Société des Missions Africaines –Province de Strasbourg

HECK Arthur né le 5 août 1887 à Oberhergheim
dans le diocèse de Strasbourg, France
membre de la SMA le 17 octobre 1909
prêtre le 9 juillet 191
décédé le 21 juillet 1967

1911-1923 missionnaire en Côte d’Or et au Togo anglais
1923-1931 missionnaire en Basse-Volta
1932-1953 Géorgie
1953-1967 Tenafly, NJ

décédé à Mulhouse, France, le 21 juillet 1967,
à l'âge de 80 ans

Father Arthur HECK (1887 - 1967)

Arthur Heck was born in Oberkergheim, Alsace-Lorraine, in the diocese of Strasbourg, on August 5, 1887.
He died in Mulhouse, Alsace-Lorraine, France, on July 21, 1967.

Arthur Heck was one of four children born to Joseph and Maria Cleophas (nee Moff) Heck in Oberkergheim, Alsace-Lorraine. His father worked in the Post Office. Arthur attended Grade School in Oberkergheim and then, at the age of 14, entered the Society’s second-level college in Keer, near Maastrict, Holland (1901-1906). Arthur made his novitiate in the Society’s house at Cours Gambetta, Lyon, where he was also to study philosophy and theology. Arthur became a permanent member of the Society on October 17, 1909. He was ordained a priest in the Society’s seminary chapel at Lyon, by the Superior General, Bishop Paul Pellet, on July 9, 1911.

After ordination Arthur was posted to the Gold Coast (Ghana), to the Catholic Mission at Cape Coast Castle. SMA missionaries first came to the Gold Coast - then a British colony - in 1880, working in the Keta District, east of the Volta River. The key to progress was the schools which they opened during those early years: in 1903 at Denu and Hedzrenawo, in 1906 at Adfianu, in 1907 at Adina, in 1908 at Aflao, and in 1912 at Dzodze. In 1911, when Arthur came out, the Gold Coast was a single jurisdiction under Bishop Ignatius Hummel, SMA. Arthur sailed for his mission from the port of Marseille in November 1911, spending thirty-five days on a ship which was powered by both steam and sail. His missionary outfit, he recorded, consisted of one blanket and one sun umbrella. Reaching the port of Keta he transferred from the ship to a surf boat which had to cross the sand bar in order to access the town. This was always a dangerous process because of waves and surf. Arthur’s boat capsized, but luckily they were in sufficiently shallow water to make land. After two years in Cape Coast mission Arthur was appointed assistant priest at Keta mission. Among his duties was teaching in the mission schools, for which he showed a considerable aptitude. School work was usually taxing for continental missionaries because it was conducted through English. However Arthur soon became fluent in this language. He also won a reputation as a good administrator and it came as no surprise when later in his career (1923-1931) he was appointed Supervisor of Schools for the whole of the Lower Volta Region. This involved dealing with the Colonial Government’s Education Department and, in particular, bringing schools to a sufficient standard so as to obtain Government subsidies. The appointment of Supervisor was made by the Bishop of Cape Coast but was salaried by the Government. When Arthur’s term of duty ended in 1932 the Director of Education in Accra, wrote him a letter of appreciation for the contribution he had made, which is preserved in the Archives of the American Province at Tenafly NJ.

In 1933 a new chapter opened in Arthur’s life when his superiors asked him to go to America to help in the works of the Alsatian Province. These consisted of African-American parishes in poor districts, mainly in Georgia. Many of them had been founded by Ignace Lissner, the Alsatian who had pioneered the Society’s work in America at the beginning of the 20th century. On his arrival in USA Arthur was appointed assistant pastor in St. Odilia’s parish on Hooper Avenue, Los Angeles, a parish which had been established seven years previously with Edmund Schlecht as founding pastor. Later he was to become pastor of this difficult multi-ethnic parish – in one of LA.’s poorest quarters (later scene of the Watts Riots of the 1960’s) – serving in this capacity for almost twenty years. At the time of his resignation from St. Odilia’s the Provincial wrote: ‘With Fr. Lissner and Fr. Schlecht, you were almost a co-founder of St. Odilia’s and helped to lay the foundations of the present flourishing parish – our best Mission, perhaps’.

Arthur spend the remaining year of his life (1953-1967) in St. Anthony’s Mission, Tenafly, headquarters of the American Province. During these years he remained active, assisting in the work of promotion and helping out in local parishes and chaplaincies. He was one of those who ‘supplied’ at Our Lady of Victories Church, in Harrington Park, the parish church of Tenafly. Indeed, as another Alsatian colleague, Fr. Laugel, remarked, ‘Arthur said two Masses every Sunday in Harrington Park’, adding moreover that ‘he was a man of integrity, devotion to duty, and dependability in whatever he was asked to do – remembered by his confreres as a man who was always precise and thorough in his life’.

Arthur died at the age in his eightieth year, during a visit home to Alsace-Lorraine. He had returned there in March 1967 for the first Mass of a grandnephew. During his visit he fell ill, was found to have cancer, and died in the town of Oberhergheim. His nephew, Joseph Quickert, became a member of the Society, dying prematurely at the age of 30 in 1941.

He is buried in the family tomb in Wittenheim cemetery, Haut-Rhin, France