Today, 19 March, the feast of St Joseph, is the patronal feast of the Institute. On this lecture free day, the Cedara community celebrated with, Fr Joseph Phiri OMI presiding at Mass in the morning. Fr Joe called us to be compassionate like St Joseph.
The Institute also took the opportunity to honour Fr Paul Decock OMI. Fr Paul had turned 75 on 29 December. This age milestone was celebrated by naming the auditorium after Fr Paul: “The Fr Paul Decock OMI Auditorium”. He arrived in South Africa in 1969 — next year would mark 50 years that Fr Paul had committed to formation and academics at Cedara; and there are a few more years yet to come. In his speech, highlighted with many funny memories, Fr Paul told the story from when he got his obedience to South Africa to teach scripture to the present day. Fr Paul unveiled the plaque installed, which ensured the naming was in stone! A name plate was also fixed above the door. With immense gratitude we congratulate Fr Paul today and we acknowledge the major role he played in making St Joseph’s what it is today — he deserves every bit of the honour and much more!
Fr Sylvester David OMI, the former president of the Institute, said in his tribute that ‘[Fr] Paul Decock has had a major positive influence on the lives of many who have passed through Cedara. In fact whenever there is a coming together of priests and religious who were formed at Cedara, the name of Paul Decock is what anchors the conversation.’
He went on to remind us of Fr Paul’s contribution to the Cedara: ‘In the late 1980s when it became clear that the old Scholasticate system where candidates were formed and educated within the same programme became untenable Paul took the daring step to initiate the separation of education from the Oblate Scholasticate and St Joseph’s Theological Institute came into being. In those early days Paul had to contend with many dissenting voices but he held firmly to his vision and SJTI was born in the early 90s. He was its first president and steered the institution through the many teething problems that normally accompany such a venture. Contemporaneous with the founding of the Institute was the formation of the Pietermaritzburg Cluster of Theological Institutions. Here too Paul encountered resistance as some displayed symptoms of Cluster phobia. Once again Paul’s vision prevailed and together with other key role players the Cluster came into being. The fruit of that union is that the pathway was opened for SJTI staff to engage with post graduate programmes thereby ensuring that research continued.’
Fr Paul is a living ancestor of the Institute. We are proud to be associated with him.