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After decades in Papua New Guinea, missionary became a desktop publisher

 
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Father Bernard Fisher, 1918-2016

Father Bernard Fisher SVD, missionary in Papua New Guinea for almost 50 years, died at Techny on Feb. 13 at age 97.

"Father Fisher remained active his entire life," said Marcia Stein, archivist of the Chicago Province Robert M Myers Archives. "He returned from Papua New Guinea in 1992 with a mission. It was to preserve the work of SVD authors, published and unpublished. In this, he succeeded admirably."

A priest for 70 years and in religious vows for 75, Father Fisher was ordained to the priesthood in 1945. At the time, World War II was ending, but the world was far from safe and ordered. Many newly ordained missionaries had to wait for assignments overseas.

Before going to Papua New Guinea (then New Guinea) in 1948, Father Fisher taught at Divine Word seminaries in Girard, Penn., and Duxbury, Mass. His first assignment outside of the United States took him to Marienberg, New Guinea, on the Sepik River. Archbishop Leo Arkfeld SVD, then apostolic vicar of Central New Guinea, asked him to explore the Wabag Valley in the island’s Western Highlands to assess the area for possible new mission sites.

For more than a quarter of a century, Father Fisher lived the life of a bush missionary, traveling the mountainous region and resting his head in straw huts while opening parishes and catechetical centers throughout Central Papua New Guinea.

In 1959, he returned to the United States for his first home leave and began studies at the Summer Institute of Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma.

Upon returning to New Guinea the following year, he was assigned to the mission station at Durima to work among the Enga tribesmen in places like Yampu, Sikiro, Sari, Pina, Par and Landor. He adopted their lifestyle and even placed a pigpen in front of his parish church to appeal to the Enga whose culture revolved around raising hogs.

In 1971 during a time when tribal dissent took the form of fights with arrows and spears, he became a teacher at Kerowagi High School. Kerowagi, a small village in the New Guinea Highlands, consisted of four stores, a tavern, an airstrip, post office and two schools. The Catholic mission sat on one side of the village and a Lutheran mission on the other.

There, he taught business accounting and agriculture to more than 400 students each year. In the process, he raised pigs, chickens, cattle and coffee beans and, with his own hands, built houses for the livestock—some out of grass and others of concrete and steel.

In 1976, his superiors asked him to work as a vocation recruiter in the United States, which he did for six years. He then returned to Papua New Guinea in 1982 to serve as a vocation director in the Diocese of Wewak and as chaplain on the teaching staff of a public high school. In 1990, he was assigned to the Divine Word Institute in Madang, where he taught English and served as chaplain.

In 1992, at age 75, Father Fisher came back to the United States for semi-retirement. While living at East Troy, Wis., he developed an extensive catalog of Divine Word publications. He recorded interviews with his confreres—especially those who worked in Papua New Guinea—so that their stories would not be lost, and he translated numerous books. Among his compilations is "The Publication of the American SVDs," a comprehensive catalog of writings by Divine Word Missionaries.

The future priest was born in Roberts, Mont., on April 9, 1918, the first of John H. and Collette (Cauley) Fisher’s seven children. Because of his father’s job with the railroad, his family moved frequently, but Father Fisher considered Sabula, Iowa, as home.

He entered the Divine Word seminary at Epworth, Iowa, in 1933, and professed religious vows as a member of the Society of the Divine Word in 1940.

An avid reader and piano player, Father Fisher taught himself the art of desktop publishing in retirement and printed more than 30 books and booklets.

He had been living in the Divine Word Residence at Techny since 2009 and is survived by cousins, nieces and nephews.

His visitation and wake were held on Feb. 17 at the Divine Word Residence at Techny. Mass of the Resurrection was in the residence chapel on Feb. 18. Father Fisher is buried at St. Mary Cemetery in Techny.

The Techny Residence is located at 1901 Waukegan Rd., Techny (Northbrook), Ill. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made in the name of Father Fisher and sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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