In remembrance of Bro. Erich Stöferle, Comboni missionary (1947 – 2023)


Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Bro. Erich Stöferle was born at Ringingen, Germany on August 3rd, 1947. He joined the Comboni missionary formation in 1967 and made his first religious profession on May 1st, 1970. He served in his native Germany from 1970 to 1974, then he was assigned to Kenya where he served from 1975 to 1986. He then returned to Germany and worked there from 1986 to 1993. His second stint in Kenya was from 1993 to 1999 after which he was assigned to our Province of South Africa and he has been here up to the day the Lord called him to heaven, at Silverton, Pretoria on Thursday November 30th, 2023.

The long journey from Ringingen (Germany) to Silverton (South Africa)

Events leading to the fateful day

Our dear Bro. Erich had a frail health. In fact, 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 the Comboni community at Ellwangen he had a health crisis and fortunately he received good medical attention. As soon as he felt a bit better, the determined missionary Bro. Erich was again on the plane returning to his beloved mission in South Africa.

Fr. Robert Ndungu, the local superior of Silverton notes that at the beginning of October, Bro. Erich was not feeling well, and his voice was no longer audible enough. After the visit of the Provincial Superior, it was recommended that he should go for a medical checkup as soon as possible. He delayed the visit to the doctor for a few weeks and resorted to taking some local remedies such as ginger, lemon and honey and garlic which somehow helped to clear his voice, but the overall health situation did not improve. The confreres in the community of Silverton witnessed with time that Bro. Erich had a difficulty in breathing and so was taking more time to rest, prudently avoiding any strenuous activity. However, with the help of an assistant, he still managed to fix a new eave in the parish to protect the doors from rain. This turned out to be his last project in the parish!

He eventually went to see Dr. Andreas Tereh for some checkup and appeared to be doing well, though his breathing was still problematic.

On Thursday, November 29th 2023, after breakfast, he drove himself to Little Company of Mary for his chemotherapy. He came back and joined the community for lunch and he served himself generously the delicious pasta that was on the menu of the day. During the recreation after lunch Bro. Erich actively and joyfully participated in the conversation and openly shared about his more than twenty years of struggle with cancer. Evening prayer, supper and recreation all unfolded normally that day, with the active presence of Bro. Erich and thereafter the members of the community retired for their night rest.

The moment of the Consummatum Est

Fr. Robert Ndungu reports that very early in the morning, around 04:45 hours, Fr. Raul Tabaranza who was already awake heard Bro. Erich knocking on his door desperately asking for help. He opened the door and reached out to him. Bro. Erich asked him to call the Emergency Ambulance or Dr. Andreas Tereh. Fr. Raul rushed to Fr. Robert and the frantic phone calls for emergency assistance began in earnest. The confreres themselves felt so desperate, impotent and helpless in the face of this tragic circumstance.  The community then gathered in prayer around the bed of Bro. Erich and Fr. Robert administered to him the sacrament of the sick. The para medics of Netcare eventually came to the house and after checking the vitals, declared him dead.  This was the critical and last hour of Bro. Erich and his consummatum est! Yes, it is now indeed complete and accomplished for him. He ran the good race up to the finish.

Bro. Erich, the man, the confrere and his legacy

On hearing about the death of Bro. Erich, Fr. Jeremias dos Santos Martins, a former Provincial Superior of South Africa, hence a confrere who knew Bro. Erich well, had this to say: “With the death of Bro. Erich, I 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, organized, 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! In fact, the Comboni Missionaries started their presence in South Africa only with confreres from the German-speaking Province, in 1924.”

Fr. Jeremias remembers Bro. Erich as one who was always decisive and convincing in his way of doing things. He always put head, body, and soul in all that he was doing. He was 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, and attentive and caring heart.

Being the Provincial Treasurer, for some time, he experienced some tension with the confreres who did not care much about the way they were dealing with money. He was exactly the opposite, extremely cautious, systematic and very much detailed in presenting the financial accounts.  Although in charge of keeping and administering the money, his life was branded with simplicity and sobriety.

There are two important of Erich’s life as a missionary: faithfulness to prayer and his missionary spirit. Although he was quite busy during the whole day, prayer was a must for him, at personal and community level. He was a reflective person and very much focussed on what mattered for his missionary life. He liked singing and was a good helper in guiding the community during prayer. Some years of his mission ministry was dedicated to promoting our magazine: Worldwide. He was always available to help in promoting this by travelling as far as Durban and Cape Town to speak about the mission and to pass his missionary spirit to other people. He had a true Comboni Missionary spirit. He also liked reading and was well updated regarding the political situation of the country and the life of the Church in world and in the country. He liked discussing ecclesial issues, giving freely his point of view and defending it with toughness when needed!

Most people who knew Bro. Erich remember him as the silent sufferer. He had very serious health complications but he lived his life normally and courageously carried the heavy cross of his poor health and preferred to suffer in silence. He is now in God’s love and embrace as a good and faithful servant in the vineyard of the Lord. May he enjoy heavenly life with Comboni and so many other missionaries and brothers and sisters. From heaven, may he intercede for us and ask God to console his family and friends in Germany and to bestow on our troubled world the divine blessings of peace, love and true brotherhood!

Farewell to Bro. Erich at Silverton

On December 2nd, 2023, the Comboni Community and the Parish of St. Augustine – Silverton organized a Requiem Mass presided over by Fr. John Baptist Keraryo Opargiw who was flanked by confreres from Mahube Valley, Silverton and Kensington. Many parishioners braved the super summer heat in order to give Bro. Erich a decent send-off. In his homily, Fr. John Baptist insisted on the fact that our gathering was to joyfully celebrate the life of Bro. Erich and to render him our service of prayer, charity and fond remembrance as well as to renew our faith in the resurrection.  Fr. John Baptist also affirmed that Bro. Erich, a true Comboni Missionary of the Heart of Jesus, was indeed accordingly gentle and humble of heart. Besides this quality, his way of relating with others was forthright, straightforward, firm, face to face and unambiguous. Of course, all this sometimes made him rub shoulders and feathers with confreres and others but Bro. Erich always remained a community-minded person.  Dear Bro. Erich, auf Wiedersehen! Hamba kahle, ubaba omkhulu!

Bro. Erich’s final resting place at Maria Trost

On December 5th, 2023, the mortal remains of Bro. Erich were transferred from Pretoria to Maria Trost, Lydenburg – the cradle of our Comboni Mission in South Africa, where he now rests together with many other confreres in the hope of a glorious resurrection.  May the memory of Bro. Erich become for us a spur to live our missionary vocation with generosity. In this way we can truly honour his legacy!

Compiled by:
Fr. Jeremias dos Santos Martins,
Fr. Robert Kinena Ndungu,
Fr. John Baptist Keraryo Opargiw