CHARLESTON — Missionhurst Father A. John Eyckmans, a retired priest who served in the Diocese of Charleston, died Aug. 24. Reception of his body and vigil service was Aug. 29 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Aug. 30 at the cathedral.
Father Eyckmans was born on Jan. 4, 1927, in Herentals, Belgium, to Alfons and Blanca Eyckmans. He attended seminary in Louvain, Brussels, Belgium, and was ordained to the priesthood there on Jan. 4, 1951. He then came to the United States for additional studies with the Missionhurst order in Arlington, Va.
Pastoral assignments in this country included service at St. John Berchmans in San Antonio, Texas; St. Theresa’s in Philadelphia, Pa.; Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia; St. Elizabeth in Philadelphia; Our Lady of Sorrows in Detroit, Mich.; and St. John in McLean, Va. He also worked as a teacher of languages in Schilde, Belgium.
In the Diocese of Charleston, Father Eyckmans served at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Church of the Nativity, and Sacred Heart Parish, all in Charleston; as an associate pastor of St. Joseph Church in Columbia; and as administrator of St. Theresa Parish in Winnsboro.
In his homily at the funeral Mass, Father Ernest Kennedy used the analogy of a puzzle to describe Father Eyckmans’ life, in which a person spends years trying to make sense of the pieces, but when it is finally completed there is a sense of accomplishment, joy and fulfillment.
Father Kennedy described Father Eyckmans desire to help his fellow man, when as a teen-ager he was torn between becoming a doctor or being a priest.
“He was bright, enthusiastic, and diligent,” said Father Kennedy. The young Belgian joined a missionary order and prepared to go to the missions of Africa; however, he was sent to minister in Texas. He later served in Philadelphia and Washington.
Father Kennedy said that Father Eyckmans experienced culture shock in America and that his first priestly assignments in the United States were extremely traumatic for him.
“Here he found warmth, connectedness and oneness,” said Father Kennedy. “People recognized his sincerity and truth. They became his trademarks.”
Father Kennedy described Father Eyckmans’ struggles as reflecting the message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. “John mastered the art of listening to people with his ears, eyes and heart,” he said.
In his later life, particularly the last five years, Father Eyckmans dealt with various physical ailments, said Father Kennedy. “He spent a lot of time in meditation, praying the life of Jesus, so he could give it to you and me.”
Before the conclusion of the liturgy, Msgr. James A. Carter, diocesan vicar general, called Father Eyckmans, “one of the most forthright and honorable people I have ever seen.” He added that the truthfulness with which the priest lived his life was something to be commended.