In memoriamVan de Velde O.M.I. (1909-2002) : Polar missionary and pioneer[Record]

  • Cornelius H.W Remie

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  • Cornelius H.W Remie
    Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands.

On February 22 of this year, the Roman Catholic missionary Father Franz Van de Velde departed this life in Merelbeke, Belgium, at the age of 92. His passing is not only a big loss for the Roman Catholic diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, but also for his relatives, for the people of Pelly Bay, Nunavut, and for the community of academics who study Inuit culture and society. Ataata Vinivi, as he was known in the Kitikmeot and northern Hudson Bay regions, was born in Landskouter, Belgium, in 1909. Following his secondary school education at the Jesuit College of Aalst, he entered the Oblate noviciate in 1929 at Waregem, studied philosophy and theology in Jambes and Velaines and was ordained priest on June 29, 1935. In March 1937 he got his appointment for the Oblate mission of the Hudson Bay vicariate and in May of that year, he left for Canada accompanying Mgr. Arsène Turquetil who had visited Europe. Arriving in Churchill in early August 1937, Ataata Vinivi participated in the festivities surrounding the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Oblate mission among the Inuit. On August 15, he was appointed socius of Father Henry, who had established the Pelly Bay mission in June 1935. As there were no facilities in Pelly Bay yet, Bishop Turquetil ordered him to spend the winter in Repulse Bay with Father Clabaut to study the language and to get accustomed to life in the Arctic. Before leaving for Repulse Bay, Father Van de Velde took part in the first synod of the Hudson Bay vicariate, held at Chesterfield Inlet at the end of August 1937. Eager to reach his destination, he had to wait till early April 1938 before he could set out for Pelly Bay. It took him and his Inuk guide Pauli Kutsiutikko nineteen days to reach Pelly Bay, much longer than a normal trip would take. Concerned about the welfare of his socius-to-be, Father Henry had instructed Pauli to take utmost care, and that was what Pauli did. They finally arrived at the Pelly Bay mission on April 23, 1938. Ataata Vinivi’s energy and skills proved a great help to Father Henry. Being a good hunter and an excellent organizer, he quickly became responsible for the logistics of the Pelly Bay mission and in the next years he and Father Henry worked closely together to further develop the mission. Their missionary work had a dual focus: on the one hand they wanted to prevent Protestantism from spreading into the area, and on the other hand they did their best to dispose of Inuit paganism and turn the Nattilingmiut into good Catholics. Till 1949, when Father Henry left Pelly Bay to found a mission at Thom Bay, the area most threatened by the Anglicans, the emphasis was clearly on keeping out Protestantism (for a description and analysis, see the article by Remie and Oosten in this volume). With the Thom Bay mission as a forward base from where Anglican influences in the area could be kept out, Ataata Vinivi could now fully concentrate on strengthening the Catholic character of the Pelly Bay community. With the help of his parishioners he built a stone church in Pelly Bay, erected a giant cross of steel drums on a nearby hill, and planted little chapels of the Virgin Mary all over the hunting territory of the Arviligjuarmiut. He introduced formal education, and although instruction was mainly religious, other subjects were taught there too! In all he did he closely involved his parishioners. And although he never admitted to me in …