Father Michael Schultheis, SJ, a staunch proponent of education who spent 40 years in Africa teaching and helping to open schools in several nations there, entered into God’s peace April 11 in Monrovia, Liberia. He was 84.
Father Peter Henriot, SJ, Fr. Schultheis’ long-time colleague, offered the following reflection on Fr. Schultheis’ life:
Mike Schultheis and I shared a common but unique vocation as Jesuits from the Pacific Northwest: most all of our priestly work was outside of the Oregon Province that we had originally joined, and Africa was the location of most of that Jesuit ministry. Mike and I worked together for five years at the Center of Concern in Washington, D.C., in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then shared occasional times together in Africa after that.
Before briefly sketching Mike’s wonderful educational work in Africa, I want to share a gift that anyone who spent time with Mike will remember: he loved to cook pancakes. Maybe it was something he learned growing up on a farm in Colton, WA – every Saturday morning when possible, delicious pancakes with maple syrup were delightfully served by Mike – a sign of the hospitable spirit that impressed his many friends.
Mike’s record of 40 years in Africa is unmatched for dedication to a “faith that does justice” in serving people in many different ways. After securing his PhD in agricultural economics at Cornell University in 1970 he taught in Makerere University, Uganda, then for several years at University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
His few years in Washington, D.C., saw publication of the best-seller he co-authored, Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret, and research on the structural causes of the growing global refugee crisis. The latter seminal work (published in 1983) brought him to Rome to be part of the early group gathered by Jesuit Superior General Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, to promote the Jesuit Refugee Service. Mike then went back to Africa, with JRS in Nairobi, and in early 1990s, to Malawi where he directed JRS ministry in the camp for one million Mozambicans who had fled the war in their homeland.
It was in Malawi that Mike’s creative work in education began to flourish. I remember driving the border between Malawi and Mozambique and hearing Mike excitedly explain how under his guide JRS had begun schools in the Malawi camp that could simply move with the people when they returned to their Mozambican homeland when the war would end. This education dedication brought him then to Beira to help in the founding of the Catholic University of Mozambique, where he taught economics.
From there to Ghana, Mike moved to help establish the first Catholic University College in that country, where he served as its founding president from 2003 to 2007.
The Catholic Bishops in Sudan persuaded Mike to bring his multi-talents and his good connections with universities in the U.S. to South Sudan. With his leadership as vice chancellor, the faculty of arts and social sciences was launched in 2008 in Juba, capital of the southern region. In 2009 a second faculty of agricultural and environmental sciences opened in Wau. One of the U.S. institutions that helped Mike in South Sudan was Gonzaga University, whose community gathered books and computers to send incoming students.
Keeping the university in South Sudan operating in the midst of a terrible war was a huge challenge. With passage of the leadership of the new school to local hands, Mike returned for short stays at the Gonzaga Jesuit community. Then it was back to Nigeria in 2014 to act as a consultant for some of the early planning of the North-West Africa Province to establish Loyola Jesuit University.
Next stop (and last stop in Africa) for Mike was Monrovia, Liberia, again serving in a newly developing educational institution, the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation at the University of Liberia. And it was in his room in Holy Family Catholic Church in Monrovia that Mike died in his sleep, one month short of his 85th birthday.
Plans called for Mike’s burial on African soil on the 15th of May at St. Peter Claver House, the Jesuit retreat center, in Cape Coast, Ghana.
Mike was strongly convinced that education was central to the future development of Africa. He knew the brightness and dedication of African youth who had an opportunity for good schooling, especially at higher levels. Africa is the site of the fastest growing Catholic community in the world. Mike contributed greatly to the positive direction of that growth.
Memorial contributions in honor of Fr. Schultheis may be sent to the Senior Jesuit Fund, Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, P.O. Box 86010, Portland, OR, 97286 (or through the province’s secure website at www.jesuitswest.org/OREdonations)