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Name: WITTE, Michael (Father)

Birth Date: 31 Jan 1895 Burg, Texel

Death Date: 24 Mar 1961 Halfweg, Netherlands

Nationality: Dutch

Profession: RC Educationist, Holy Ghost Society

Area: Kabaa

Book Reference: Baur

General Information:

Baur - The pioneer of higher Catholic education was the Dutch Father Witte. He began his Central Training School in Kabaa in 1924 while the discussion on the improvement of the 'native' education system was still going on in the country. The school was to train teachers and at the same time also to cater for seminarians.
When in 1926, the Protestant Alliance High School was opened, the Catholic Bishops of Kenya planned a counterpart in Limuru; but the government refused to subsidize it. Hence Fr Witte went ahead with a High School alongside the training school in Kabaa. It was for students all over Kenya and educated such prominent persons as Tom Mboya and Cardinal Otunga.
Honorary OBE 1936 - Gazette 7 Jan 1936
Henry J. Koren, Spiritan East African Memorial, 1994 :He was born on a little off-shore island where life was hard and the people poor but industrious. As a boy he got up at 4:00 A.M. to go to farms and collect eggs which he would sell once a week on the mainland to buy bread, to be sold on the island door to door. After he entered the junior seminary of Weert in 1910, he continued to spend his vacations eaming money to pay for his board. Being happy with hard work himself, the idea of rest or relaxation remained unknown to him. Moreover, his health was so good that he would never experience any illness in his life until a few months before his death, so that feeling unwell or weak was also an
unknown aspect of life for him. Thus one could have predicted that life would not be going to be easy for those living with him as his collaborators. He was also endowed with a keen intellect. lt allowed him to skip the final two grades in primary school. And in his first year at Weert he gained the coveted prize for general excellence plus twelve first prizes. Moreover, he had a great sense of humor and could see the comical aspect in adversities where others would bewail their misfortunes. 
On September 23, 1917, he made his vows in Gemert and then went to Louvain for his senior studies at the Collegium Maximum of the Jesuits. He was ordained there on October 28, 1921. The Provincial's pleas to be allowed to retain him in the province failed to convince the Superior General, and in August 1922 he sailed together with Fr. Loogman for Mombasa to help relieve the shortage of personnel in the Vicariate of Zanzibar. Bp. Neville assigned him to the St. Peter Claver mission in Nairobi. He took charge there of the school for catechists, while also regularly visiting the 42 bush schools attached to that mission. The bishop was so impressed with his work that in 1925 he decided to open a central school for catechists and put Fr. Witte in charge of it. He also decided that this new venture would be established at Kabaa, ("Bare Head,") a station that had been closed as offering no reasonable prospects in 1919. Thus the two names Witte and Kabaa became entwined as a kind of miracle. He spent nine years there as its director, until in 1934 his lifelong friend Fr. Loogman took it over. Two years after Witte's anival in Kabaa Bp. Neville could write that the Kabaa TeachersTraining School was very successful, thanks to Witte. The spirit of the school was excellent from every point of view and some 30 young teachers would sit for their first examination that year. He had a team of Brothers there who put up new buildings for the high school, the technical school and the primary school that he added to the teachers training school. Thus Kabaa became the vicariate's center for the education of African students. Not just the vicariate but also the govemment and private enterprises were eager to take its graduates. lt enjoyed the reputation of being the best school or complex of schools in Kenya. He even opened eady in the 1930s the first Kenya seminary of the vicariate, and dreamt of a future Catholic university there, a dream that was taken up again by the Apostolic Delegate Abp. David Mathew after World War Two and found an initial realization in 1950 in the Senior Secondary College, staffed by the Spiritans, in Pugu, Tanzania. The roster of its distinguished alumni includes many high govemment officials, members of the parliament, directors of business enterprises, priests, a few bishops and one cardinal. His numerous former students, whether cardinal or simple teacher of a bush school, never tired of venerating him and continued to speak about him with great admiration in terms one normally reserves for saints. They realized that he did nothing for his own glory--even though the government decorated him with the Order of the British Empire* but for their benefit, making it possible for them to reach their full potential. He was an educationalist who introduced a system of teaching and formation that took their cultural world and their needs in the modem age into consideration and did not slavishly stick to European models. ln the religious realm also he managed to pass on to them his outlook in such a way that many of them became zealous Christians. His skin was white, one could say, but his heart was African. An impressive speaker, well versed in half a dozen languages, he could impart his own enthusiasm to his audience, be they Europeans or Africans. Sixty years after hearing him speaking about Kabaa, I still recall many details of his talk. To get the necessary funds for Kabaa with its hundreds of non-paying boarders, he would spend long hours at night writing letters to what he called his "Dear Aunties" and other benefactors in Europe and America. He had, of course, his detractors, but that is par for the course. lt happened to Christ himself, but if one is to judge him by the success of his works and the profound veneration of his former students, he would be declared a saint by acclamation. ln 1934 Witte was transferred to Giriama, but eight months later he was asked to take over a school in Waa, where a government school was in dire straits. He promptly changed its name to St. George School. (lt was later moved to Giriama). After a leave in Holland, we find him in 1937 in Bagamoyo as its local director, and then late 1939 dt Morogoro, the educational center of that vicariate. There was not much he could accomplish there. This well-established center had its own way of doing things and it had a high reputation. lts staff did not take kindly to his ideas and ways; he came across as a dictatorial figure who wanted to be the law all by himself, listening to no one, be they government or church authorities. ln mid-1941 he went back to Kenya, where he was still welcome. He worked there, opening new schools at Kilungu, Kevote and Taveta. ln 1956 we find him in the Kilimanjaro region in the Diocese of Moshi. He went to reside at Usa River, hitherto an unmanned substation, established there a technical training school, which he called St. Michael, after his patron saint. By 1960 it had one hundred boys learning various trades. This school did not long survive the departure of its founder. The American Province, to which the staffing of the diocese was entrusted, had very few Brothers and could not continue it. Usa River, however, got a new destination: it became in 1971 the birthplace of the East Africa Province of the Congregation. 
As to Fr. Witte, he began ailing in late 1960 and retumed to Holland. He lingered on for several months, filled with great pain, but he never complained--a sign that he was not a self-centered man. While his many papers dating from his Kenya period have been carefully preserved, almost as relics, those in Tanzania were burnt useless trash. Kabaa, like virtually all mission schools in Africa, became a govemment school after independence, but some Spiritans continued to be on its staff for many years. There is a Father Witte Memorial Library on its campus, with a museum room honoring him, largely financed by contributions by his former students.

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