In 1960, Fr. Bob Mize Jr., the priest who founded Saint Francis, began a new season of his ministry. He left his beloved Kansas and went to Africa. For a time he served on staff at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, where he was later consecrated Bishop of Damaraland (present day Namibia) in November 1960.
In August, I was asked to preach at this historic church — from the same pulpit once occupied by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and by the founder of Saint Francis.
It was at St. George’s that Fr. Bob’s passion for justice grew from loving service to children in Kansas to being an early, passionate opponent of South Africa’s system of apartheid. In March 1968, Fr. Bob preached his final sermon at St. George’s. The day I preached there, I was told by someone who had been in attendance that it was standing room only on the day of Fr. Bob’s last mass. The Cathedral was so full, children sat on window ledges. Following mass, police escorted him to the airport because the South African authorities were forcing him to leave the country.
The Gospel passage assigned for the day I preached was Matthew 14:22-23, the story of the disciples being caught alone in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus walks to them on the water and when Peter sees him he leaps from the boat, joining Christ on the water. It’s only when Peter realizes he is doing the impossible that he starts to sink.
At Saint Francis we believe in doing what others believe impossible; we believe in leaps of faith. Some say that our commitment to transforming lives and systems is impossible. If that’s true, I see the impossible happen every day. I see it in the way our staff give hope and offer healing; I see it in lives that are being transformed and in the systems that are improving because of our dedication to excellence.
I believe we are called to join Peter in getting out of the boat to do the impossible. To fully comprehend God’s love, we must be willing to share God’s abundant possibility — including doing what others believe to be impossible.
Fr. Bob found it impossible to tolerate the culture of apartheid he witnessed, so much so that in 1968 the government forced him out of South West Africa because he refused to stop serving all, to stop loving all.
The spirit of Fr. Bob’s ministry lies at the heart of why Saint Francis strives to achieve its mission of hope and healing for children and families. While in Kansas he worked tirelessly for justice in the lives of children; later that spirit guided his life and actions in Africa.
The same spirit continues to guide our work today.
This story first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Hi-Lites. You can view past HiLites here.