Fr Boniface Kruger RIP
FATHER MICHAEL COPPS' HOMILY
If you walk out of Liverpool Street Station, in the open space outside you find statues of children, quite nicely dressed and with suitcases but without adults. They look well provided for yet forlorn; they have been removed from their families. It is an illustration of the world as it should not be. It is a memorial to the Kinder Transport. Before the war, Jewish parents, Boniface’s mother was Jewish, sent their children out of Germany because they suspected what would happen to them. Germany at that time was the world as it should not be.
Boniface, Hans as he was then, told of his happiness in coming home from school having answered his first question. The question was, “Who is the saviour of Germany?” Young Hans answered, “Adolf Hitler.” He was not corrected because as a child, he talked too much and any correction would have been spoken of and bring trouble to the family. So as things developed the decision was taken that the children had to go. The agony of the parents is unimaginable.
However, Boniface told me a lighter story of those days. He and his mother went to a square in Berlin because Mussolini was visiting Hitler. SS men - besides what we know they did - also did crowd control. Young Hans needed to pee and his mother asked an SS man where he could go. The man took him to a nearby tent the soldiers were using and he peed in the corner. The stream went out of the tent into the square and that was Hans comment on Hitler and Mussolini.
Hans with older brother Karl arrived in Harwich on 16th March 1939 and there various Jewish and other charitable organisations arranged for them to be fostered. They were sent to a family in Edinburgh. Then the brothers were separated with Hans going to Ballater in the Highlands. In the village school, he met Glasgow children who had been evacuated and they were Catholics. The school day started with prayers and catechism and this built on the instruction he had received in Berlin from his Lutheran aunts. He began to experience the Church as Mother.
He was then sent back to Edinburgh and the Lamont family fostered him. At 16 years old his brother Karl was sent to Canada as “an enemy alien.” Hans made contact with the Friars at St Francis, Lothian Street and St Teresa’s, Craigmillar and Father Walter Hobson received him into the Church in 1945. Hans had been taught to play the piano by his grandmother in Berlin and he watched the organist at St Francis. He asked if he could have a go and played faultlessly immediately. At this time he fell dangerously ill with kidney trouble and was given the last rites but he made a near miraculous recovery. Father Walter described him as “a grand Catholic boy,” “gifted with a fine intellect.” Hans wanted to join the Order and Walter wrote to the Friars saying he was not sure what other qualities you needed “besides that intense desire to be a Franciscan priest.” He went to the noviciate in Chilworth and was given the name Boniface. St Boniface was missionary from England to Germany. In parallel to Hans, Karl became a Catholic in Canada, and subsequently a priest in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh.
I was asked to approach Boniface many years later to ask him if he would take up the role of Secretary of the Province. His response was, “Well I have always done chores.” It is an office job but is very important especially at Chapter times when all the offices fall and the Secretary runs the elections. He had done similar work at the Roman Curia of the Order for ten years. His office was called ‘Protocol’ and all the communications from the international went through that office where it was catalogued, summarised in Latin and then put on the correct desk for action. This work suited him because he confessed to “having a passion for order, organisation and efficiency.” Perhaps you can understand that life in the Friars could be hell for him. I remember him coming to me complaining that the Friars should have responded. “Yes Boniface but they haven’t.” Again the world as it should not be. He did this largely hidden work for many years carefully and it was the foundation of the communication in our Province. In this, he showed himself to be a wise and trustworthy steward.
When Boniface said goodbye to his mother in 1939 he never saw her again. She died in 1943. Boniface had a fellow feeling for young people especially those who were away from home. In the noviciate, the novice master said he was “deep and also inclined to keep himself to himself.” Also being a German boy in wartime Britain must have been difficult. In his ministry Boniface was chaplain to the Royal Hospital School Holbrook in Suffolk and to Farleigh School in Hampshire that were both boarding schools. Some children really thrive at boarding school but shyer or introspective children often suffer. Also children, when things are not good at home, suffer. I remember a child at Holbrook coming to Boniface with a letter from a parent asking the child which parent they wanted to go with. He was very caring to such children. Something he loved was board games because the gathering round the table was like a family gathering. He was a scrabble professional in that he had briefcase with a board, tiles, a Scrabble dictionary and wads of paper with words acceptable in Scrabble that seemed dodgy to me. I think the gathering round the table gave a feeling of the family he had lost at such a young age.
There was a great frustration in Boniface. He did chores that were very necessary but he longed for avenues to express his priesthood. Early in his priesthood, he had taught philosophy to Franciscan students and he was self-taught on the principles of liturgy. He had great respect for liturgy. In the liturgical instructions there is always a subtext that in applying the principles you have to be aware of pastoral need and possibilities. So, in principle it would be ideal to have one parish Mass on Sunday with everyone attending. However, pastoral awareness will tell you that this is not possible. People have different working hours, they have care of children and there is the size of the church. There is a tension between the world as it should be and the world as it is. I think Boniface struggled with this tension more than most people; the world seldom lived up to the ideal.
Many people, despite his social awkwardness, loved Boniface. An Irish friar said that he could be annoying and hilarious at the same time. After a convoluted discussion at the Definitory meeting where he was taking minutes I asked, “Have you got that clear, Boniface?” “As clear as you have!” came the reply.
From his family in Germany, Boniface learnt from an early age to know Jesus Christ and to love Him. His Lutheran aunts did much of the teaching. When the Friars took him holy communion in his last illness, he was very and simply devout: a picture of faith. When he was told he had only a short time to live, I asked clumsily, “How’s your faith?” “Fine.” came the reply. He has now entered the world as it should be with God at the Centre. May he rest in peace.