Farmer, educator: Missionary brother brought many talents to service of God's people

Brother John Daniel (Xavier) Eshman, 1937-2017

Eshman,_Brother_Xavier_for_webBrother John Daniel (Xavier) Eshman, an educator and longtime missionary in South America, died on June 18 at age 79.

"In a quiet and unassuming way, Xavier recognized the gifts that God gave to him and offered them to the service of the Lord" said Rev. Raymond Lennon SVD, rector emeritus of the Divine Word Residence at Bordentown, N.J. "He seldom made requests, but when he did, he asked for assignments that he knew were in the service to the poor."

Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1937, he was the eldest of Benjamin and Marcella (nee Schroer) Eshman’s five children. His parents gave him the name John Daniel, and he was called by his middle name. Agriculture, his lifelong passion, was in his blood. He grew up on a 170-acre farm in southwestern Ohio and was active in the 4-H Club. At age 14, circumstances called upon him to take the lead in running the family farm while his father was hospitalized for an extended period.

In 1957, as a student at Ohio State University, young Daniel heard a lecture that changed the course of his life. The university had invited the legendary priest and paleontologist Divine Word Father Harold Rigney to speak on campus.

Father Rigney, who had been released from a Chinese Communist prison and returned to the United States two years earlier, lectured on China, the work of the Divine Word Missionaries and the need for brothers to assist the priests in the mission. He left a lasting impression on the young scholar.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Ohio State University in 1959, Daniel immediately began formation with the Society of the Divine Word. His studies in agriculture economics; animal, poultry and dairy science; agronomy; horticulture; and education later proved providential.

While completing his postulancy and novitiate, he taught science and math at the Divine Word Brother Candidate School and worked in the dairy farm on the Techny property. During that time, he also finished two years of post-graduate studies in science, math and education at Loyola University in Chicago.

In 1962 at Techny, he professed vows and took the religious name of Xavier. In 1967 he was assigned to teach at the Divine Word Seminary in Conesus, New York, and then in 1968, he was transferred to Divine Word Seminary in Girard, Penn., and became the first brother to serve on the school’s teaching faculty.

As his first assignment overseas, Argentina was his choice because he knew that the country was beginning to adopt modern agricultural practices, and he understood the importance of agriculture in feeding the hungry and developing that nation’s economy.

He taught at St. Joseph University’s School of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine in Esperanza, Santa Fe Province, Argentina.

In 1977, at the request of the superior general, he returned to the United States to teach at the Divine Word seminary in Bordentown, N.J. After fulfilling that assignment, he returned to South America in 1984 and served in Itapúa, Paraguay, until 2009.

After 40 years as a missionary in Argentina and Paraguay, he once again returned to the United States and was assigned to Bordentown, N.J., in 2010. For medical reasons, he moved to Techny in 2017.

Brother Xavier is survived by four sisters: Mary Ellen Francis, Jane Keever, Suzanne Frangesch and Cynthia Eshman and one brother-in-law, Tom Francis.

Viewing will begin at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 27, in the chapel of the Divine Word Residence at Techny, followed by a wake at 7 p.m. His funeral Mass will be held in the chapel on June 28 at 10 a.m. with burial in St. Mary Cemetery at Techny.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Brother Xavier can be made for the care of elderly and infirm missionaries and may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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