Thursday, July 2, 2009

Otto Who?

This was written by Fr. Roman Theisen in 1989 . Fr. Roman died in 2002, at Maryknoll Center. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's many years before and continued to work as pastor, Regional Superior and as chaplain at the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul. His desire was to die in Korea but it was not to be. His condition deteriorated and had to return to the Center to get the necessary medical help. He died shortly after but not experiencing the "Roman who?" of this blog.

Some where in the Maryknoll world a priest or brother had died. The Rector went to the altar and read a brief telegram: "Word has just arrived at Maryknoll that father Otto Rauschenback was killed yesterday by Chinese bandits. details will be made known as they are received." There was a sudden silence, and then whispers were heard: "Otto who?" Even the Rector seemed embarrassed at not knowing who this priest was, whose tragic death had just been announced. It impressed me then, and still does, that here was a Maryknoll Missioner who'd been ordained at Maryknoll for the foreign missions, sent to China, stayed there, and was largely forgotten. He became to me an instant hero.

Details later informed us that Otto "Rauschenbach had gone to China twenty-one years before. He returned to the U.S. for a home visit after ten years in China. He went back and ten years later was planning another visit home when Japanese armies invaded China. Fearing he might not be allowed to return if he left, he moved into a mountainous area behind the Japanese lines and continued to minister to his Chinese people. In the unsettled area between the warring armies he fell into the hands of bandits, who killed him and left his body lying in a ditch.

Maryknoll has a Departure Ceremony for young priests, brothers, and lay missioners. Friends and relatives surround them, wishing them god-speed and success in their first mission. It is, indeed, a heart warming occasion... however I have been impressed, by the quiet men who arrive alone after years on their mission. They arrive by taxi, often having had no one meet them at the airport.Their eyes light up if they recognize a classmate or someone they know. Otherwise, they follow the official guest master to their assigned room. They stay awhile for medical care at the end of which they call a taxi, murmur farewell to a classmate or someone they know, and then they are gone. quietly returning to people they love.

The greatest honor I can imagine is for the Lord to allow me also to remain quietly with my own people in Korea, until the day a telegram is sent from Maryknoll announcing: "Father Roman Theisen has died in Korea," and in distant places young Maryknollers look at each other in puzzlement: "Roman who?"

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