On the 8th of August 2012, there was a special atmosphere on the premises of the well-known Ntaba Maria Convent near Lady Frere. Brother Alphonse Gross SAC, caretaker of the priest house, electrician wherever needed and unofficial but actual hairdresser of the clerical world within the diocese of Queenstown, turned 80 and that had to be celebrated in a proper way.
His Pallottine confreres and the members of the diocesan clergy from the immediate surroundings joined him in thanking God for the 80 years of life so generously granted, during a concelebrated mass in the chapel of the convent with the priest in charge of McKay’s Nek as main celebrant. The sisters formed an excellent choir which embellished the liturgy considerably.
After the service, it was time for the sisters to show their appreciation for their “Brother Handyman” in the form of a delicious and copious meal, which increased the festive character of the whole celebration, enjoyed by everybody present.
Brother Alphonse was in a cheerful mood: 80 years of age is not given to everybody, and, if you are, on top of that, still in a good physical and mental health, then you have reasons enough to be thankful and happy.
50 years ago, Brother Gross left the Headquarters of the Pallottines in Limburg an der Lahn, where, after his first religious consecration, he worked for 4 years as a janitor and also as a help in the refectory. His new destination was South Africa, and more specifically Glen Gray Hospital, founded by Bishop Rosenthal and run by the Pallottines. At that time, Glen Gray Hospital was one of the top Hospitals not only in the Eastern Cape but even in the whole of South Africa, and that thanks to a highly qualified medical team, dedicated personnel, and a group of skilled and motivated Pallottines who knew what was needed and how to realise it.
In that environment, Brother Alphonse qualified himself as an electrician, and stayed there till his official retirement, long after the Pallottines left the Hospital due to the takeover by the government.
Once an official “pensioner”, he settled down in the Priest house of Ntaba Maria, where Bishop Herbert Lenhof had his residence. At that time, Eskom was non-existent in that region and the use of the telephone was also quite an adventurous enterprise. As an electrician, Brother looked after the hydroelectric plant, used his experience from Glen Gray Hospital in a lot of other domains, did the necessary shopping and used his hair cutting tools wherever he was asked to do so.
Bishop Lenhof’s deteriorating health with the disabilities which were the symptoms of it, made from Brother Alphonse an indispensable private assistant to him during the last months of his stay in South Africa.
His successor, Bishop Mpako, saw the qualities Brother Alphonse has and asked him to stay on in Ntaba Maria to keep everything running smoothly.
Till late in the evening, we stayed with him on the way towards his 81st year, and we did this as confreres, friends and as men use to do so!
Brother Alphonse had a nice, good and memorable birthday, and from the bottom of our heart, we wish him still many years to come.
Fr. Edward Tratsaert SAC