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Bangladeshis mourn U.S. missionary who served more than six decades

Posted: 9/14/2020

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Holy Cross Father Richard W. Timm, an internationally acclaimed scientist, educationist, humanist and development pioneer who served in Bangladesh for more than six decades, died at age 97 Sept. 11, 2020, at Holy Cross House, Notre Dame, Ind. He is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Congregation of Holy Cross, U.S. Province of Priests and Brothers)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) -- Bangladeshis mourned the death of U.S. Holy Cross Father Richard W. Timm, an internationally acclaimed scientist, educationist, humanist and development pioneer who served in Bangladesh for more than six decades.

He died at Holy Cross House, Notre Dame, Indiana, Sept. 11. He was 97.

"He loved the mission in Bangladesh and the poor people who are denied their rights," said Father James Cruze, provincial of Holy Cross priests in Bangladesh. "He was ready to do anything to uphold the dignity of these people. He was a man for all and always looked at people with the same kind of love and compassion.

"He took great risks with his life while fulfilling his mission. He even criticized governments for their failing to support the needy, poor and oppressed," Father Cruze added. His remarks were reported by

In 1987, Father Timm was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, dubbed Asia's Nobel Prize, for "his 35 years of sustained commitment of mind and heart to helping Bangladeshis build their national life."

In 1978, the Vatican accorded him the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, the highest honor the pope confers to laypeople and clergy in the Catholic Church, for his outstanding role in the rehabilitation and development of people through Caritas Bangladesh.

He was a former superior of Holy Cross priests in Bangladesh and a historian and chronicler of the congregation in the country.

Born March 2, 1923, in Michigan City, Indiana, Richard W. Timm was ordained a Catholic priest of the Holy Cross Fathers in 1949. After completing his master's degree and a Ph.D. in biology at The Catholic University of America, Washington, he was sent as a missionary to East Bengal, then part of Pakistan and now Bangladesh.

Father Timm joined the newly established Notre Dame College. Later, as a visiting professor in the department of nematology at the University of California, Davis, he taught for two years and helped out on weekends in parishes. During this time, he spent more than two months in Antarctica and discovered several new species of nematodes. Among them is the marine nematode "Timmia parva," named after Father Timm.

In 1970, Father Timm had just returned to Bangladesh as president of Notre Dame College when a cyclone killed about 500,000 people. Father Timm collaborated with the Christian Organization for Relief and Rehabilitation, which later became Caritas Bangladesh, to carry out humanitarian activities on Manpura Island. His six months on the island changed his life forever, reported. He left academic life to become a development worker and humanist. He wrote to his scientific friends about his decision: "People are more important than worms." reported that during Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan in 1971, Father Timm wrote secretly to Washington about the genocide conducted by Pakistan's army and mobilized public opinion in favor of Bangladesh's independence. The government accorded him honorary citizenship and, in 2012, he was among four Catholic priests who received Bangladesh Liberation War awards.

He served Caritas as a planning officer and its director. He was instrumental in formation and guiding many leading nongovernmental organizations, which brought him fame as a "father of NGOs in Bangladesh."

Dr. Benedict Alo D'Rozario, president of Caritas Asia who knew and worked with the priest since 1982, said Father Timm was among the first to link human rights with development and pioneered development strategies in Caritas and other NGOs.