The remains of a Jesuit archbishop, who died in Rome during the Second Vatican Council, have been re-interred in Zimbabwe, almost half a century after his death.
Archbishop Aston Ignatius Chichester was born in 1879 of a staunchly Catholic Devonshire family and was educated by the Jesuits at Mount St Mary's College near Sheffield. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1897, and taught at Wimbledon and Beaumont Colleges, at both of which he served as Rector. In 1929, he was appointed Prefect Apostolic (and two years later, Vicar Apostolic and bishop) of Salisbury (now Harare); at that time, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was part of the British Province. 'Chick' (as he was affectionately known) was recognised for his strong commitment to the 'africanisation' of the Catholic Church: he founded the seminary at Chishawasha, and was responsible for setting up the first indigenous women's congregation in Zimbabwe, the Little Children of Our Blessed Lady. During his time as bishop, there were also numerous missions, schools and hospitals established in the country by Dominican Sisters and Marist Brothers, Jesuits and Presentation Sisters, among others. Shortly before his retirement in 1956, he was made the first Archbishop of Salisbury.
Following his retirement, he continued to work in Salisbury first at the cathedral and then as Chaplain to the School of St Martin de Porres in Martindale. In October 1962, Archbishop Chichester was taking part in the Second Vatican Council in Rome, when he collapsed on the steps of St Peter's Basilica. He was buried in the Society of Jesus' vault at Rome's main cemetery, the Campo Verana.
On 13 March 2009, a vigil was held for the late Archbishop Chichester at Chishawasha, followed the next day by Mass attended by over 1,000 people, at which the principal celebrant was the current Archbishop of Harare, the Most Reverend Robert Ndlovu. The homily was preached by Bishop Alexio Churu Muchabaiwa of Mutare, and the Jesuit Provincials of Britain (Fr Michael Holman SJ), Germany (Fr Stefan Dartmann SJ) and Zimbabwe (Fr Stephen Buckland SJ), also concelebrated. One of the Zimbabwean Jesuits present was Fr David Harold-Barry SJ, the Director of Silveira House and of the Mission, Leadership Training and Development Centre in Harare: "I was touched and moved by the actual arrival of the coffin at Chichester Convent in Chishawasha," he said. "There was such an outpouring of emotion and awe at what we were witnessing. Some of the old sisters who knew Chichester and who revered him as the founder of their congregation or religious family, spoke in deeply affectionate terms directly to him as the coffin lay in their small chapel."
In a tribute to Archbishop Chichester at the time of his death, his personal qualities were highlighted, especially "his sterling honesty of mind and word" and "his wonderful humility". The author continued: "Truth in charity was all that mattered to him; to his own reputation he never gave a thought. He was kindness itself in readiness to do others service, and utterly devoted to his Master and His Church and His Society. Last but not least, he had a keen sense of humour and dearly loved a joke, usually at his own expense."
The current Province of Zimbabwe is made up of some 120 Jesuits, involved in missions, colleges and other works. Harare is also home to an important work of the Society of Jesus, Arrupe College, which is one of the main colleges for Philosophy in Africa. At present there are around 85 Jesuit students at Arrupe studying Philosophy and the Humanities in preparation for their priestly ordination.
Communications Officer, British Jesuits
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