Society Matters | Volume 30 No. 1 | Autumn 2020

7 Volume 30 No. 1 | Autumn 2020 Remembering Fr Michael Seigel SVD, missionary to Japan Fr Michael Seigel SVD, an Australian Divine Word Missionary who spent most of his missionary life in Japan, has been remembered as a humble man, a much-loved priest and a committed teacher. Fr Michael died in July last year and his life was celebrated at Masses both in Japan and back home in country New South Wales. Raised in the small town of Barooga, a border town in the Riverina region of NSW, young Michael, the middle of five children, was taught by the Mercy Sisters and had an early sense of his vocation. “Michael wanted to be a priest for as long as I remember,” said his sister Margaret Little in her eulogy at a Mass in his memory at Barooga. Fr Michael Knight SVD gave the homily. “When he was around 10 or 11, the school had a visit from Fr Dom Cremasco and Fr Minus – SVD priests who were on a recruitment drive for vocations to the Divine Word Missionaries. “It was during this visit that Michael decided that he would join the Divine Word Missionaries.” At around the age of 13, Michael went to a SVD Minor Seminary in Lavington and attended a local Catholic school. He finished his high school studies at the SVD seminary in Marburg, Queensland, before completing his studies for the priesthood in the United States and returning to Barooga to be ordained. Margaret also recalled that within about three months of his ordination, Michael made the decision to join Alcoholics Anonymous. Their father, who had served as a ‘Rat of Tobruk’ in World War II, had never really recovered from his experience, suffering from undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder, which resulted in “a rather turbulent and violent home life, fuelled by alcohol” and Michael “did not want his life to go the same as Dad’s had gone”. That decision transformed his life and “transformed what his mission would become”. Fr Michael returned to America to finish his studies before being assigned to Japan in 1974, first studying the language and then being assigned to a parish at Kichijoji, where in 1975, he started a branch of AA. Some years later, Fr Michael went to Nagoya to become a part time lecturer at Nanzan University and then took two years leave to go to Birmingham in the UK to complete his doctorate in missiology. “Lecturing was work that he loved to do and he remained at Nanzan University for the rest of his working life,” Margaret said. Returning to Nagoya parish after completing his doctorate, Fr Michael also guided the SVD’s Asia-Pacific Justice, Peace and Integration of Creation program, which led to a post in Rome from 1995-2000. When he returned to Nagoya he took up his teaching role again and taught in social ethics, missiology, peace and environmental studies, and conflict resolution/reconciliation. “Michael had a love of the Japanese people, language and culture that was very special to see,” Margaret said. “He had a very fine gift for their language and wrote and edited many manuscripts in Japanese. His work that he was probably most proud of was a recently published book simply called Addiction. It was written with the Japanese teenager in mind and at the time of his death he was in the process of gifting the book to every Japanese high school library. “Michael had every reason to be proud of the way he executed his mission. He was a humble man, devoid of any grandiose thoughts of his service to humanity and wanted only to fill every waking hour in the pursuit of learning and teaching to help others.”