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Father Gerard Van Walleghem - Last surviving foreign missionary in Darjeeling no more

Father Gerard Van Walleghem
Father Gerard Van Walleghem, a Jesuit social worker from Canada and former rector of St. Joseph’s School who gave up his motherland, to serve the needy and under-privileged of the hills for over 60 years, died on Monday morning in Darjeeling.
Fr. Van was suffering from age related ailments and was the last surviving foreign missionary in the hills of Darjeelinhg. He died quietly in his room inside the school premises at the age of 87. “He (Van) was the last surviving foreign missionary serving in the hills. With his death an era has gone which is a great loss not only for the school but for the hills,” said Fr. Kinley Tshering, the Darjeeling Jesuit Provincial and the schools former principal.
The seventh child, Fr. Van was born in 1927 to Jules and Eliza Van Walleghem in Winnipeg, Canada. After graduating from St. Paul’s school in Winnipeg in 1944 he joined the Society of Jesuit and become a priest. Armed with a BA degree from the University of Montreal he
decided to dedicate his life to helping the disadvantaged and volunteered to service and arrived in Darjeeling in 1951.
During his time in Darjeeling between 1974 and 1981 and again from 2001 to 2006, Fr. Van worked as a teacher, counsellor, headmaster, vice-rector, and rector at St. Joseph’s College in North Point (both School and College) Darjeeling. In addition Fr. Van was also the Head
Master of St. Alphonsus High School in Kurseong from 1982 to 1984. “His contribution towards education and social work is incomparable. He was one of the pillars of our school and college and remained so till his end,” Tshering said.
To honour his contribution and to pay homage, the school has decided to bury Fr. Van inside the institute’s premises against normal practice of using the nearby cemetery. “It is a small token of appreciation,” said the Darjeeling Jesuit Provincial.
The Jesuit refused to stay back when he last visited Canada in 2012 even though his family wanted so because of his health issues, instead saying he preferred to die among his people in Darjeeling.
Fr. Van was in Darjeeling when the 1968 landslides wrecked havoc in the hills working to provide relief. He was also in the foothills of Darjeeling after the 1971 war between India and Pakistan broke out, leading the relief efforts in refugee camps. Similarly, Fr. Van had also witnessed the bloody Gorkhaland agitation of 1986 and played a major role in providing counselling, relief and rehabilitation to the affected. (EOIC)

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