Self-Help; Marianist Missionary Home to Raise Money to Help Bangladesh

By Victor Volland
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
September 21, 1995

In 1957 Bill Christensen, a sophomore at the old Maryhurst High School in Kirkwood, decided to be a missionary. A Marianist missionary to Japan who was visiting the school told of flying over the India subcontinent and lamenting that not a single Marianist was working there.

This week the Rev. William Christensen has returned home to raise money for the self-help projects he started in Bangladesh as a Marianist missionary priest. He's also visiting friends and former students he taught at McBride High School and Chaminade College Preparatory School.

Christensen, 53, is not your popular image of a proselytizing, Bible-toting missionary. Dressed unseasonably in dungarees, sandals and short-sleeve shirt, a blue Bangladeshi gumcha, or scarf, knotted around his neck, he sipped a cup of American coffee and talked about his flock of 250,000 Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus scattered among 200 impoverished rural villages.

Missionaries today, he said, are more likely to be found planting trees, digging latrines and building tin-roof huts than teaching native peoples a strange catechism.

"For me religion has always meant, first, helping the poor and disadvantaged," said Christensen, who was active here in the mid-1960s and mid-1970s in the civil rights and economic boycott movements.

He is the only Society of Mary cleric in Bangladesh and was permitted to work there only as an economic development expert, not as a missionary priest.

He founded the Institute of Integrated Rural Development, in Bangladesh.

In a reforestation program, the group has given more than 400,000 timber trees to villagers to plant, harvest and sell. The group has planted 250, 000 mulberry trees in support of a new silk worm industry. And it has dug and stocked fish ponds, built flood-protection levees and bakeries, and trained villagers to repair irrigation equipment, raise cattle and poultry and make silk, chalk and candy.

"We are establishing successful models to create rural wealth," Christensen said.

Christensen will be honored at a reception today from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Marianists' Missouri Provincialate, 4528 Maryland Avenue. Donations for the order's work in Bangladesh may be sent to The Marianists, P.O. Box 23130, St. Louis, Mo. 63156.


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