American missionary in Ghana returned to serve in national and international leadership roles
Father Mark Weber, 1954-2022
The Society of the Divine Word mourns the passing of Father Mark Weber SVD, 68, a missionary in Ghana, two-term provincial in the United States and the congregation’s general secretary for Formation and Education internationally. Father Weber died in Chicago on Dec. 14.
“Mark was an advocate for those in need, a leader who preferred working with his hands rather than governing with a pen,” said Father Roger Schroeder SVD, Father Weber’s good friend and Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD Professor of Mission and Culture at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago.
“He had a great love for the African American apostolate and a passion for social justice,” Father Schroeder said. “Through example, he was a role model for young religious men throughout the world, but more than that he made each person feel like they were really heard.”
As provincial, Father Weber held responsibilities similar to those of a bishop—overseeing the work of more than 250 missionaries and serving as chief administrator of a territory that stretches from Canada to the Caribbean and from Iowa to Massachusetts.
Founded in 1875, the Society of the Divine Word is the world’s sixth largest Catholic religious order for men and the largest one that focuses on missionary work. The Chicago Province is the religious order’s largest province in the Western Hemisphere.
Ordained to the priesthood in 1982, Father Weber spent almost eight years in West Africa: two years as a seminarian and six years as a missionary priest. In 1983, he became chaplain and teacher at St. Paul Technical School in Kukurantumi, Ghana. He was devoted to the mission, but by 1989, tropical illnesses, such as malaria and typhoid, took a toll on the young priest. And he returned to the United States.
Upon his return, he joined the staff of the 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago, focusing on social justice issues. Those efforts included raising awareness of inequitable global trade systems, the need for affordable housing, the fight to end apartheid in South Africa, and forgiveness of oppressive national debts for developing countries.
For most of the 1990s, Father Weber worked on the formation staff of Divine Word Theologate in Chicago and eventually was named rector. As a staff member, he helped guide the training of Divine Word seminarians and brothers.
After his time with Divine Word Theologate, Father Weber served St. Anselm parish in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood. To assist the Archdiocese of Chicago, Divine Word Missionaries have staffed the predominantly African American parishes of St. Anselm and St. Elizabeth (now merged to become Our Lady of Africa parish) since before World War II. Father Weber lived and worked at the parish for five years, including three as pastor.
In 2005, Father Weber’s peers elected him as Chicago provincial. He was reelected in 2008. During his tenure, the Techny Land Development in Northbrook was completed and century-long leases began to generate money for the missions.
Father Weber also recognized the need for more missionaries in Appalachia and expanded the Society of the Divine Word’s presence in McDowell County, W. Va., a region economically devastated by changes in coal production.
When Father Weber’s second term as provincial superior ended, the religious order’s international leaders chose him as the Generalate’s secretary for Formation and Education. His one request when accepting the position was to make his base at St. Anselm parish in Chicago instead of Rome. In the role as formation and education secretary, he traveled the world to meet with Divine Word formation directors and candidates and to improve the congregation’s formation and education processes.
Born in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1954, Mark Weber was the fifth of Frank and Mary Louise (nee Koopmann) Weber’s seven children. He attended Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa; graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology; and professed temporary vows in 1977. He earned his Master of Divinity from CTU in 1983.
Father Weber was preceded in death by his parents and a sister, Laura Weber McClure. He is survived by four sisters Jeanne Kluesner, Ann Their, Joan Weber, and Marilyn Mootz and a brother, Michael Weber, as well as many nieces and nephews.
A viewing and wake for Father Weber was held at Our Lady of Africa Church on Dec. 18, followed by a memorial Mass on Dec. 19.
A second viewing and wake service was held at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center on Dec. 20, followed by the funeral Mass and burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery at Techny.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Weber may be made to Our Lady of Africa Food Pantry, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd., Chicago, IL 60653.
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