Educator and missionary left mark on Pacific nation

Father John Wald, 1915-2008

Wald,_Fr_John_for_webThe Rev. John Wald, 92, a Divine Word Missionary and a pioneer in Papua New Guinea’s education system, died Wednesday, May 22, in Techny, Ill.

"John Wald contributed to the well-being of a nation," said Rev. Mark Weber SVD, provincial of the Society of the Divine Word’s Chicago Province. "He went to New Guinea at a time when the people sought independence from Great Britain, and he helped them build schools that educated future Church and civic leaders."

One of 12 children born to Ann Marie and Michael Wald of Karlsruhe, N.D., Father Wald was a teenager when he decided to leave the family farm and join the seminary.

In 1930, he entered the Society of the Divine Word at Techny. After completing his pastoral studies and being ordained to the priesthood in 1943, he went to Australia for a year before heading to New Guinea, which later became Papua New Guinea, where he spent most of the next 57 years.

In a brief recounting of his life, Father Wald wrote about the conditions on the island in September 1945: "In New Guinea, everything had been destroyed [by the battles of World War II], so we started from scratch. But the people were still there, along the north coast, where there were many mission stations before the war. Life was hard and primitive, but we were young and ready for anything."

After eight years as a "bush missionary" in Raicoast of Madang, Archbishop Adolph Noser SVD, sent him to the Chimbu Province. In 1954, Father Wald opened the region’s first English-language school, which eventually grew into an elementary school and a separate high school. Today, nearly a quarter of Papua New Guinea’s population is Roman Catholic, second only to indigenous beliefs.

In 2001, Father Wald thrice received international recognition. Pope John Paul II honored him with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the Officer of the British Empire Medal, and the Papua Guinea government gave their Independence Medal to him.

Father Wald is survived by two brothers (Alex and Father Edward Wald SVD) and two sisters (Mary Bujnovsky and Ann Ziegler). In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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