by Br. Joe Eberle M.Afr Germany/Malawi 24.01.2022
I am Brother Joe Eberle of the Missionaries of Africa – White Fathers, living now in Hechingen, South-Germany. I knew the MMM Sisters in Malawi and I am happy to contribute to the MMM Blog.
I was born on 29th April 1932 in Erbach near Ulm on the river Danube and after my professional training I joined the White Fathers in 1957 and after the normal preparation for missionaries I was appointed to the Diocese of Mzuzu, Malawi in 1966, reaching this country in October of that year. The beginning in Africa was for me a fundamental eye-opener. Getting acquainted with a new environment, new faces, a new language; practically everything was so different to what I had experienced before in my life – at that time being 34 years old. All this made me reflect and I reached a point where I told myself: just be open and ready to take things as they come, step by step. And surely the Lord will guide you and remain always on your side.
Staying at St. Peter’s Parish for the first couple of months, next to St. John’s Hospital, I met the MMM Sisters for the first time. I remember especially Sr. Gemma Breslin, Sr. Dr. Pauline (Nancy Hilliard), Sr. Concepta (Edel-Maria Weir) – and never forget – Sr. Rosemary O’ Neill. In going around, looking about what’s going on, I found those holy nuns real pioneers. They too had arrived some years before, finding a bare place, starting little by little, setting up a rural health centre for their missionary healing service. It all impressed me immensely.
In the late 1970s, talk started about enlarging the present hospital setup. After some years of adding here and there some units to the hospital-set-up, a need was felt to prepare a master-plan. There was a need for an inpatient-capacity of 240 beds and related services, mainly for outpatients and the mother and child care. It took time to reach unity and agreement to the different proposals. But toward the end, planning was started. I was glad to have Fr. Jo Coolen, who also was living in our community, helping me in drawing the necessary plans. And since we already had a good name at the MISEREOR-agency in Germany, our application for help in financing the project was again favourable. Thus, we could set the project start to 24th June 1980, hoping to complete the project in 18 months. But we still had to look for a work-team of about 300 persons.
Invitations went around by word of mouth and in print. One sunny morning there were in front of my office nearly 700 people looking for a job. My secretary and the foreman were given the task to sort out the crowd. We agreed together that all who had arrived dressed with collar and tie, as well with patches on the back of their trousers, a result from too much sitting, should be put to the left side of the crowd. The others with normal working clothes, and those with patches on their knees, probably from constant kneeling at work or at prayer, should be put to the right.
On the right was a group of about 300. As this simple sorting-out was completed, I had to explain my method of choice. Naturally there was big disappointment on the left side and jubilation on the right. The following week we started in full swing, clearing the forest in front of the existing buildings, marking out new buildings at different sites, digging foundations, transporting material, and above all, encouraging the teams to keep a good working-spirit. People were amazed about the quick development of the project. And surprisingly we completed work in 18 months with the official opening of the enlarged hospital on 23th December 1981. It was a happy event; all went well, without accident, in an atmosphere of a friendly-brotherly spirit.