Innovative missionary worked towards economic development in New Guinea
Father Otto Schellenberger, 1914-2007
The Rev. Otto George Shellenberger, a Divine Word Missionary, died at Techny, Ill., on Jan. 9, 2007, at the age of 92.
He was born in 1914 in Georgetown, Ind. One of twelve children, an older brother became a priest in the diocese of Evansville, Ind., and a sister joined the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters and served as a nurse in Australia.
Father Schellenberger pronounced his religious vows in 1937 and was ordained a priest on Aug. 15, 1942. The last surviving member of his class, he was known in his student days for his near Olympic prowess as a swimmer.
In 1944, he was sent to New Guinea, a South Pacific island, as a missionary. He spent the next 48 years serving in various capacities on that island and in nearby Australia. In addition to his priestly duties, he actively helped the people of New Guinea advance their living conditions.
He used the skills he learned growing up on a farm to modernize agricultural processes and promote soil conservation. A 1954 newspaper article hailed his discovery that a mixture of volcanic ash and sand, ingredients readily available in New Guinea, could cheaply replace concrete and last far longer than wood, which rotted quickly in the tropical conditions.
Much of his priestly ministry was spent preaching retreats and counseling. In Australia, he was a pioneer in the Cursillo Movement, introducing people to a deeper relationship with God. He remained in Australia and continued to say Mass regularly for parish congregations and at a large Catholic nursing home until he was nearly 88 years old. He retired to Techny in 2002 as his health began to fail. He remained there until his death.
He was looking forward to this coming August when he would have celebrated his 70th anniversary as a member of the Society of the Divine Word and the 65th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Jan. 13 with burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Techny. 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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