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Chris Poppelwell (1982)

I attended the Development Studies course at Kimmage Manor in 1981 – 82. I had been a few years on mission teaching in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific, and needed some theoretical basis for mission. Prior to that, I had been teaching in Secondary schools in New Zealand, and didn’t have any specialised training for cross-cultural mission.

The various topics in the course were worthwhile, perhaps particularly the economic basis of development, together with exposure to recent understanding of the role of the missionary in human and spiritual development, both in home and in “mission” countries.

Of greater significance to me was the personal interaction with staff and colleagues, where we shared personal experiences and ideas while partaking of the delights of the Irish culture around us. For me, coming from a Catholicism largely Irish in origin yet in another part of the world, it explained much of my own upbringing in a world that was negative towards the Catholic Church.

After the course, I returned to Tonga, and within a year managed to divide the school staff into two camps, supporting my ideas before the course and after the course, so found it expedient to move on to another school where I could make better use of the changed views I now held. This worked well, so it was possible to put into practice much of what I had learned.

More importantly in the long run, was the awareness that had started to develop at Kimmage of the disjunction between the way I had been trained to think and act as a religious brother, and my own emotional life, which I had largely supressed. The work we did on personality via the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram stirred up the recognition that I had learned to act in ways not in accord with my own personality. During the course it showed up in an occasional emotional release, something impossible previously for me. This did not greatly affect the way I worked, until the isolation of ten years on an outer island of the Tonga group caused me to run out of the energy that I had always had in abundance, and have to face the fact that I was limited in ways I could not cope with, so had to seek for strength beyond myself. This led to a serious search for the place of God in my life.

The changes in me that started in Kimmage came to fruition during a year in Australia, and major changes occurred in my own relationship with God and motivation for mission, allowing me to operate out of my own true personality rather than the artificial construct I had adopted. I could return to Tonga as Director of Catholic Education with renewed energy and confidence.

The next major work was to go to East Timor to help set up the first Teachers’ College in that recently-independent nation. The Indonesian occupation had left bitter divisions among the many cultures of the nation, and these quickly became violent as expectations were not fulfilled and old scores were settled. As a go-betweeen with the armies and local people it was possible to help in calming the situation at various times, and it was possible to keep the students from all parts of the country learning together even when government collapsed. Local people were very supportive of the Church and her efforts to help their development, so they were helping and protecting the College and its staff and students all the time. Even though all foreign government-supported volunteers were evacuated three times over those years, most religious remained, and were able to keep the College operating throughout.

Following this, stints in leading a vocational school in Samoa and a High School in Kiribati took up the next ten years, after which the chance of a Sabbatical in Rome gave me the opportunity to revisit Kimmage recently, and marvel at the development of the course and surroundings that have taken place in the thirty years since I was there. There is plenty to be done, and Kimmage has its role to play in the continuing unfolding of understanding of the development process, and its application to many varied situations throughout the world. May this long continue!
Br Chris Poppelwell

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