The Diocese of Roermond reports the passing of Bishop Joseph Willigers, the Mill Hill missionary who was born within the diocese and rose to become the first bishop of Jinja in Uganda. He was 81 years old and had been living in the Mill Hill house in Oosterbeek, near Arnhem, since his return from Uganda earlier this year.
Joseph Bernard Louis Willigers entered St. Joseph’s Missionary Society of Mill Hill when he was 19. In 1955, aged 25, he was ordained in London by Cardinal Bernard Griffin and sent to Rome to study Canon Law. Upon his graduation in 1958 he left for Africa to work in the mission. He worked in education and basic pastoral care in Uganda and Kenya and in 1965 as vicar general of the Kenyan Diocese of Kisumu, under the Dutch bishop Jan de Reeper. In 1967 Msgr. Willigers was appointed as the first bishop of the Diocese of Jinja, east of the Ugandan capital of Kampala. His consecration was performed by Uganda’s first cardinal, Emmanuel Nsubuga. For an impressive 42 years, Bishop Willigers led the faithful of his diocese, until he retired in March of 2010. As bishop, Msgr. Willigers was inspired by the spirituality of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and was characterised as intelligent, hospitable and warm.
In 2009, he participated in the Synod of Bishops’ Assembly on Africa. His contacts with his native diocese of Roermond continued through the years, as Roermond financially supported projects in Jinja, and as Bishop Willigers had family back home.
Returning to the Netherlands in ill health, Bishop Willigers took up residence in the Vrijland mission house in Oosterbeek, where he passed away in the early morning yesterday, in the presence of his sister. His funeral will also take place from there, on 5 October.
Photo credit: Missionaries of Mill Hill