CHISHAWASHA, as one remembers it, was something of a symbol: the old mission church designed with half-an-eye on 'selfprotection, a wizened African enclosing his couple of cattle for the night with branches a makeshift substitute for gates and up on the rise overlooking all this, the bright modern St Ignatius College where Fr Desmond Ford offered the new generations of Africans their full opportunities for learning and life.
Desmond Ford was born at Muswell Hill, London, in 1915, went to school at Stonyhurst and entered the Jesuit novitiate at 18. He studied at the old Heythrop College in Oxfordshire and was ordained in 1947.
His first assignment was to retreat work and it was in 1953 that he was posted to Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, and made rector of St George's College. If this was "overseas" it was not precisely missionary, for at that time St George's was a school for EngliSh boys well white boys anyway.
Today that statement would raise a cry of racialism. But the reality was that on the one hand the Jesuits had pastoral responsibility for the European settlers and that included providing adequate Catholic schooling; and on the 'other hand the Government placed persistent barriers in the way of anyone who sought to build up educational
Fr Desmond Ford Si above died last month aged 64. Here Fr William Burridge WF pays tribute to him and outlines his contribution to the work of the missions.
facilities to that level for Africans.
It was largely thanks to Father Ford's insistent efforts that an Enabling Act in 1962 came into existence to open up higher education to Africans.
He left St George's to found St Ignatius College, Chishawasha, to provide them with that opening which led to an annual 25 to 30 of its students going on to university.
Fees at first were minimal, at one time £50 a year, board and all included. Father Ford came back to England in 1965 to raise money for it, and in 1968 was appointed Secretary General of the Jesuit missionary department of the Province, with offices in Wimbledon.
This involved in particular making appeals up and down the country, as well as occasional visits to Rhodesia and Guyana, despite serious strain to his health (his death during the night of I I12 May came after a period of great fatigue). He also edited the Jesuit missionary magazine and succeeded in building up a steady circulation and broadening its scope.
Personal concern was perhaps the key-note: the welcome extended to missionaries on leave, the untold numbers of Africans staying in England who had recourse to him for guidance, proferred with his habitual quiet goodness. All this and his dedication, creative work linked with readiness to comply with "signals from the bridge'.' and, if one may echo without indiscretion those close to him, his religious observance, made Desmond Ford a truly great missionary.