Thursday, December 06, 2007

Father Stevens' Final Journey

This morning I was blessed to attend the memorial service of precious Father Stevens and to hear the stories of other people whose lives had connected with his. It was a beautiful occasion in honor of one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. For now I will only share the obituary from the newspaper, which was written by one of the men I met today. My own reflections will wait for another time.

FATHER ANTHONY-GERALD "Lee" STEVENS, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross who founded the Mbalotahun Leprosy Relief Program (MLRP) and the first Anglican indigenous religious order for men in Liberia, has died.

Born in Durham, Maine and graduated from Bates College, Father Stevens' early career was in acting. The Rev. Anthony-Gerald “Lee” Stevens, 95, served as a naval chaplain in the Pacific, then entered the Order of the Holy Cross, making his life profession in 1951. From 1952-65, he served primarily at the order’s monastery and school in St. Andrews, Tennessee.

But it was while serving the order’s Liberian mission, and particularly at the leprosy clinic and colony at Mbalotahun, that he “lost his heart forever,” as he was often quoted. He was a supreme example of Christian love and caring in the Holy Spirit to this remote clinic originally founded by his Order of the Holy Cross in the 1920’s. To facilitate his work at the clinic, he trained and was licensed as a paramedic in leprosy. He also studied the Bandi language and developed a leprosy rehabilitation and control program.

The remainder of his years in the order alternated between the time spent in his beloved Liberia and years spent as the resident monk, first at the priory in South Carolina and later at Iona House in the Diocese of West Tennessee. During the recent civil war in Liberia, he lived at Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, N.Y.

Last year, when the political situation calmed, he returned at the age of 94 to establish at the request of the bishop of Liberia an indigenous religious order for men, the Community of Love in Jesus (CLJ). This was a very fitting name for this order as this dearly loved man left many such communities throughout his life wherever he went, especially here in the Diocese of West Tennessee.

Father died on September 22, 2007 at 4:45 p.m. local time in Bolahun, Liberia (11:45 a.m. CST) in his little cell at the St. Francis monastery where he was surrounded by his primary caregiver and first ordained priest of the CLJ, two novices and two aspirants plus an American doctor summoned from a nearby village. A single candle was burning as the monsoon rains poured down outside the monastery and Father Stevens peacefully passed into God’s hands as he breathed his last breath. His body was buried at his request in the cemetery of the leper colony at Mbalotahun.

A memorial service celebrating Father Stevens’s life will be held on Thursday, December 6 at 11 a.m. at St. Columba Episcopal Conference and Retreat Center (901-377-9284), http://, 4577 Billy Maher Road, Memphis, TN 38135. A celebration luncheon will be held afterwards and reservations are requested.

Father Stevens’ vision was the support of all children of the leprosy patients in this area through a full tuition program for education aimed at freeing “the poorest of God’s poor” from the circumstances of poverty and disease, the care of leprosy patients in Mbalotahun, and the continued development of the Community of Love in Jesus as a Missionary Order whose purpose is to reclaim Liberia for Jesus.

Father's constancy of praying for numerous people and his affable, gentle, and loving personality and his shining example of being a follower of Jesus Christ are the qualities he impressed on all those who knew him. One of his most heartfelt spiritual directions given to those seeking it was that, “the Will of God will never lead you where His Grace will not sustain you.”

All memorials are requested to be made to The Father Stevens Liberian Leprosy Trust Fund through the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee.

No comments: