“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.“ (I Tim. 4:7)

Abbot em. Siegfried (Oswald) Hertlein OSB

Those who knew abbot emeritus Siegfried will certainly be able to associate his rich and successful life as a monk and missionary with the quotation above. Few months ago, when his abbot asked him to write a brief overview of his life, Abbot Siegfried started by giving a summary of his early life:

“My parents, Josef and Hedwig Hertlein were small farmers in Schwanfeld, a village with a very old history near Schweinfurt in northern Bavaria, 20 km distance from Münsterschwarzach abbey. They married in 1920 and had eight children, first three girls followed by five boys. I was the seventh, born on 12th March 1931, the fourth of the boys, followed in 1940 by my brother Robert. I was baptised in the village church on the name of Oswald.”

He further describes the difficult life during the second world war, where his father and his older brothers were called to fight. And then he continues by writing about his interest in monastic life when he joined Münsterschwarzach on September 1946. The young Oswald was given a monastic name Siegfried and immediately started studying Philosophy in St. Ottilien and later in Würzburg. He was ordained a priest in July 1958. His great dream was to be sent right away as a missionary to Africa, but his abbot wanted him to take further studies in Missiology in order to become Mission Procurator. Therefore in 1959 Siegfried went to Münster University to the famous Benedictine professor Thomas Ohm (St. Ottilien). He then changed to Würzburg where he got his doctorate in February 1962. Even before seeing Africa, his heart and mind were always about Africa. No wonder his doctoral thesis was on How Christianity and Mission are judged in modern African Literature. Siegfried’s African Dream was therefore realized later in 1962 when his abbot agreed to send him to Ndanda for three years.

During his first year in Africa Siegfried worked as assistant parish priest on Makonde plateau for one year. In 1963 he was recalled to Ndanda to work with Fr. Polykarp Uelein and Fr. Sebald Hofbeck both missionaries from Münsterschwarzach on the catechetical project for publishing catechetical books for children. This project was so successful to the extent that, the printed books were distributed as far as Zambia and Zimbabwe. In 1963 he took over the small outstation of Nangoo with about 600 Christians which he later developed into a full parish.

After these beautiful first African missionary experiences, Siegfried returned to Münsterschwarzach. He took up a new challenge to take further studies in order to become professor of Missiology. His research work was carried in East Africa and at the end he produced a publication titled “The Ways of the Christian Teaching.” He received his title as professor from the University of Würzburg in 1974. This was a great achievement for him. The Missiology department of Munich University offered him a seat as successor of Archabbot Suso Brechter (St. Ottilien) as from June 1976. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Why? He made a “mistake” of planning a brief return to Africa with an aim of making “further studies about pastoral history in Tanzania.”

On September 23rd 1975 Abbot Bishop Victor Hälg of Ndanda, while in Austria, was killed in a road accident. To replace him, the community elected him as their 3rd abbot on the 4th February 1976. Siegfried was the first abbot of Ndanda who was not a bishop. With this election Ndanda started a completely new way of hope, change and development – not only as mission station but also as a full-fledged monastic community.

Under his early leadership new mission stations were opened in the dioceses of Mbulu and Tanga in the northern Tanzania. He was able to convince European abbots to boost Ndanda community with ten new missionaries – six brothers and four priests. He continued strengthening the role played by different workshops through renovations and setting up new buildings. Ndanda Mission Press got new buildings as well as new machines. It was in his time, too, Ndanda Hydro-power project was started. This enabled the abbey, the hospital, the two convents of sisters and the staff houses to be connected to a reliable power source.

Abbot Siegfried looked at all that he had done, and saw that all was good, and very good. And then he said to the community: “Let us take in African vocations, so that they may be with us, learn from us and continue the missionary work we have started.” He writes: “On the 18th June 1989 a final vote in the community was taken in which 90% of the confrères agreed, to have a novitiate at the Ursberg and then take the young professed confrères fully into our community. Thus the way into the future was definitely clear. Fr. Thomas Estermann, Fr. Hildebert Walter and Fr. Dionys Lindenmaier were ready to carry on with great love and skill the further formation of the young confreres.” With this step, Africanization of Ndanda began, thanks to the visionary leadership of Abbot Siegfried.

After his resignation in 2001, Abbot Siegfried spent some time in the USA. He later led a quite but rich and productive life as a simple, humble and faithful monk, archivist and teacher for novices in Ndanda. Working together with Abbot Joel of Newton, Siegfried published magnificent four volumes of Ndanda History. Hand in hand with his family, friends and benefactors, he collected donations to support the mission hospital.

During a recent inauguration of the Outpatient Department of our hospital, Abbot Siegfried was given a chance to say a word. What he said was an expression of joy: “When I see all these (i.e. the current development of Ndanda), I am happy. I can now die in peace knowing that what we started was not done in vain.” It was his Nunc Dimittis.

It is this happiness – eternal happiness – we wish our father, abbot, teacher and master-example of monastic and missionary life. May he rest in Peace. Amen.

Abbot Christian Temu and Monks of Ndanda Abbey
Requem Mass and Burial Service will take place in Ndanda on Friday, 14th July 2023 at 10.00 Hours EAT.

Live Streaming is planned.