It is with regret that we inform you of the death on the 11th of April, 2020 at Maastricht Hospital, Maastricht, The Netherlands, at the age of 74 of
Father René Graat
Mill Hill Missionary
May he rest in peace
Fr. René Graat was born on the 25th of July, 1945 in the town of Heerlen in the Diocese of Roermond in the Netherlands. As was the tradition in those war days, René was Baptised the day after his birth on the 26th of July. His parents were M A L Graat, a fireman, and L C Meertens. Rene had three siblings, two brothers and a sister. In his primary years in 1952 René was Confirmed at the young age of seven.
René attended the local Elementary School in his native Heerlen for six years. He then progressed to Saint Bernardinus College, also in Heerlen from 1957 to 1959. Feeling called to the missionary priesthood, René opted to study at the Mill Hill College at Tilburg, 1959 to 1965, where he achieved his Diploma Gymnasium A at graduation. René proceeded to study Philosophy at the Missiehuis in Roosendaal and then Theology at Saint Joseph’s College, Mill Hill, London. On the 22nd of November, 1970 René took the Perpetual Oath of Membership at St. Joseph’s College chapel. The following year, on the 3rd of July 1971, René was ordained a Mill Hill Missionary priest by Mgr. Beel, Bishop of Roermond.
Immediately after ordination, René was appointed to work in what was then Zaīre. There he engaged in parish pastoral ministry and school management in places such as Mampoko, Kodoro, Abunakombo, Yalisele, Simba and Djolu in the Diocese of Basankusu. After having to undergo surgery on his back, in 1994 until 2001 René worked as Diocesan Chancellor. In 2002 René became Director of the Diocesan Spiritual Centre at Bonkita. In 1994 he was elected to represent our Mill Hill community at the Chapter. During his “Missionary” service, Rene was able to enjoy and benefit from several renewal courses in Brussels, Belgium and in Berkeley, United States of America. Experiences he enjoyed and was able to incorporate what he received into his years of dedicated pastoral ministry. In 2007, after 35 years of loving service to the peoples of the Diocese of Basankusu, René was appointed to his native Netherlands, where he continued to live out our founder’s motto in a life of love and service. In particular, René was four times appointed a Consultor to the Regional Representative in the Netherlands. A post he still held at the time of his death. Upon his return to the Netherlands, René found pastoral and sacramental fulfilment caring for three parishes in Banholt, Reijmerstok and in Noorbeek in Limburg Province, where he was much loved and appreciated. Throughout his life, René encouraged lay participation in all aspects of parish and Church life, often being ahead of modern lay movements. René had a particular gift of service towards those inclined to “Traditional” ways and those who were “Progressive” in their religious practices; a rare gift indeed of a good pastor.
In his years serving in Zaīre René experienced the horrors of civil war, suffering and crippling poverty. He was forcefully withdrawn from Zaīre in 1997 and returned to the newly named Democratic Republic of Congo after several months of forced “Exile” from his long-suffering people.
In a report on René the late Fr. Jan Swagemakers, one of his Formators, noted, “René has proved himself to be a man of strong determination and lively idealism. He is quite independent in the execution of those things he feels his ideals demand.” By anyone’s definition, René lived his vocation with exemplary dedication, generosity and kindness. For the last few weeks of his life, René fought bravely against the covid-19 virus, but succumbed today, Holy Saturday, around 11.45.am. May this noble missionary rest in peace.