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FR. ANTOON DELPORT, S.J. (1923-2018)

Posted on: 17 Jan, 2024 | Modified on: 28 Apr, 2024

By Fr. Erik Breye, S.J.

Though Fr. Antoon Delporte returned to Belgiun nine years ago, I guess many still remember the Architect, residing in the Apostolic School building and belonging to Manresa House. After all, he made the plans of so many churches, schools and convents so that many people came into contact with him.Fr. Antoon Delporte entered the world in 1923 in Harelbeke, close to Kortrijk in West Vlaanderen, the region of Fr. Lievens. Hij was the eldest of 10 children. They moved to Kortrijk where his father had started his work as a painter and repairer of homes and houses. His father was a friendly and understanding man and his mother was a strict disciplinarian, needed of course to keep the 10 children growing up and helping them to grow up properly. As eldest he had to see that everything went well when both parents were absent. That is how our Fr Delporte had a critical eye on all that happened. One of his brothers became an Oblate Missionary in Japan. He kept good contact with him.

Though younger than our Toon, he was ordained before him and on his way to Japan he visited his elder brother who was then a theologian in Kurseong. He also humbled his elder brother by becoming a Japanese citizen, something Antoon failed to get: Indian citizenship. Toon loved his family and frequently asked our people here visiting Europe to go and see one or other of his sisters. He began his secondary education in the High School of Kortrijk, but thereafter his parents sent him to the Jesuit high school in Turnhout where he resided in the Apostolic School, probably because of the 10 children life was not easy. Our Fr Delporte regretted this till his old age, because he believed -wrongly according to me- that on that account he was not appreciated in the Society on his real person and somehow looked down upon. This I think was one of the reasons why he could be very critical on others and that he had rather a negative view on the world of the Society and the Church. He joined the Society of Jesus after overcoming his doubt to become an Oblate Missionary, on completing his secondary education in 1943 in Drongen. After his novitiate he went to Wepion to the so called Indian juniorate. After his coming to India he did philosophy in Shembaganur and for regency he was sent to Kunkuri. From there he went to Kurseong for theology and was ordained there in 1955. After his tertianship Antoon worked in a couple of our schools. But the best memory he kept was starting St. Xavier's School in Doranda. After this he was appointed PP in Lohardaga.

During his stay there he took the idea to move the parish from the town to Keimo Patratoli. He convinced the archbishop and the archdiocese and bought there some land. The idea of shifting was I believe his desire to join to the parish an agricultural school. This did not happen. However he built up de parish and drew the plans for the church. His first architectural work. He loved it and was able to convince the provincial to let him study for architect and then moved to Manresa House [or better the room in the Apostolic School], where he resided for the rest of his life in Ranchi.

I guess that our Ranchi men remember him almost exclusively as the province architect. He drew the plans for many churches, close by and far away. He was a very conscientious man and went to inspect the works as they were busy. So he has driven miles and miles all around here. Not only churches but also convents and Christian schools were prepared by him. One of the buildings he was proud about was our Regional Theologate in Arsande and esp. one of his last works: the beautiful chapel there, a fine model of inculturation in our local culture. The critical man did not have too many friends in the society and outside it, and mostly friendship did not last too long. This was due to his character. Yet he was a very conscientious and deep believing person. He was also very helpful to people in need. Prayer was part and parcel of his life. He had a deep devotion to St. Bernadette, the simple girl to whom Our Lady appeared in Lourdes. When he went to Belgium, he always tried to find time to visit Lourdes to encounter Our lady and Bernadette.

Towards the end here his health went from bad to worse and so he finally decided to go back to Belgium in 2009where he got good care till the end of his life.