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Société des Missions Africaines –Province de Strasbourg

Sittler Alphonse né le 30 décembre 1893 à Ohnheim
dans le diocèse de Strasbourg, France
membre de la SMA le 39 octobre 1920
prêtre le 29 juin 1923
décédé le 17 février 1973

1923-1930 missionnaire au Nigeria
1923-1929, Nigeria orientale
1929-1930, Nigeria septentrionale
1931-1934 Haguenau
1934-1973 missionnaire en Géorgie, USA

décédé à New Milford, USA, le 17 février 1973,
à l'âge de 79 ans

Father Alphonse SITTLER (1893 - 1973)

Alphonse Sittler was born at Ohnheim, Fegershein, Alsace, in the diocese of Strasbourg, France, on December 30, 1893.
He died in the Woodcrest Center, Nursing and Convalescent Home, New Milford, NJ, on February 17, 1973.

Born to Marcel and Bottemer Sittler, Alphonse attended Grade School in Ohnheim, Alsace, France, commencing in 1907. He received his High School education with the SMA at its college in Keer, near Maastrict, Holland, graduating in 1914. Alphonse’s studies for priesthood were interrupted by the Great War during which he fought as an infantryman on the Russian front, being wounded twice and winning an Iron Cross for valor. He returned to the SMA in 1921, commencing his novitiate in Lyon, France, where he also studied philosophy and theology. Alphonse took his perpetual oath of membership on October 30, 1920. He was ordained in the seminary chapel at Cours Gambetta, Lyon, by Cardinal Maurin on June 29, 1923.

After ordination Alphonse was appointed to Northern Nigeria – to the Prefecture of the Upper Niger – sailing from Marseille on September 9, 1923. On his arrival he was posted to Shendam, the oldest Catholic mission station in the north, founded in 1907. A year later he was transferred to Kano to assist Oswald Waller, the pioneer missionary in that region, Alphonse became substantive Superior of Kano mission in 1925 completing the construction of a church and mission house during his tenure. In 1929 Alphonse was again assigned to Shendam. There he was assisted by a newly arrived Irish priest, John Sheehy who, like Alphonse, was later to join the American Province. Alphonse returned to Europe on his first home leave in 1930. Three years earlier, in 1927, the Alsatian members of the Society were formed into a separate Province. Alphonse’s superiors, looking for staff for their formation houses, appointed Alphonse professor at St. Arbogast’s seminary, the Province’s junior seminary or high school at Haguenau, Alsace.

In 1933, Alphonse was sent by the Alsatian Provincial to reinforce the Society’s mission to African-Americans in the USA, which at that time was mainly staffed by Alsatians and Irish SMA’s. Alsatian members of the Society had been active in America since the start of the century, staffing African-American mainly in the State of Georgia. Missionaries of the Irish Province had opened African-American mission parishes in the diocese of Belleville, Southern Illinois, in the early 1920's. Alphonse sailed from Cannes to New York on the Polish-American liner Sobieski, accompanied by Adolph Gall, leaving port on September 19, 1947. On arrival he was assigned as assistant pastor in the SMA Parish of St. Peter Claver, at Macon, serving here until 1935. He was then sent to assist in Immaculate Conception parish, Augusta, Georgia, returning two years later, in 1937, to become substantive pastor of St. Peter Claver’s. During the next few years Alphonse’s health began to give cause for concern and he was no longer able to discharge the onerous duties of this large African-American parish. In August 1941 his superiors re-assigned him to St. Anthony’s Mission House, Tenafly. Five months earlier the American branch of the Society had been erected as a full Province and Alphonse who had become an American citizen was a founding member. In Tenafly he occupied a number of administrative posts, mainly that of House Bursar, serving also a term as Councilor to the Provincial (from 1958). During this time, too, he did duty in neighboring parishes, in particular saying Mass in all weathers in Our Lady of Victories Church, Harrington Park, Tenafly.

Alphonse lived a long life, dying at the age of 81 years. In 1959 he had given his nearest living relative as Joseph Schaeffer, of Ohnheim, Fegershein, Alsace. Poignantly when he died no surviving members of his family were listed as attending his funeral, but he was surrounded by his own SMA family. A series of letters written to the Provincial mainly in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, when he was bursar in Tenafly, is preserved in the Provincial Archives and give something of the flavor of the man. In a letter of May 26th 1951 he wrote: ‘It’s raining the whole day and I had trouble to pass through route 4 this morning to get to my parish. We had never so much rain during May. Some say that the atomic bomb has something to do with it. Fr. W. is expected tomorrow. Send him to Stalin as chaplain when he is through with his studies. We have all kinds of illustrious men in our Province. If someone would publish the biography of all it would become a best seller’. Alphonse was indeed possessed of a cryptic sense of humor. He was also endowed with a deep interest in pastoral ministry, highly disciplined in his lifestyle, and a good administrator, neither afraid of responsibility nor taking hard decisions.

An interesting document is preserved in the archives of the Province, dated September 8, 1930 and composed by his parishioners on included the following tribute: ‘According to the records of this Mission, you had acted in the capacity of a curate when the Mission was in her embryo state, at which time you, with the then Rector, had faced a lot of inconveniences in putting straight the affairs of the Church. Another instance which stands wholesomely to your credit is the arduous task you had performed when our present place of worship was in the course of erection and until its completion you have shown exemplary zeal and effort coupled with the untiring application of the straining of nerves and energies, which consequently landed that memorable edifice to her present state. We cannot imagine any words more suitable to employ in expressing our appreciation of the glorious works you have done in the past for the parish and her members, also the volume of patience you have exercised in surmounting many difficulties which had come your way…’

In his latter years Alphonse required full-time nursing care and from November 1969 was hospitalized, mainly in the Seton Institute, Baltimore, Maryland and Woodcrest Center, New Milford, NJ.
He is buried in the SMA community plot at Mount Carmel Cemetery, Tenafly, NJ, USA.