Fr Antoine Fournier MSC – A former Missionary in PNG died at Marseille at the age of 87 (Reflection by Bishop John Paul Marx MSC – Bishop Emeritus of Kerema, PNG – now retired in Strasbourg – France)
Father Antoine Fournier is one of our great missionaries. It looks like God had prepared him for his mission from a very early age. Born in Bramois on 13 October, 1926 in the canton Valais, Switzerland in a poor but very pious family, he was the sixth child of 18 of whom one became a priest, three religious, Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and one a lay missionary; the others were all their supporters. From the tender age of 8 to12 Antoine was separated from his family for six months each year and sent in solitude to mountain pasture. There he lived a poor life, worked and slept on the straw.
Father Fournier worked as a missionary most of his time in Papua New Guinea in the diocese of Bereina. After an extended rest in France to regain his physical and spiritual strength, he came back in 1989 in the diocese of Kerema. Usually a missionary is alone, he belongs to a community, which supports him, but Antoine did not feel too much at ease in a community, he longed for the large spaces like in the time of his childhood and his mission was by preference the first evangelisation of the people, who never heard of Jesus Christ and the Good News, which explains his pioneering role in the mission. He had also a natural aptitude to communicate with anybody and it did not take long for him to address familiarity the person he talked to.
He was the first to go to the Kukukukus, which had the reputation of head hunters and that the Australian colonial Administration began only to control from 1961 on. At that time it was not without danger to venture to the Dameas in Kaintiba. He went with two lads, that he called catechists but who had no catechetical fomation at all. He thus opened the large district of Kotidanga, which comprises now 5 parishes, a third of the diocese of Kerema.
Then in 1990 he threw himself into the conquest of the West. The Catholic Church was not present in the district of Kikori because of lack of funds and personnel. Protestant sects and churches anyway occupied the whole territory. Antoine daringly settled into an abandoned old house, right in the centre of the town of Kikori. He dug a cavern that he used for his chapel, where anyhow he was alone to pray and so over a year he lived a semi hermitical life. But since he easily related well with people he managed to get a piece of land, where one of his friends a companion of the Duty and the Tour de France built him a beautiful presbytery, that his nephew, the little Antoine filled out. From these humble beginnings the Catholic Church is now present in the district of Kikori and is also fast expanding.
Over the years Antoine acquired a reputation of a builder. It began in Kamulai; the whole station, which was originally built in bush material, was old and rotten. The presbytery was about to collapse. The Bishop asked Antoine to fix it. He decided then to build a house in bricks. This had never been done in the Goilala Mountains. The bishop claimed: it is madness. There he is again with his eccentricities! But Antoine persisted even though it meant to bring the cement by air and drop it over the station .It was of course at great cost. At his next visit the Bishop was amazed to see that new presbytery and at once he ordered Antoine to go to Kerema in order to show Fr Michellaud this building method, because he was about to build his first church in Kerema. Finally it was Antoine who built it with the help of the police, who sent the inmates to make his bricks.
Antoine was a little man but with an extraordinary energy so that he was often branded a daring devil. Fallen from the horse, he immediately jumped on it and galloped away. He rolled his car over, searched his glasses, took hold on the steering wheel and drove all the way home without windscreen in the rain. He fell with the tractor in a creek as the bridge collapsed, but he was still alive. At 68 he still climbed on the roof of the elevated water tank at the consternation of all the onlookers. He had to drain the land where the presbytery stood, for that he dug the deep drains himself. Once he went even 6 meters deep in search of a spring, a very risky enterprise, but he found the spring. He did not hesitate to undertake the long trip from Kerema to Kikori in a dug out log. He ventured with that in the sea and the multiple creeks, where one could easily be lost. He spent more than once in his log waiting for the dawn, to see where he was.
Antoine was a rough man; he did not know how to spare himself, being always a little extravagant. But he had a soft heart. Without bothering too much about canon law and regulation, his faith and his piety were deep, his dedication to the bishop entirely and he had a special devotion to St Joseph, to whom he attributed all his successes. Finally in 1994 fatigue and sickness had the upper hand and he decided to return to France.
Fr. Antoine Fournier MSC died at Marseille on 23rd August 2013 at the age of 87. May God bless his soul and let perpetual light shine on him forever.