(This story first appeared in the November issue of the Anglican Journal.)
The territory of Yukon and the kingdom of Swaziland couldn’t be farther apart-in distance, size, climate and economy. But both are home to the Rev. Canon David Pritchard, priest-in-charge-at least until December-of St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Carcross, Yukon.
Since the late 1980s, Pritchard, 79, has been plying his way every few years between the two continents. And on Dec. 30, undaunted by recent cardiac bypass surgery, he’ll permanently leave his northern home for his southern one, where he spent 16 years, married and buried a young Swazi wife, and fathered four children. “I love the Yukon, but I always knew I wanted to live out my life in Swaziland.”
His love of this tiny kingdom of 1.4 million people on the eastern edge of southern Africa took hold during the more than 12 years he spent as executive director of the National Council on Smoking, Alcohol and Drug Dependence, an NGO supported by the churches, the UN and the World Health Organization. “Our office was a 10-foot by 13-foot trailer. We had no guaranteed funding,” he says.
Pritchard, who became an Anglican priest in the early 1980s after retiring as Yukon’s assistant superintendent of education, is the kind of person who sees a need and responds quickly-body and soul. “He throws himself wholeheartedly into everything he does,” says Beverley Whitehouse, a lay minister and secretary of Christ Church Cathedral in Whitehorse. In 2011, for example, he took to heart the plight of famine victims in the Horn of Africa. Never one for wringing hands on the sidelines, he leapt into action and spearheaded an effort that eventually raised some $43,000 for famine relief in the Horn, garnering an additional $28,000 for the cause in matching federal funds.
On his return to Africa, one of his first tasks will be to help build a solid house for a single mother and her five daughters, who now live in tumbledown huts and sleep on threadbare blankets on floors of packed cow dung. The girls are all being sponsored by one of Pritchard’s many causes: the Swaziland Educational Trust Society, a Canadian registered charity incorporated in 2004 to educate youngsters in Swaziland, where schools charge fees. The trust has raised more than $150,000 over nine years. “Most of our students are now in high school, and each year we have three or four new graduates,” says Pritchard, who actually started sponsoring the schooling of Swazi children on his own in 1987 when he arrived to serve as a parish priest under the Anglican Church of Canada’s world mission branch. “That was during the AIDS pandemic, when increasing numbers of children had parents who were dying,” he recalls.
“David is a very compassionate, very concerned person, who takes very seriously every project he’s involved in,” says Jim Tiedeman, a Whitehorse resident who sits on the education trust’s board.
After the 2001 death from tuberculosis of his wife, Cyndie, a TB ward nurse, Pritchard took his children home to live in Yukon in 2002, where, “being young and strong, they adapted marvellously,” he says. He, however, had a major problem. “After working amid abject poverty for 16 years, I couldn’t stand the affluence!”
In 2003, Pritchard took over the helm of St. Saviour’s and for the past nine years has also served on the board of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, of which he is currently vice-president. “His devotion to the PWRDF has been saintly,” says the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz. Hiltz adds that Pritchard has been one of the board’s strongest advocates for addressing the often unacceptable conditions under which indigenous people in Canada live.
Last year, Pritchard spent several months in Swaziland, and upon his return to Canada, says Whitehouse, “you could tell he was pining for Africa.” He will be sorely missed in the diocese of Yukon. “He’s a great administrator and chairs a meeting wonderfully-he keeps things moving and on target,” says Whitehouse. “And he’s a person you’re always glad to see-there are never any negative connotations.”
Not one to leave without a generous gesture to his home parish, Pritchard enlisted the aid of friends this past summer and before his surgery helped restain all the wood in St. Saviour’s-from ceiling beams to pews.