I knew a Man….

Slender, elegant, always smoking his straw cigarette, he was a pioneer. When the Italian settlers no longer had lands to cultivate in Sierra Gaucha, they emigrated in groups to the interior of Santa Catarina, the land of Concordia, famous as the home of Sadia and Perdigao, the best known meat enterprises in the country. There was nothing there, except some mestizos, survivors of the Contestado war, groups of Kaigan Natives, and a superb, immense pine grove, stretching as far as the eye could see.

The Italian settlers came in caravans. They brought their teachers, their prayer leaders, and an immense will to work and build their lives from scratch. He had studied for several years with the Jesuits of São Leopoldo, and accumulated a broad humanistic knowledge. He knew Latin and Greek, and could read foreign languages. He came to enlighten the lives of the people. He was a teacher, a man of reference, highly regarded. He would teach classes in the morning and afternoon. At night, he taught Portuguese to the settlers who spoke only Italian and German at home. He also opened a small school for the more advanced, to train them as bookkeepers, to do the accounting for the stores and salesmen in the region.

Since the adults had special problems learning, he used a creative method. He became the agent for a radio distributing company, and ensured that each family had a radio at home. This way, they would learn «Brazilian» by listening to programs in Portuguese. He set up windmills and small generators at waterfalls, for them to recharge their batteries. As a school teacher, he was a Paulo Freire avant la lettre. He founded a two thousand book library. Each family would take home a book, read it, and on Sunday, after praying the rosary in Latin, a circle was organized, so that they could say, in Portuguese, what they had read and understood. We children laughed a lot at their poor Portuguese. He not only taught the basics, but what every settler needed to know: how to measure land, tile the roof of the munitions depo, calculate interest, care for the woods, clean the rivers and manage the sloped terrain.

He introduced us to the basics of philology, teaching us Latin and Greek words. As small children, sitting by the stove in the freezing cold, we had to recite the whole Greek alphabet, alfa, beta, gamma, delta… and later on in College, we would be filled with pride when we showed classmates and teachers the origin of words. He motivated his eleven children to read a lot. I would recite from memory phrases from Hegel and Darwin, without understanding them, just to impress others.

He was a teacher in the fullest sense of the word because he did not limit himself to the four walls of the classroom. He would take walks with the students, to contemplate nature, and explain the plant names, and importance of the waters and fruit trees. In those interior locales, far from everything, he acted as a pharmacist. He saved scores of lives with penicillin, when he was called, often very late at night. He learned from technical books the symptoms of various illnesses, and how to treat them.

In those remote lands of our country there lived one who was troubled by political and metaphysical problems. He even created a small gathering of friends who would get together to discuss «serious matters», but more than anything else, to listen to him. He read the classics of philosophy, such as Espinoza, Hegel, Darwin and Ortega y Gasset. He spent long hours at night glued to the radio, listening to foreign programs in order to stay informed about World War II.

He was critical of the Church of the priests, because they did not respect their neighbors, all German protestants, condemned to the fires of hell because they were not Catholic. He vigorously opposed those who discriminated against the «negriti» and the «spuzzetti» (those who smelled bad). We, his children, were made to sit beside them at school, in order to learn to respect and to coexist with those who are different.

His piety was internalized. He transmitted to us a spiritual and ethical sense of life: to be always honest, never to lie and to unconditionally trust Divine Providence. So that his eleven children could study and go to the university, he sold all the land he had or had inherited, piece by piece. In the end, he had to sell his house. His joy was boundless when we came back on vacation, because then he could converse with us for hours. And he would top us all. He died young, at 54, exhausted from so much work and from serving everyone. He knew he was going to die. He would dream of talking with Plato, arguing with Saint Augustine, and being among the wise.

At the very time and day I took off to study in Europe, his heart stopped. I only learned of it when I was in Munich. My brothers and sisters wrote piously his life’s motto on his grave stone: «From his lips we heard, from his life we learned: only a life spent serving others is a life worth living.»

On May 23, 2011 he would have been one hundred years old. This wise school teacher from the interior, was Mansueto Boff, my greatly beloved and much missed father.

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