Face to face with Henry Erftemeyer

Tuesday 28 October 2014
By Natasha Marsh, Kairos Catholic Journal
Born on 8 October 1921 in the heart of Amsterdam to a family of eleven, Henry Erftemeyer is no stranger to war and hardship. Married in 1949, he migrated to Australia in 1955. In 1972, the father of four became one of the leaders of the newly established Catholic Charismatic Renewal and worked with them for 36 years. He has been an active member of Holy Eucharist parish, Malvern East, since 1969. Henry is an amateur woodworker and poet. In his room, he is surrounded by samples of his work: bookshelves, tables and crucifixes; as well as prayers, poems and unpublished stories. A devout reader, Henry earned the unofficial title of 'theologian' by his parish priest.
You had some hair-raising experiences during World War II. Can you tell me about one?

I had gone underground because all the young men ... were forced to join the German [army] ... I took the risk and went from family to family. One night, I was on my bicycle. There was limited light, just enough to see the ground. All of a sudden, the lights didn’t work and ... my bicycle went right into three soldiers. One of the soldiers grabbed me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ and asked, ‘Where’s your passport’. I said, ‘Wait a moment, I’ll get it for you’. He loosened his grip and I got straight on my bike and rode off!

When you moved to Australia, you became one of the leaders of Catholic Charismatic Renewal. What drew you to this?

In 1972, I was on my own because my wife had left me. A friend said to me, ‘you don’t have to be so disheartened. There’s the Charismatic Renewal, and you would be a good person to join’. I stayed with them until I was 87. I ran it for 12 years from my own home.

You are also an active member of Holy Eucharist parish, Malvern East.

I made a tabernacle, and I asked the parish priest if he would like to put it in front of Our Lady’s altar. He said, ‘Oh yes, it’s beautiful’, and it’s still there.

I repaired quite a number of kneelers. I made candles. For 22 years I typed the weekly news sheets. I made a ramp for a woman in a wheelchair and I started the choir. In total I have worked there for 37 years.

When did you start wood-crafting?

My mother was, I think, the source of all the artistic in us. I started working with wood when I was about 12.

What have you made?

I have made about 10 bookcases. I remember a letter from my older sister saying that she still had one of my bookcases. I have made crucifixes, statues ... everything.

Your parish priest nicknamed you ‘the theologian’. How important is studying and writing to you?

A lot of people did not know the Catholic faith, and so were not able to pass it on, so I used to give talks at Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

I wrote children’s stories, saints’ stories ... prayers and meditations. Whatever comes to my mind, I just write it down. Two of my stories were published in Madonna magazine.

Who is your favourite saint?

St Joseph. My mother’s favourite was St Joseph, and he helped us during the war. There was a little miracle. We had nothing in the house and all of a sudden, the doorbell rang, we opened the door, and there was a great big bag full of grain.

Do you have any words of wisdom?

When I was working, I amassed a collection of classical music. I waited to retire to enjoy listening to them. However, when I did retire, my hearing failed me. I could not enjoy the music. My advice is: don’t wait to retire to enjoy what you treasure, for you may not get the opportunity.

Photo by Fiona Basile, Kairos Catholic Journal


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