of Bishop Baaij,” said one of the SCJs. “He told us that he could not sing the communion song, ‘Lord Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.’ With tears in his eyes Mr. Tony told us, ‘I could not sing that song because that song is never to be sung; it is to be lived and Bishop Baaij showed us by living it.’”
Bishop Baaij’s final resting place is, at his request, with Sisters of Nazareth at the South End Cemetery.