He liked to smile. His intelligence and energy were immediately apparent. He earned a PhD in Applied Linguistics when he was 40 years old. People like him normally shine in their fields to the top. This man was born in a more comfortable country—United States of America, and his family was very successful.
When invited he was ready to leave his own country and all its comforts to come over in East Africa to share his gifts with vulnerable people. He lived simply like those he served. He touched many lives including mine. This is Fr. Prof. Theodore Walters, SJ. I knew him for 20 years. He opened his house to me when I was looking for a place to live at St. Augustine University of Tanzania.
“Hey, your Father Ted Walters passed on last night. Remember him in your prayers.” I found this message in my facebook account at 8: 24 am on 10th September, 2016. This message was sent by one of the Jesuit Fathers from Nairobi. Fr. Walters has passed on in my absence? As I tried to refute that sad news, in about five minutes, I received a call from a Jesuit Brother from Tanzania saying, “I’m sorry, Josephat, for the death of your good friend, Ted.” That call cemented everything.
I was shocked. I didn’t want to accept it. How can he go without talking to me? He had hoped to see me. I had prayed to shake hands with him before he breathed in the last breath. I wanted to help him smile as he closed his eyes forever. How could God allow this mismatch happen to me?
Some time ago I had asked him to write his own brief biography for me. This is what he sent to me, “Fr. Theodore (Ted) W. Walters, S.J. was born in Cleveland, Ohio (USA) on 28 July, 1926…Fr. Walters received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from St. Louis University, and earned a PhD in Applied Linguistics from Georgetown University in 1966.
“After administrative posts in the USA, he came to Tanzania in 1992 to assist in upgrading the Nyegezi Social Training Institute, which became St. Augustine University of Tanzania in 1998. In addition to academic administration, he taught Public Relations at St. Augustine University until 2010, when he retired to live at Loyola High School in Dar es Salaam.” Fr. Walters emailed this to me on 11 August, 2012 at 5:19 pm.
He worked in Tanzania for 24 years. He helped and nurtured many people. I was one who benefitted most of all. I lived with him for 7 years. I first came in contact with him in 1996 when I was studying at St. Mary’s Nyegezi Seminary, in Mwanza and I asked him to be my spiritual father. He agreed right away. My father died in 1998 when I was in Form Three. I lacked a reliable source of funds to continue my studies. I didn’t ask him to help. My Rector, Fr. Renatus Nkwande vouched for me and Fr. Walters took me on.
When I completed my fourth year of ordinary level (Form Four in the British system), he asked me to help him translate some of his booklets into Kiswahili. Then he asked me if I could accompany him to places where he went to say mass on Sundays. “Yes, of course.” I was delighted. I got to know him fairly well during the coming years. And he connected me to some young and old Jesuits in Mwanza, Arusha, Dar es Salaam, and Nairobi.
At first it was hard for me to cope with his life. He wanted silence especially when he prayed. I would listen to the radio by turning down the volume level. He didn’t have a TV set because “because many people spend more time watching programmes on TV instead of working,” he said. However, I got used to this kind of life and liked its simplicity. In the coming years, we started movie shows every Saturday night. This was a nice recreation to many of us, students especially.
Besides the translation role, he wanted me to also keep an eye on his house when he went to USA in 2001. He was very kind and always ready to listen and help. Many people had the impression that he had a lot of money, but they all knew as well that he lived simply like those he served. I learned that no one could even think of harming him in any way. He would face some ordinary theft, of course, especially in streets, but he lived safely and many people liked him.
His first book I started to translate into Kiswahili in January 2001 was entitled, Seeking God through the Catholic Faith. Both versions (English and Kiswahili) were published in Nairobi. I would translate his subsequent booklets into Kiswahili: a booklet he wrote on discovering one’s vocation and another on learning to meditate.
Before I continued with the Advanced levels (Form Five and Six), he took me to radio SAUT’s studios (the St. Augustine University’s radio station) for voice test. He smiled happily and told me, “You’ve a very sweet radio voice, Josephat, and your reading is clear and easy to listen to.” The Station’s Technician, Elmbinyi Masawe also commented, “Your voice is very good.” Now the job to use that sweet voice started.
To my surprise, Fr. Walters quickly started to write scripts for a radio show, using his first book’s content. He and I committed that book to a series of 45 radio programmes in English and Kiswahili. We produced copies of the cassettes made to distribute to the ten Catholic radio stations in Tanzania. I quickly became famous on campus and in the neighborhoods. He trusted me very much; and I kept that trust intact. I handled this project professionally and it was successful.
After two years, Fr. Walters wrote an e-mail to me while he was in the USA for holidays, “Fr. Masawe [former Provincial East Africa] wrote to say I should pay you $500 for your translation of “Seeking God” and the Province would reimburse Nyakahoja. I’ll do that as soon as I get back…” It was a new dawn to me. I started to figure out immediately how to spend that $500. The Lord guided me.
I used that money to pay tuition fee to start studies at SAUT in 2004. I preferred a Bachelor’s Programme in Mass Communication and specialised in broadcasting. He would not give me money easily. He encouraged me to often work for it. This kind of formation increased my confidence to be independent in life. I would translate his homilies into Kiswahili every week and we both enjoyed it.
When he trusted me 100 per cent, we did even greater things together and wrote more books. Writing was my prominent passion and translation became a hobby. I had started writing my own books even before I met Fr. Walters. “Josephat was a budding author himself,” Fr. Walters commented in one of his unpublished manuscript, and continued, “he had written a novel Ukungu about a young man named Edgar growing up amid the moral challenges of East Africa and another titled Forgive and Forget when you are wronged by someone.”
He could never let anybody else drive his car unless you’re a Jesuit. He exclusively trained me how to drive and I became his personal driver for 6 years. I lived with him since 2001-2007 in his house, at SAUT’s Malimbe Campus, Mwanza. He regarded me a professional figure to his colleagues and friends, “Josephat is my Associate in almost all things I do. He’s a fine young man.”
He had a smart intuition of great talents and he would not let those talents slip away easily. So he kept sharpening my skills and was a prudent mentor. He’s had a transformational influence on my personal and professional life. We were always busy, full of energy—doing and learning new things. At some stage I had a feel he had forgotten that I was a student as well. He taught me to multitask and we enjoyed our mutual interests.
During one of my holidays, I visited my mother, in Musoma, about 3 hour drive from Mwanza. He wrote after few days saying: “I’ve been very busy correcting the papers I’ve given out to my classes and I haven’t even had time to send a revised copy of Seeking God to Nairobi. I’ve missed you and hope you have enjoyed this time with your mother and the people of your neighborhood. It’s been a good time to be sure you haven’t lost your native language. Massawe brought me over some CDs to select appropriate music for our radio broadcasts. Everything there has come to a halt while you’re away. Come back when you can and we’ll get busy again.”
“You’re a quick learner,” he told me when I learned how to use a computer and radio programming. He planted a special seed in me that inspired me to start my own attractive radio programmes to air over Radio SAUT-FM. My most popular programme was a narrative and commentary series Nyota ya Familia (“Star of the Family”)—on stories of challenges and change among young people whom the family expected great things.
After my graduation at SAUT in 2007, I started to contribute contents to the BBC’ youth radio series called Kimasomaso in Kiswahili, namely, speak out boldly. I did the same thing when I worked for the Jesuit’s Refugees’ Radio—Kwizera, located in NW Tanzania. BBC Swahili Service hired me in 2009 and I became a reliable international journalist in Tanzania. I now work independently to strengthen the media and promote accountability and development. Visit some of my initiatives: (www.ctc.or.tz & tanzanianzima.com).
Fr. Walters, SJ was very faithful and committed to his vocation. On 3rd April, 2003 he wrote to me an e-mail when I was preparing for my A-levels exams saying: “We received good news the other day. You will remember that I sent a grant request to the Koch Foundation last August for cassette duplicating machines, a number of blank tapes, postage and even payment for making the duplicates.
“The idea was to be able to make our “Seeking God” tapes available to all the ten Catholic radio stations in Tanzania. Well, they have funded this request for $6,500, the amount we requested. This means we can get these programmes aired all over Tanzania and achieve much more pastoral good with them that if we limited ourselves to Radio SAUT. This is a nice development, isn’t it?”
He travelled to Detroit after a few weeks, leaving everything in my hands. On 26 July 2003 he wrote again, “Thanks very much for all your help in pulling things together for my departure. It was great having you there.” Then he went to the core message, “How is Masawe coming along with the preparation of our master tapes? Have you listened to any he has done and are you satisfied? It would be good if we could get these ready and sent out as soon as possible. But I’ll rely on you to be sure they are of the quality we want. I still haven’t sent a report to the Koch Foundation. Please let me know.”
When he sent a report to the Koch Foundation, he included $ 2000 (?) which had remained. Koch Foundation returned it. It was a surprise to them, of course. We used the money to produce more programmes. He would put on record every cent he spent even his personal expenditures.
I had never lived with someone of this kind in my life before. I always felt to live with a ‘saint’ and after his death I have been experiencing something strange about him:
More than four times, I have felt like he was standing behind me as I worked on the laptop. Today Tuesday the 12th of September, 2016 again I had a vision of him at my back but when I turned my head he was not there. But I continued to feel his presence on me. When I was writing the latter sentence in this account’s paragraph, I stopped and cried and cried again. I felt him around me once more. He wanted to talk to me but it was impossible for him to do so. I could not see him, but I was troubled so much as I dwelt in his presence. I’m crying right now as I write; and I’m writing what I’m feeling right now.
It all came back to me again. I remembered when I talked with him over the phone in June 2016. He told me that he was in Nairobi for medical checkup. He asked me, “What are you doing these days?” after I told him he said, “I may not come back to Tanzania. I’m afraid I may not see you again, Josephat.”
He asked me to visit him in Nairobi to discuss his vision we had been discussing over the years about the youth in Lake Zone, Tanzania. He died leaving his life-long friend and associate in the search for a missing soul. How can we remember him practically? Please read Part II of this account here:http://tanzanianzima.com/en/fr-ted-walters-sj-a-hero-to-many-people-ii/
By Josephat Mwanzi firstname.lastname@example.org (+255784485438)