Obituary: Maryknoll Father Eugene Theisen

Maryknoll Father Eugene Anthony Theisen, 91,  a Wadena native, died Dec. 7, 2018, at Phelps Memorial Hospital, Sleepy Hollow, New York. A rosary and wake service was held Dec. 20 at the Holy Spirit Chapel in the Maryknoll Society Center. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Dec. 21 at Queen of Apostles, Maryknoll, New York. A memorial Mass was celebrated Jan. 4 at St. Ann Church, Wadena.

Father Theisen’s cremated remains were transported to Mexico and interred near the Parish of San Jose Tzal. He was a Maryknoll priest for 65 years.

Father Eugene Theisen

Father Theisen was born Dec. 29, 1926, in Wadena to John and Elizabeth (Tabery) Theisen. He graduated from St. John’s Preparatory School, Collegeville, in June 1944. He received a bachelor’s degree from Maryknoll Apostolic College (Venard), Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, in 1948 and a master’s degree in religious education in 1953 at Maryknoll Seminary, New York. He was ordained a Maryknoll priest June 13, 1953.

He was assigned to the Maryknoll Mission in Chile. In his early years, he was appointed as assistant pastor to various Maryknoll parishes. In Temuco, he became acquainted with the Mapuche Indians, who had a different culture, lifestyle and language from the other Chileans. Over the years of ministering in Chile, he learned the Mapuche language, oversaw the building of chapels in 12 Mapuche communities and organized parochial school and catechetical programs for them.

He became involved with the Fundación Instituto Indigena, which provided care for the spiritual, cultural, educational and social well-being of the Mapuche people and in 1966 was appointed director of the Institute.

A skilled ham radio operator Father Theisen began a weekly religious program providing music and the Gospel in the Mapuche language. The program became very popular, reaching across the Andes Mountains to Argentina.

In 1984 Father Theisen was appointed director and superior of Maryknoll’s Development House in Minneapolis and served there for three years. He returned to Temuco, Chile, in 1987 and resumed his mission apostolate with the Mapuche people in the Archdiocese of Concepción, serving in the Maryknoll Parish of Cañete.

In 1992 Father Theisen was assigned to Maryknoll development work in Puerto Rico for two years, after which he was assigned to Mexico in 1994. There he worked in Mayan rural communities of the Maryknoll Parish of San Sebastián, Merida, as assistant pastor. He began the study of the Mayan language. In May 1998 he was elected regional superior for Mexico.

In 2001 he was given retired status with residence in Mexico and continued his work with the Mayan people. Father Theisen produced audiotapes of songs, both religious and secular, in the Mayan language. With the help of a Mayan religious sister, he produced the first complete catechism in the Mayan language. He worked on the production of a Bible history of the Old and New Testament and transposed the Gospel of St. Mark from an older way of writing Mayan to one recognized and used today.

Father Theisen continued working in Mexico until 2012 when he moved to the Maryknoll Residence in Los Altos, California. He returned to Maryknoll, New York, in 2016.

Preceding Father Theisen in death were his parents and six of his siblings: Louise, Benedictine Sister Vivia, Jerome, James, Clair and John. He is survived by two brothers: Benedictine Father Wilfred Theisen, St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, and Lyle, Silver Springs, Maryland.

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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