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Sabah’s last Mill Hill Missionary dies at 87

File photo of Brother Ben (in blue) poses with Gabrielite Brothers John Albert (L), Edward Rayappan (2nd L), Francis Chua (R) and La Salle Brother Charles O’Leary (C) at the World Day for Consecrated Life, 2 Feb 2004, Sacred Heart Cathedral KK.

KOTA KINABALU – Sabah’s last Mill Hill Missionary died at 87 on 13 Feb 2017 in Oosterbeek, Holland.  He had spent over 60 years of his life in Sabah.

Born in Tilburg, Holland, on 9 October 1929, Martien (Martin) Snoeren joined the Mill Hill Missionaries in 1951. He took the name Benedict or Ben when he made his commitment as a lay brother in 1952 and his final commitment in 1954.

In 1955 when Msgr James Buis wanted to open a new mission station in Bundu Tuhan. After the initial refusal by the British Colonial Government for Europeans to settle in the interior of Borneo, Msgr Buis told them that he wanted to open an agricultural station in Bundu Tuhan. The Mill Hill Missionaries were then asked to send two Brothers who had expertise in tobacco growing, as the first option was tobacco growing, the only cash crop that could provide the people with a better income.

It was soon abandoned in favour of the vegetable seeds they brought in from Holland, which grew well in the climate and soon were able to produce the many varieties of vegetables similar to those in Holland.

Brother Ben arrived in North Borneo on 4 April 1956 with another Brother to join Father William Roetenberg to open a new venture in Bundu Tuhan.  By 1960 they were joined by Brother John Hoekstra, who was a vegetable farmer by profession, which was an added advantage to the vegetable project. The project took off in 1962 under the name of Kinabalu Project Development.  Soon the project was running two 4-ton lorries transporting vegetables to Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan.

1962 also was the year the multipurpose hall was built. It catered for many activities but the main purpose was to serve as a  Mass centre on Sundays.  The church community grew from less than ten to over 8o who attended Mass on Sundays.

“In due time, the mission compound became a built-up place with a parish church, rectory, convent, retreat house, school, children’s home and even a workshop for repair and maintenance,” (Ben Snoeren, 2004).

He was recognised for his selfless service to the church and the people of Bundu Tuhan when on 28 Apr 1994 he was knighted by the Dutch Government and bestowed the “Ridder in de Orde Van Oranje Nassau” on the occasion of the birthday of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

On 4 July 2014, his superiors wrote him to return to Holland for his retirement from active ministry.  So Brother Ben left Bundu Tuhan, where he served for 57 years, and returned to the Netherlands in poor health in 2014, and took up residence in the Vrijland Mission House in Oosterbeek where he died Feb 13.

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