Server to everyone

My Dad spoke often of his older brother, my uncle, Fr. Kees de Cock. Dad would repeat one of three “facts”: a building was named after Uncle Kees; he was recognized by the Queen (of Netherlands); and they named a street after him in Kampala. As a young adult, I took these statements for granted, not considering any significance or importance. I was aware Uncle Kees was a missionary, stationed in Uganda, who had visited Canada on one occasion, with another sibling, Tante Toos. I only vaguely remember his death relayed to me from my parents.

In later years, the question turned within me about documentation. My career has been in the academic world so writing, storing and classifying work were critical components to understanding ourselves through the lessons of the past. I am a sociologist by training who was surrounded by colleagues emphasizing the unwavering value of history and our search for the earlier worlds. Olga, my wife, is a historical buff and her brother, Bohdan, has published books about their father’s experience as a Ukrainian partisan. The entirety of their influence prompted my increasing interest into my own family history, and in this case, delving into the life of Uncle Kees during his time in Africa. Given his record, as declared by my father, I wondered why none of these accomplishments had been recorded somewhere; and if they were, why have they not been brought to light. And so began, slowly, inconsistently, my search to understand the life of Fr. Kees de Cock.

Through a Ugandan born work colleague, I was able to translate an article in a local paper which my Dad had saved. From there, Jennipher proceeded with her own digging and made contact with the Mill Hill Missionaries archivist in England with whom I began a correspondence inquiring about the existence of any material related to my uncle. Shortly, I received an announcement, in Dutch, passionately composed by the Bishop of the time, Fr. J. Willigers. My Dad had never seen it; none of my relatives in the Netherlands were aware of its existence. The words induced a profound reaction from the immediate family; my Dad cried.

Eventually I arranged to have it translated. This discovery has been the real catalyst for my ongoing research. Our daughter, Olena, transcribed the obituary into a notebook as a gift for my 55th birthday and included her own notation: “Here’s to discovery! Let’s document this adventure together.” It seems only fitting, therefore, to launch this blog page, with the Bishop’s asseveration, in full.

In Memorian

Fr. K. de Cock (58) born in Tilburg

Passed away January 2, 1981

“Server to everyone”

He was pastor of Kamuli for 24 years and we miss him very much.

The people of Uganda have strong feelings for tradition and history, and often speak of earlier years. The names of our old missionaries, at times unknown, come up now and again in our conversations. We get the impression that it has to do with legendary events. At the same time, we think: “That type has died down, and today we no longer find that day/event anymore”.

We know that it still exists because we have seen Kees de Cock grow into a legend in Kamuli with our own eyes, and in the wide district. In that neighbourhood, everyone had at least heard of “Dikoko”. Even people who personally did not know him, felt like they honestly knew him, being so familiar with his name. When they talked about him after his death, they named him “Mwogezaddembe” which is “Peacemaker”, and they said in all languages, “He paid attention to everyone and made no distinction between people.”

A legendary figure? No one with such recognition would laugh harder than Kees himself. He was true, and truly an ordinary man, enemy of all bad things, and would try not to attract attention. But in there lies the reason for the “legendary” formation. He very seldom thought of himself, and hence reached his highest point that we all fully knew as: “The Servant for All”. You do not fool ordinary people in such things. They know exactly what a true priest is, and those from Kamuli recognized in Kees what a true priest really is according to the model of our Lord.

We here in the diocese of Jinja are thankful he was with us so long as a colleague and friend, and above all, we are so sorry we no longer have him with us and still must go on. We hope to be together again with him in love.

J. Willigers

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