Father Paul Gootee SVD, a missionary known for faith and community development in Indonesia, died at Techny on Feb. 10.
For more than half of century, Father Gootee, 93, worked among the Dawan-speaking people of Timor, a southeastern island of Indonesia. While caring for the people, he faced many challenges, such as famine, poor crops, scarce rain, political unrest and migration of the youth to more populated areas, yet the hardships did not deter him. In response, he built churches, schools and medical clinics, dug wells, constructed irrigation systems, installed electricity and shared the Catholic faith.
“Father Gootee carried in his heart a deep concern for the sick and the poor,” said Father Matheus Ro SVD, who was born in Indonesia and serves as treasurer of the Society of the Divine Word-Chicago Province. “He was a true shepherd, one who was down-to-earth and would mingle with his people. Pater Gootee’s heart and love has been deeply rooted in the land of Timor.”
During Father Gootee’s 55 years on the island, he provided pastoral care throughout the Diocese of Atambua and worked with farmer’s unions and a consumer cooperative to foster economic justice in the region.
One of Estella (nee Fanning) and Dr. Leo M. Gootee’s eight children, Paul Gootee was born and raised in Loogootee, Ind. As a child, he attended St. John School, helped with farming and occasionally accompanied his father on veterinary rounds.
In 1941, he followed in his oldest brother’s footsteps and entered the Society of the Divine Word formation program. He attended Divine Word Seminary in East Troy, Wis., and completed high school in less than three years. In 1948, he professed religious vows and was ordained to the priesthood in 1955.
For the American priest’s first assignment, he was sent to Kefamenanu on Timor. There, he found that he was called upon to be doctor, lawyer, merchant and priest. For six years, he served the people of this mountainous region, traveling hundreds of miles by horseback and on foot—some trips to mission chapels requiring four hours in the saddle one way—and sometimes encountering harsh weather.
He never knew what he might find upon arrival. On one occasion at the Wini outpost mission, he found that the chapel had collapsed during a strong windstorm. Yet he persevered.
In the early 1960s, Father Gootee was assigned to the Maubesi parish, where he served approximately 13,000 Catholics in a 200 square mile territory. The parish, which primarily ministered to the Malay people, consisted of 14 grade schools with a total enrollment of 3,500 students, a vocational high school and a technical school that specialized in carpentry.
As outreach on the island grew and Timor economically prospered, Father Gootee was assigned to Manumean in 1973. By 1976, he and his confreres had been so successful in fostering the faith that they and the people had established enough churches that Church leaders saw the wisdom in dividing the region.
After the reorganization, he was assigned to Ponu on the northern shore of the island. Here, he established another parish and tended to the needs of Catholics in a 400-square-mile region that contained 18 mission stations, nine Catholic grade schools and a high school.
In 1981, Father Gootee was assigned to the Parish of Nurobo. During his first year there, he oversaw the installation of electricity and a P.A. system in the new church building, built two dormitories to accommodate 230 schoolchildren, constructed three additional classrooms in the parish school, erected two chapels in neighboring villages, and started two more.
In the midst of construction, Father Gootee kept the people at heart. He once wrote that the elders “have been asking to be baptized in their villages. True the distances are great, and many are old and enfebled (sic). They would be visitors in the main station at Christmas, whereas they are the old people in their villages. If there is a feast of baptism and First Communion they want it to be something to remember and to be remembered by.”
Father Gootee himself worked well past the standard retirement age. In his early 80s, he was approached by religious sisters who asked him to be chaplain of the Center of Rehabilitation, a new leprosarium in Naob, North Central Timor. He could not say no.
“In his belongings, we found a note that read: Request them to bury me as they would bury their own father,’” said Father Ro, who will be celebrant and homilist at Father Gootee’s funeral. “In another, he asked, if possible, to be buried in the tradition and customary burial process of the Timorese. These two notes bear the testimony of a simple missionary with a humble heart, filled with dedicated love for the people and mission.”
Father Gootee returned to the United States and was assigned to Techny in retirement in 2011.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his brothers, Father Stanley Gootee SVD, Dr. Thomas and Dr. Francis Gootee; and two sisters, Theresa Marcella Jatkowski and Sister Marym Gootee SP. He is survived by two sisters, Agnes James and Sister Patricia Gootee MMS, and many nieces and nephews.
Father Gootee’s wake and funeral will take place in the chapel of the Divine Word Residence at Techny on Feb. 23. Attendance will be strictly limited because of COVID-19 precautions. He will be buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery at Techny. The funeral Mass will be livestreamed at: bit.ly/RequiemPaterGootee
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Paul Gootee can be made for the care of elderly and infirmed missionaries and sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.