A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr Wilhelm Weber sm

By  Fr  Joseph Lamarre sm  with acknowledgment to Lindsay Riddick

Fr Wilhelm Weber sm

Fr Wilhelm Weber sm

Tunuru 1939 - 45.  Part One

Fr Weber was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany March 23rd 1905.  He attended the mission school in the Marist  Elmsland, Meppen.  He was professed as a Marist  April 17 1929.  He was ordained  Priest at Passau in 1932.

Around 1965 Fr Joseph Lamarre sm wrote  the following:

Fr  William Weber, a young German Marist Priest, arrived in the mission of the North Solomons at the end of 1935.  He was appointed to the station at Tunuru, which had been founded by the late Father Emmet McHardy. When Father Weber arrived at Tunuru, he lived with Father Albert Lebel who was then making preparations for the starting of a new Mission Station at Asitavi, some 35 miles up the coast.  In January of 1937, Father Lebel left Tunuru to take up residence at Asitavi and Father Weber remained in charge of Tunuru until his death.

It is beyond the scope of this account to tell of all the work done at Tunuru by Father Weber. But a few lines about his work are not out of place.  Father McHardy had founded the Station at Tunuru, Father Lebel and others in their short time there had cleared the ground, but it was Father Weber who did the building. The present writer was a neighbour of Father Weber for two years and knows well the work done by him in this new Station.  With the help of Brother Xaverius, a large and very beautiful church was erected, schools and other buildings went up. But Father Weber’s work was mostly pastoral.  He established a large school at the station and in spite of many difficulties, kept it well filled with children from the mountain villages, and those children were well instructed in the faith. A  good part of Father’s time was spent travelling up and down the mountains, from village to village, baptizing the babies and ministering to the needs of the people.

Father Weber was a good religious and a zealous priest who did not spare himself but gave his all for the people.  He instructed and baptised hundreds of them. One year he had a record number of 365 baptisms. What then comprised the District of Tunuru, is now divided into three large Districts. He trained his helpers well with the help of some faithful Catechists. Tunuru became one of the flourishing Stations of the Mission.

At Easter time, in 1942, the Japanese invaded Bougainville and put small Garrisons at many places and large concentrations of troops at Buka, Buin, Kieta, and Numa Numa. Father Weber, like all the Missionaries, received fair treatment  in the beginning, that lasted until August 1942, when the Americans landed on the Island of Guadalcanal. Then the Father was under constant watch for for some time. As the Americans were getting closer to Bougainville, Father Weber was arrested by the Japanese Military Police. The police brought him to the Eva District some 15 miles north of Tunuru. There he was allowed to go around the villages and minister to the people, accompanied by guards.

On the 1st November 1943, the Americans landed at Torokina, on the west coast of Bougainville. That changed the whole situation for the Missionaries.  Those that had remained free were put into concentration camps.  In 1944, and in the beginning of 1945, many escaped through the mountains and made their way to the American lines.  The Native Soldiers came and carried others to Torokina. It seemed that these actions carried the death sentence for those who were still in Japanese hands. Fr Francis Miltrap was warned by a Japanese friend and escaped the night before he was to be beheaded.

For Father Weber it was different.  Mr Robert Stewart, a planter on Bougainville, who was then in in the Civil Australian Administration at Torokina tells this story.  Natives were sent over the mountains to Father Weber, telling him to escape.  Father refused and replied that he wanted the native soldiers to come and carry him away.  He did not want to escape of his own accord for fear of reprisals on the people he lived with. The native soldiers never came or came too late.

Father Weber continued to minister to the people, and in June 1946 were found records of Baptisms performed by him as late as 28 April 1945.

In early May 1945, Father came down from the mountains and arrived at the village of Tarara, on the beach, about three miles south of Mabiri.  He obtained some men to carry his Mass Kit  and his bags and headed north. He wanted to say Mass for the people at the village of Teporoi, near the Numa Numa plantation. Joachim Mateagu and William Matepa accompanied Father on the road while other people who carried his belongings walked along the beach.  After walking the miles of road through the Mabiri plantation, he was stopped by the Japanese soldiers close to the boundary line between Mabiri and Kuriwana Plantation.

The Japanese told him that he had to report to the Headquarters, a little further into the jungle.  The natives were told to continue on through to Kuriwana and wait for Father at Arigua. By that time the people who went by the beach caught up with the party and all the people went with Father’s bags.  They saw Father being taken to the Headquarters, a little distance into the jungle, between the Barurubiri and Kasipava rivers, two small rivers that join just before reaching the sea, on the Mabiri plantation, close to the Kuriwana boundary. Joachim, William and the other people carried Father’s bags to Arigua and there waited till night-fall. Then they were told by the Japanese to leave Father’s belongings there and return to their village because the “Kristo” (as they called Father) was being taken to Buin (the Southern tip of Bougainville) that night by motor boat. The people did not believe the story but there was nothing else for them to do but follow instructions and return home. They never saw Father alive again.    

Tagged as: ,

Comments are closed.