Father Reinhard (Franz Xaver) Bottner OSB
Missionary Benedictine of Sankt Ottilien

18 May 1940 – 29 September 2020

Father Reinhard Bottner, an active missionary in Africa for five decades, died in the Mater Misericordia Hospital, Nairobi, Kenya on 29 September at the age of 80. Because of a serious kidney complication, he was supposed to fly home to Germany when he died unexpectedly.

The Kenya missionary was born in Stötten am Auerberg in the beautiful pre-Alpine Allgäu landscape. His parents Franz Xaver Bottner and Viktoria, née Steiner, operated a farm. Franz Xaver, who was given the name of his father, was the fourth of five children. The parental home was strongly influenced by the faith and commitment to the parish and Catholic associations. After primary school in Stötten, he transferred in September 1952 at his own request to the Mission Seminary of St. Ottilien and graduated there in 1961. The final evaluation characterized him as “a good companion, friendly and modest.” His application for admission to the novitiate of the archabbey speaks in very definite tones of his “firm decision” to “help other people to eternal salvation in the missions.”

The graduate entered the novitiate on 15 September 1961 and received the name of the medieval abbot Reinhard of Heinhausen. After temporary profession on 17 September 1962, Frater Reinhard began in the usual way with philosophy studies at the college at St. Ottilien. After finishing that in 1964 there followed theology studies in Munich until 1968. The last months of his studies he was already on loan as a boarding prefect in the monastery school of Ettal so that he completed his studies via a correspondence course. He had already been ordained a priest on 13 August 1967. Afterwards, Father Reinhard, among others, served in the monastery school at Fiecht where he felt at home.

On 21 June 1970 Father Reinhard was sent to the mission of Zululand, South Africa where he sought with great dedication to make contact with the Zulus. Within the South African apartheid system this became his undoing. In October 1971 he was stopped while driving and beaten up probably because a Zulu was illegally in the car with him. His complaint was ignored and in the following weeks, harassment and threats from the secret police became more frequent and they advised him to leave the country as soon as possible. After a grave and for him hopeless confrontation with the police, he spontaneously left South Africa on 2 January 1972 and fled to Australia to a priest friend. From there he went on an adventurous trip to St. Paul’s Abbey in Newton, USA, until in May 1972 Archabbot Suso Brechter assigned him to the Kerio Valley mission in the Kenyan Diocese of Eldoret. In the extensive correspondence on these events, Father Reinhard was advised by his superiors to show some “humility and subordination,” but they did appreciate his great diligence and missionary zeal.

The forced departure from Zululand was hard for Father Reinhard, but it laid the groundwork for an extremely successful mission endeavor in the remote Kerio Valley, part of the Great Rift Valley, and where Peramiho Abbey in Tanzania had been developing a new mission field since 1972. Together with some highly motivated missionaries, Father Reinhard built up from his center in Embobut and from Kamwosor from 1998 a good number of parishes such as Kabechei and Chesoi and about 21 outstations such as Ketigoi and Chesongoch. And each time he created for this the necessary infrastructure, built churches, parish centers, schools, kindergartens, health centers, water systems and roads, gave baptismal instructions, trained catechists, set up parish councils and generally put value on forms of self-administration. After completing the construction work, Father Reinhard handed over the institutions each time to the local diocese of Eldoret. As a beloved pastor and gifted preacher, he developed innovative forms of conveying the faith in which he undertook countless trips on foot in the mountainous area with hardly any roads and celebrated many Masses under trees. In his fifty years of service as a full-blooded missionary, Father Reinhard accomplished much building. In constructing nearly ten churches, an architectural and artistically beautiful décor for the churches was important to him each time; he even painted some himself.

One of his concerns was the initiation of peaceful relations between the enemy tribes of the Pokot and Marakwet. His gift for creating networks and supporting personal initiatives was helpful for him in his versatile activities, especially in gaining a wide circle of helpers. The contact with his homeland and his own family was very important to him. The relationship with his ecclesial superiors was occasionally somewhat tense as Father Reinhard was markedly independent in his thinking and did not like being told what to do.

Father Reinhard saw his own health as of secondary importance. Serious heart and hip problems forced him to return to St. Ottilien at the beginning of 2017. However, he did not wait for the hip operation and traveled back early to his beloved Kerio Valley. There he continued working as a retiree and supervised the construction of primary schools. Severe kidney failure appeared to be somewhat under control when suddenly his body stopped functioning. May this versatile and hardworking confrere and missionary now have found his eternal peace!

The requiem in the abbey church of Sankt Ottilien is on Saturday, 3 October, at 11:15 a.m.

The funeral Mass and burial are on Thursday, 8 October, at 10:00 a.m. in the abbey church of Tigoni.

Archabbot Wolfgang Öxler and the community of Sankt Ottilien Archabbey