Photo courtesy of Abbey Ndanda

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

Father Philipp (Josef) Eisenlohr OSB

Fr. Philipp, one of the most known missionaries on Makonde Plateau in southern Tanzania died in Ndanda Mission Hospital on 11th of August 2023. He was blessed with a long and fruitful life as monk and missionary and died at the age of 92 years.

Fr. Philipp was born on 6th August 1931 in Niderwill, near Gossau, Switzerland and was baptized as Josef on the next day after his birth. He came from a farmers’ family. His father Albert owned a farm and was married to Rosa Hässig, Fr. Philipp’s mother, died while Fr. Philipp was still young in 1967. He came from a family of seven children – with three sisters and four brothers.

After his primary and secondary education in Niederwil and Einsiedeln respectively, the young Joseph at that time felt God’s call to join a monastic community and on 12th October 1952 he was received into the novitiate and given the name Philipp. One year later in 1953, Frater Philip took his temporal vows. On the 16th October 1956 he was able to dedicate his life to God through solemn vows. His priestly ordination came one year later on 6th April 1957 in Fribourg. His motto on the souvenir he prepared read: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This is the motto, which Fr. Philip tried to live as a missionary all the time while in the mission in Tanzania.

His mission assignment to Ndanda took place on 14th September 1958. Before that, however, Fr. Philipp had to travel to England to learn English in 1957. When he was ready, he started his first missionary journey to Tanzania from Venice by ship. This was September 1958, arriving in Ndanda three weeks later. Without wasting time, Fr. Philip received his first assignment as assistant parish priest of Nanyamba, Luagala and then in Kitangali. All these parishes are on Makonde Plateau. In 1963 he was experienced enough to take over a parish as parish priest. He was therefore the parish priest of Nanyamba for ten years until 1973. From Nanyamba he went to Newala parish and later in 1978 he took over Kitangali as parish priest where he worked for ten years until 1998. While in Kitangali, he constructed Chihangu parish with a church, priests’ and sisters’ houses. When the church was ready, he effectively moved from Kitangali to Chihangu where he worked until 2018. Old age and sickness were catching up with him and so he returned to the monastery in Ndanda. To leave Chihangu parish was one of the most difficult decisions he had to make in his life. He stayed in the monastery under the care of the brothers for about three years. Because of his weakening situation, he was moved to the infirmary of the Tutzing sisters in Ndanda where he was tenderly taken care until his death.

Fr. Philipp saw himself as the Apostle of the Makonde. No wonder he was also given a nickname: “The Caesar of the Makonde People”. As a missionary he constructed tens of churches – small and big ones. He had a soft heart and a listening ear to all who came to him for help. Through his word, deed and particularly his simple way of life he witnessed Christ as a simple and loving father. It will not be an exaggeration to say that, without Fr. Philipp’s 60 years long missionary work on Makonde Plateau, the Christian faith among the Makonde people would not be the way it is today. May God reward him with eternal life for all that he has done to his people.

Abbot Christian & Community of Ndanda Abbey