Methodist seminary head dies

2012-05-04 00:00

REVEREND Dr Ross Olivier (56), president of the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS) in Pietermaritzburg, died at his home on Wednesday.

Reverend Professor Peter Storey, chairperson of the governing council of the seminary, said in a statement that Olivier had died at his home in Isabel Beardmore Drive.

He said Olivier had been suffering from deep depression for some time.

“His spouse, Shayne, who had taken off work for the past six weeks to watch over him, had returned to her job for the first time yesterday morning, but came home around noon to check up on him and found his body. She called on her sons, who live nearby, and emergency services were called, but there was nothing they could do by that stage,” said Storey.

No foul play is suspected.

“Dr Olivier’s death is a massive loss for their family of three sons, their loved ones, and the wider family of the two million strong Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA), which Ross had served for many years,” said Storey.

Olivier made his mark in the 1970s and 80s in anti-apartheid activism in the East Rand and was detained more than once for his work with the regional Council of Churches.

“Proud of his Afrikaans roots, he was nevertheless determined to work for transformation. He went on to lead two of the nation’s largest Methodist congregations, before being appointed to head up a change process in the MCSA called the ‘Journey to a New Land’, preparing the church for a post-apartheid South Africa.

“This was followed by a spell as general secretary of the denomination in the church’s national office.”

Storey said Olivier and his family then took a few years’ break from South Africa, plunging instead into the complex and painful history of Mississippi, U.S., where he held the pulpit of a church that had earned notoriety for its racist past, leading it into a new chapter with some of his strong South African medicine.

“He earned wide recognition for his role in reconciling Mississippi’s two senators in Washington DC, one black, one white, who had long been at loggerheads.

“Returning to South Africa in 2008, he was appointed as first president of the fledgling Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary, a bold new venture in the formation and training of ordained ministers. From 2009, while the new R64 million campus was being built, Ross Olivier, together with a small staff [launched] a new concept of holistic ministerial training, combining academic rigour, practical skills and spiritual formation.”

Storey said that when the campus was opened in September 2010, more than 100 seminarians were studying at SMMS.

“Tragically, his death occurred just 16 days before the first graduation service at SMMS, when he would have seen the first-fruits of his labours as 40 seminarians come forward to receive bachelor of theology degrees or diplomas in practical ministry. They and many changed lives he influenced across South Africa and further afield will be his memorial,” said Storey.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Joey Jeevan confirmed an inquest docket had been opened and police were investigating Olivier’s death. — WR.

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