In Pace Christi

Fr. Contran Sergio Bartolomeo

Born: 13/10/1926
Luogo di Nascita: Piove di Sacco (I)

Voti temporanei: 15/08/1944
Voti perpetui: 23/09/1949
Ordinazione: 08/04/1950

Date of Death: 25/03/2017
Place of Death: Castel d’Azzano (I)

Fr. Sergio Contran was born at Piove di Sacco, in the diocese of Padua, northern Italy, on 13 October, 1926. He was the third of five children of Nicola and Clementina Contran. Reared in a profoundly Catholic environment, young Sergio soon felt an inclination to the priesthood. His elder brother, Alfredo, had already entered the diocesan seminary but Sergio had other dreams, especially after attending the first Mass of the Comboni Missionary Fr. Antonio Marigo, in his home town where he met other missionaries and Comboni students. “I chose the missionary life in Africa and so I entered the Comboni seminary in Padua. I attended secondary school and the university during the Second World War and I was sent to Rome to study theology”. There he obtained a Licentiate in Theology and also helped the community in various ways.

He was ordained priest on 8 April, 1950, and for the next seven years worked as formator and teacher in some of the minor seminaries run by the Comboni Missionaries in Italy. In 1957 he was sent to the United States where he spent almost all his priestly life. Up until 1969 he held various posts. He began with mission promotion in Monroe, Michigan, and then took on pastoral work, mission promotion and teaching in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the meantime he obtained a Master’s degree in education at Xavier University in Cincinnati. His calm and friendly temperament, together with his missionary spirit of adaptation, made of him a docile instrument in the hands of his superiors. No matter where a need arose, they could always count on Fr. Sergio to lend a hand. One of his former students stated: “I remember his vivacious spirit and how he was always ready to go beyond the obvious and to ‘think outside the box’, challenging us, his students, to do likewise”.

Thinking outside the normal proved useful in the late sixties when, after the Second Vatican Council, the Church was swept by a new wind of change that did not spare the Comboni Missionaries in North America. There were deep divisions: the old guard against the new shoots, cultural conflict between the old European way of thinking and the modern American reality, immigrant missionaries versus native missionaries, and so on. The new freedom had its advantages and, for the first time, the members of the Institute were authorised to elect their provincial superior, rather than have one appointed by the General Council in Rome. It was no surprise when Sergio was elected to this post in 1970. He was a peacemaker, cool and calm, a man who knew how to engage in real dialogue, and one who had such a sense of humour that he could disarm the most obstinate opponent. Thanks to Fr. Sergio, we learned to get along together, to grow during his term of office of six years and to inaugurate a new time in which the local members took the responsibility of government.

Fr. Sergio spent a large portion of the following years administering the goods of the Province as provincial bursar. With his flexibility and natural kindness, he brought humanity and understanding to a task that tended to be dry and boring. He also brought in lay people for this work, to the great benefit of the Province. However, bookwork did not stand in the way of Fr. Sergio when it came to pastoral ministry either in Cincinnati or California.

In 2004, having left the post of bursar, to which he had been elected for the third time – on two occasions he had been called to remedy emergency situations – Fr. Sergio was assigned to the community of Covina as local bursar and mission promoter. He stayed there until 2011 when, for health reasons, he returned to Italy and was sent to Verona.

From there he wrote to his younger brother Nazzareno (Neno), who was also a Comboni Missionary: “I was hoping to go back to the States but things did not work out. I feel I should take this as God’s will for me. I am now in the group of sick confreres. My only job now is to give good example. Sometimes I try doing just that.”

From 2014 onwards, his health deteriorated and eventually he needed constant care. He passed away peacefully at the Bro. Alfredo Fiorini Centre in Castel D’Azzano, close to Verona, on 25 March, 2017. Regarding his missionary vocation, he wrote: “I consider it a grace and a privilege to have taken part in this life: it is a beautiful life. I wonder why more young people do not think of it?”

Thank you, Fr. Sergio, for your sincere friendship, your tranquil faith, your ability to bring peace and for your pleasant sense of humor. You have been a living example of the joy that comes from being a Comboni Missionary. (Fr. Joseph Bragotti)