Société des Missions Africaines – Province des Etats-Unis

KOCH Alphonse né le 28 novembre 1900 à Kirchberg-Langenfeld
dans le diocèse de Strasbourg, France
membre de la SMA le 31 août 1921
prêtre le 29 juin 1925
décédé le 1er octobre 1954

1925-1927 Andlau puis Bischwiller, professeur
1927-1938 missionnaire en Côte d’Or
1938-1939 Saint-Pierre, dessert Mittelbergheim
puis Haguenau
1946-1954 Géorgie, USA

décédé à Savannah, Etats-Unis, le 1er octobre 1954
à l’âge de 54 ans

Père Alphonse KOCH (1900 - 1954)

A Savannah (U.S.A.), dans l'Etat de Géorgie, le 1er octobre 1954, retour à Dieu du père Alphonse Koch, à l'âge de 54 ans.

Alphonse Koch naquit à Kirchberg-Langenfeld près de Masevaux, dans le diocèse de Strasbourg, en 1900. Il fit ses études à Keer, Chanly où il fit le serment en 1921 et Lyon où il fut ordonné prêtre en 1925. Après deux ans de professorat à Bitschwiller, le père Koch partait pour le vicariat de la Côte-de-l'Or.

Le père Koch travailla en particulier à Saltpond et à Half Assini. En cette dernière station, il eut beaucoup de difficultés, ayant à peine de quoi vivre et un ministère difficile et peu consolant. Malgré son courage et sa générosité, le père Koch eut une crise de "cafard" et, étant rentré en France en 1938, il demanda à partir et il demanda un poste de vicaire en France. En 1946, le père Koch partait pour les missions des Etats-Unis et ne tardait pas à être incorporé dans la province d'Amérique.

Il mourut à l'hôpital de Savannah, des suites d'une opération.

Father Alphonse KOCH (1900 - 1954)

Alphonse Koch was born in Kirchberg-Langenfeld near Masevaux, in the diocese of Strasbourg, on November 28, 1900.
He died in Savannah, Georgia, USA, on October 1, 1954.

Alphonse received his second education in the SMA College at Keer, Holland, which he entered at the age of thirteen. He made his novitiate and studied philosophy at Chanly (near Wellin, Belgium) between 1919-22 and studied philosophy and theology in the Society’s major seminary at Cours Gambetta, Lyon (1922-26). Alphonse was received as a member of the Society on July 31, 1921. He was ordained a priest in the Seminary chapel in Lyon on June 29, 1925, by Bishop Ernest Hauger SMA, Vicar Apostolic of the Gold Coast. Ordained with him on that day was Aloysius Ramstein who later came to America.

After ordination Alphonse spent two years teaching at Saint Joseph’s apostolic school in Bischwiller, Alsace He was then assigned to the Society’s mission in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) where he was to spend the next fifteen years. The prefecture of the Gold Coast had been entrusted to the Society in l879 after pioneering work by Eugene Murat and Auguste Moreau. It was considered (incorrectly) to be a healthier location than the Society's other West African missions where there had been a high rate of attrition. I 1926 it was to become the responsibility of the Dutch Province of the Society (founded three years previously). Alphonse ministered especially in Saltpond and at Half Assini. In this latter station he experienced great difficulties – almost lacking the wherewithal to survive – and saw the Gospel make little progress. Despite his courage and generosity he had a ‘crise de “cafard” and, returning to France in 1938, asked for and received permission to take up duty in a parish.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Alphonse was conscripted into the French army. These were dark and dismal days for Europe and especially for France. The remnants of its armies retreated and disbanded. Alphonse fought with the ‘French Underground’ during this period, speaking little about it subsequently. However, as Peter Harrington, Provincial at the time of Alphonse’s death, recounted in his funeral homily ‘one could see the effects of untold privations, of mental and moral anguish as well as of physical hardships’.

In 1946 Alphonse returned to the Society and was assigned to the American Province. The Society’ works in America went back to 1907 when Ignace Lissner, an Alsatian, established the first of several mission parishes among African-Americans in Georgia. Irish SMA’s had done likewise in the diocese of Belleville, Illinois, and in 1941 progress was sufficient to warrant the erection of an America Province of the Society. However there was considerable difficulty in providing staff for the new Province are many commitments: its mission parishes, its seminaries, its houses of promotion; and after the war a number of Irish and Alsatians were sent to reinforce the membership. Alphonse’s knowledge of English, acquired during his time in the British colony of the Gold Coast, made him an obvious choice for such an assignment.

In America he took a course at Fordham University and was subsequently associated with the Province’s work in Augusta, Macon, Atlanta and Savannah. His first posting was to Immaculate Conception church in Augusta, from where, in July 1946, he wrote to Alsace giving an account of his progress. ‘I am getting well accustomed to the life here.. over 2 months now…I must say that I do not like the heat we are having since I arrived. Often I have 90 degrees or more in my room at 10 o’clock in the night. We had never as much as that during the three and a half years I spent at Saltpond. Perhaps it was due to the sea breeze and the large verandah surrounding the mission house…’ Other, more ominous problems were posed by the Klu Klux Klan and Alphonse, who had a nervous temperament, aggravated by his experiences during the Second World War, found life increasingly difficult. On January 8, 1947 he was re-assigned as assistant to Fr. Laube at Macon. He still continued to struggle and a difficulty in relating to Fr. Laube – there were faults on both dies – compounded his sufferings. In April 1948 he was near breaking point, but kindness on the part of Fr. Laube who insisted he take a proper holiday and on the part of his Provincial Superior, who welcomed him to Tenafly, provided him with the necessary respite. Alphonse returned to Georgia, in the autumn of 1948, taking up a new post as assistant in the SMA parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Atlanta. Two years before his death he was appointed to the position of pastor-superior of St. Anthony’s Mission parish, Savannah. A confrere summed up his contribution both in Africa and America succinctly in the following phrase written at the time of Alphonse’s death: ‘He was always intensely interested in every phase of religious and civic progress amongst Blacks with whom he had lived and labored practically all his life since ordination.’

His death was not exactly sudden, but it was certainly unexpected. School had opened early in September. A young priest, Maurice McCarthy, professor at the Savannah High School, resided with him at St. Anthony’s Rectory and Alphonse decided that this gave him the chance to make his Annual Retreat. He left Sunday afternoon, September 19, for the Trappist Monastery at Connyers, near Atlanta, and returned to his Rectory on Monday, September 27. He remarked to the Sisters and some of the Fathers that it was the best retreat he had ever made. He thought it also a good time to comply with a suggestion of his Doctor that he go to the hospital for a short time for treatment of a chronic complaint. It called for a minor operation. After this operation he seemed well on his way to complete recovery. However in less than 24 hours a serious complication developed and he died later. On Monday Morning, October 4, the Feast of St. Francis, in the presence of 50 priests and an over-flow congregation, Bishop Hyland sang the Pontifical Mass of Requiem.

He is buried in the SMA plot in the Catholic Cemetery of Savannah, Georgia, USA.