This e-mail was sent by Father Michael Barton April 9, 2008:
Concerning the death of Father Raymond Pax, MCCJ. On March 31, 2008 in Saint Teresa Parish Rectory in Nyamlell, Aweil West County, Northern Bar el Gazal State in the South Sudan.
My name is Father Michael Barton, MCCJ and I am the parish priest of St. Teresa’s Parish and we have worked together for two years here.
I knew Ray since he was ordained a priest in 1965 and I was present and saw from a far his family and the black Cadillac and was impressed. As a seminarian I worked with Father Pax at St. Henry’s in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I want to begin on Easter 2008 when I came back after three months of safari pastoral visits to the chapels. Father Pax had been the whole of the Holy Week in the parish center and I was out.
On Easter Monday I began a teachers’ workshop and Ray went out with two boys to collect firewood for the course, and in the afternoon he prepared the Easter dinner with our cook Anthony and the Sisters came over for dinner together. Everyone got sick that night but me. The Sisters had to call the Slovak doctor to assist them.
By Tuesday Father Pax was also down with malaria but started to recover right away. On Wednesday we had a visit from Father Ireneo from Daeen in Darfur and he stayed the night.
On Thursday Father Pax took the car for a pastoral visit to Lueth Lual and Ariath Center to last four days and he went with Joseph as a helper in all . Father baptized about 70 people and had three marriages and some confirmations too. He had a general meeting with those catechists of the area and in four days visited five chapels.
He came back on March 30th and was quite happy and spoke of consolations during this past trip. As he was in his room after a light supper I went to tell him about his old friend’s and novice master’s death on the 12th of March in Milan and he thanked me for letting him know.
On Monday we had Mass together and breakfast and then had a planning meeting with the sisters to plan for the school year which was to begin on the next day.
Father Pax was strong in his opinions and criticisms of the past work and we came to many decisions for the new year’s work. We had agreed to meet later without the Sisters to see about our own Comboni matters.
I went to pay the part-time catechists and gave them some corn. The day before I had concluded and paid the teachers. Father Pax brought the chairs out.
At the end a catechist who had stopped his work demanded money of last year which had been stolen from my room because he had not come in December as he was told. He would not listen to any explanation of any type. I tried to give him some corn but he refused. Father Pax was not part of any of this but was in the office making out baptismal certificates for other catechists.
The African Apostles of Jesus arrived at the OLSH Sisters compound and I went to talk to them and could no longer deal with the angry catechist. I was told by Father Wilfred that the state authorities would not pay our teachers of our three Comboni schools because I was not cooperating WITH THEM.
Well I told Ray that I had to go to the state capital Aweil to see this matter and would go with the Apostles and come back with public means. He understood and said to go.
When I went back to our compound the catechist had taken the chairs and Father Pax had followed him on foot.
I left to Aweil and there the authority had changed his tune completely and all was very successful and clarifying. Father Wilfred took me to the bus park to get transport back to Nyamlell. I did not find any but Father Wilfred and Father Bernard came back and gave me their phone with a call from Father Colombo, MCCJ for me to go back to Nyamlell as the Sisters were frantic. The Apostles took me that Father Ray had collapsed and died. None of us could believe it. They agreed to take me back and I would give them diesel. We had a flat tire on the way. On arrival I found many people around the mission and the Sisters had dressed Ray in clerical shirt etc. and removed everything from his room to his office and his body was laying on his bed and Sr. Jeanne from Indonesia and Sr Jeviana from East Timor crying and praying.
They told me the bishop was coming and would take the body. I kept silence and waited. They had done a wonderful work and had been called latter as other people like those catechists were with him when he actually collapsed. They took over when the cook had called them.
Soon Bishop Caesar Mazzolari, MCCJ called me and said that he had talked to the family and to the Comboni provincial and that Ray was to be buried in Nyamlell. I gave the phone to Sisters so that could hear it from him. We agreed with the youth to dig the grave in the rectory compound as there is no cemetery in Nyamlell and Ray is the first priest or religious to die here even though this mission was started in 1933. I pulled the car over and turned on the lights so the youth could see to work. At 10:30 I celebrated the first Mass for Father in his room. We were three priest and three Sisters as the Gordhim Sacred Heart Sister who a former Superior General and many lay people. The sisters kept vigil the whole night. I had to get some sleep. We had already dressed him in priestly clothes.
The medical staff did what they could for him. We asked the Dutch NGO here if they make a coffin.
They woke me during the night to say the grave was ready and I moved and shut off the car.
On waking I went for my vigil; and prayer and then went to prepare the church and the readers and servers. At around 11 the coffin arrived from CORAID.
We put in the body and went in procession to the parish church. I was the main celebrant and gave the homily with Father Bernard adding more. About his life I said that Father Raymond Lawrence Pax was born In Celina Ohio on June 23rd, 1938 and was baptized at Immaculate Conception and had his primary education at Immaculate Conception School run by the Precious Blood Sisters and Fathers. He was number three of nine and three became priests. He had many uncles and aunts who had become priests and Sisters. Oscar was his father who was big into tools etc.
He went to Sacred Heart Seminary in Cincinnati run by the Verona Fathers for High School from1952 to 1956. He did his noviciate in Monroe, Michigan under Father Chiodi.He studied philosophy and finished college in 1961. He studied theology in San Diego, California. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Karl Alter as the Combonis celebrated 25 years in the USA in May 1965 in Cincinnati at Sacred Heart Seminary.
He became an assistant pastor at Saint Henry and in California and back as pastor at
Saint Henry in Cincinnati’s old west end.
Around 1970 he came to Africa to Uganda where he worked in several MISSIONS in Gulu diocese among the Acholi.
Aronnd 1975 he was transferred to Kenya and worked mainly in Kasikeu and before that in Gigil. He also worked in the USA in California in pastoral work and then he came to Sudan. He worked in Juba and then in Tambora diocese and a few months after being expelled from Juba in Khartoum and finally in Rumbek diocese where he worked various years in Marial Lou, then in Mapuordit and at last here in Nyamlell.
There were five speeches after the Mass and the Commissioner declared Father Pax to be a Dinka and three days latter had a bull killed in his honor and people gathered for that too. After Mass we went in precession carrying the coffin to the grave where we had the final prayers. The coffin was too big so more digging and adjusting took place. Everyone stayed until the burial was complete and the Sisters had made paper flowers which we spread all over the grave.
Father Pax’s work has just begun to help the Dinka people and this mission and all its people and work.