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Friday, December 9, 2016
Jesuit mission worker Tony Montfort has died
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¬†One of the most renowned and well-loved mission workers in the Catholic world has died at the age of 66. Jesuits throughout the world have been paying tribute to Tony Montfort, who worked at Jesuit Missions (JM) in Wimbledon, South West London, for 44 years. On the occasion of his retirement as Director in 2005, the Superior-General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach SJ, said he stood "as a joyful example of faith, hope and love in action", whose presence was "a grace in times of joy and crisis". Born on 1 September 1940, Tony Montfort was educated by the Jesuits in Wimbledon, first at Donhead, then at Wimbledon College. He became an active member of nearby Sacred Heart Jesuit Church, working particularly with young parishioners in the Cub Scouts. His first ambition was to be a chef: he came third in an international catering competition and took great pride in the bronze medal he was awarded by the Queen Mother for catering. But after a period of volunteering with the Society of Jesus, he was asked by Fr Peter Low SJ (at that time, Director of Jesuit Missions) to work full-time in support of the English Jesuits' overseas missions. On succeeding Fr Low as Director of JM, Tony became known for his enthusiastic and creative management of work and projects. Over the next four decades, he established the Wimbledon office of this work of the British Jesuits as a crucial worldwide support for priests, brothers and lay co-workers working in all parts of the world. When a vital radio valve was needed, Tony could source it. When tractor parts were urgently required, Tony managed to secure them. Or when medical supplies were running low, Tony always ensured they were replenished. Fr Tim Curtis SJ, the present Director of Jesuit Missions, said: "Tony moulded Jesuit Missions to be not just the support agency of our thriving missions overseas, but to be the lifeline that men relied upon to make their dreams become reality. No item a missionary needed was too small or to big for Tony to manage, from the Lady Marouka, a transport ship for the interior of Guyana, to a new typewriter ribbon, so that a missionary could continue to write his letters." Tony was a respected and popular speaker in parishes in Great Britain, a knowledgeable source for the media, and a tireless fundraiser. During his time as Director, JM negotiated with the creator of the Wombles, Elisabeth Beresford, for the charity to be able to dress supporters running in the London Marathon in the Wimbledon-based characters' costumes: over the past ten years, the JM Wombles have raised over £600,000 and become a regular attraction in the annual event. The Jesuit Missions office became renowned during Tony Montfort's directorship for its warm welcome and hospitality ≠ especially for overseas visitors. Whether finding a room at short notice for a Jesuit in-transit through London or in cooking a meal for a returning missionary, Tony's generosity and gentleness were known and appreciated worldwide. Priests, brothers, bishops and even archbishops from South America and Asia, all parts of Africa, and even from the USA and Canada, all knew there would be a welcoming reception: nothing was ever too much trouble for Tony Montfort. In particular, Jesuits returning to Britain for health reasons always knew they would be well cared for and the relationship that Tony established with local hospitals, clinics and surgeries ensured they received the very best attention. During his four-and-a-half decades with Jesuit Missions, Tony witnessed many dramas played out against the backdrop of world events. During the apartheid years in South Africa, Jesuits worked tirelessly for justice and reconciliation among the peoples, constantly supported by Jesuit Missions in Britain. During the political upheavals of the Forbes Burnham years in Guyana, Tony's support from London continued to sustain the Jesuits. And throughout the painful transition of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe and the subsequent crises in the country, JM has played (and continues to play) a crucial role by working with and alongside the Jesuits in the country. Tony's abilities to respond effectively were especially important in times of trouble and pain; for instance, when three Jesuits were among several religious massacred at Musami (Rhodesia) in 1977, or when Fr Bernard Darke was murdered in Guyana in 1979 as he photographed an anti-government rally on behalf of the Jesuit-run Catholic Standard newspaper. On these occasions ≠ and many others, his sensitive and tireless liaison work enabled relatives and friends to be quickly and accurately informed of the events, and he generously made himself available to those who were in need of support and a listening ear. In his letter to Tony, on the occasion of his retirement, Father Kolvenbach wrote: "Through your work you have helped us recognise the debt of gratitude and affection that the Society has to its friends and benefactors, and you have made it your special task to establish strong bonds between the British Province and the many of its supporters who pray and quietly care for the apostolates of the Jesuits. In this you remind us of the Spirit which moves powerfully through the hearts of all people of good will." On his retirement, the British Jesuit Provincial, Fr Michael Holman SJ, set up the Tony Montfort Fund, which raised almost £30,000 in donations to support projects overseas. Preaching at the Mass to celebrate Tony's 44 years with Jesuit Missions, Fr Holman said: "Throughout this world and far beyond, the name 'Jesuit Missions' is uttered with esteem, with gratitude and appreciation. The reason is there to be seen in bricks and mortar but far more in so many lives made better by their work We can be confident that in changing times and possibly in changing ways, it will remain that way because of the energy, the imagination and the generosity of those many friends, benefactors and supporters, led by one man with both vision and generosity for a few years short of half a century. In so many ways, living the vocation of John [the Baptist], 'a lamp alight and shining, giving testimony to the truth'. That man is Tony Montfort " Father Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ, former British Provincial and now working in the Guyana Region of the British Province, said on news of Tony's death: "It was a great joy for me personally to be able to repay a little of Tony's hospitality when he and his brother Michael came to stay with me last November. He was already a sick man but bearing his illness with little thought of himself and still capable of making others happy. This would be a fitting epitaph: Throughout a life of dedicated service, he continually made others happy." Father Tim Curtis SJ, who took over from Tony as Director of Jesuit Missions in 2006, added: "Tony had a passionate love for all things 'Jesuit'. He felt proud when someone made it to the headlines ≠ an award for journalism for Fr Andy Morrison (when editor of the Catholic Standard); a concert to raise money given by talented Jesuit musician, Fr John Sheehan; or knowing that a Jesuit was in Tiananmen Square when the tanks rolled in. Each accolade made Tony feel so satisfied that one of 'his boys' had done well. The other side of the coin was the pain he felt when a Jesuit had to retire, became sick, or experienced any sort of rebuff. Tony took it all very personally. He got to know the families of so many Jesuits and managed to take an interest in their lives He will be sadly missed by many." Tony Montfort died yesterday, 26 June 2007, at St Raphael's Hospice in Cheam, Surrey. His funeral details will be announced in due course. Read the full tributes from Fathers Campbell-Johnson and Curtis ≠ plus many more ≠ on the Jesuit Missions web site: www.jesuitmissions.org.uk/tributetotony/index.htm
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