16 October 1944 - Svensson Jón (Nonni)
† in Cologne
His cradle stood only a few degrees south of the polar circle, close by the Eyjafjord, in the legendary Iceland. There Nonni was born in Moedruvellir on November 16th 1857. The mother gave the Christian name Jón to her fourth child.
At an age of twelve he came to Denmark and France - by the intermediary of the Catholic Mission. He had got a scholarship for France from a French aristocrat, a lover of Iceland. But his journey there was delayed because of the French-German War in 1870. He waited in the house of the Catholic Bishop of Copenhagen and converted at the age of thirteen to Catholicism. After the attendance at the High School in Amiens he entered at the age of twenty one on August 22nd 1878 the Society of Jesus. In the year 1890 he was ordained priest.
Soon one recommended to him to change into the German Province because the Scandinavian Countries were cared for by that province. After the ordination he worked as teachers at the Andreas College in Ordrup near Copenhagen. His subjects were French, Norse, sport, and drawing.
In 1911 he was forced by a heavy gout suffering to give up the teaching profession. That was the beginning of his literary career at the age of fifty five. The large gift of his narrative skill, and the irresistible longing to see the wide world, accompanied the course of his life. The boys and girls - everywhere in the world - to whom he told the exciting experiences of his life, got hot hands and red heads. But also adults listened enthusiastically, and read his many books, which ranked among the best-sellers. His portraiture became known all over the world. His countenance looked bright and glad. White hair and a white pointed beard framed his face, from which two crystal-clear, light blue eyes shone.
When he was asked, "Father Nonni, how are you writing your books?" his answer read: "In the evening I am playing quietly on my accordion, and if then the memory revives again, I begin to write, hour by hour, with my large, clear writing, far into the night." Gladly he told of his younger brother Manni, who died as a Scholastic in Louvain. In 1914 appeared his book "Nonni and Manni".
When he was asked, "How does one begin it, Nonni, to get into the wide world?" his answer was marvellously childlike, "My mother taught me to pray each evening: Dear God, let me once see the world! That I did faithfully, and then I have actually travelled through the whole world. Soon I will make a journey again ... into eternity."
At the beginning of the Second World War Nonni belonged, according to the province catalogue to the large study house in Valkenburg (the Netherlands). In 1943 it was dissolved by the Gestapo of the Nazi Regime. Nonni came to Germany, to Eschweiler. He was already quite ill, and nearly gone blind. Still during the war he came to Cologne, where he died during a bombing ride on the city in the air-raid shelter of the Franziskus Hospital in Cologne Ehrenfeld, in the illusion to be on a voyage round the world in a ship on the open sea. It was October 16th 1944.
The French adventure writer Jules Verne († in 1905) has written a book with the title 'In eighty days around the world'. In imitation of it Nonni planned to give his (last) book the title 'In an age of eighty around the world'. Nonni did not see the publication of that book any longer. It was put on the market in the years 1947/48 only.
When the Icelandic President of the State Vigdís Finnbogadóttir came on occasion of an official visit in July 1988 to Cologne, she visited - accompanied by Cologne's mayor and the Jesuit Provincial Alfons Höfer - also the grave of Nonni on the Cemetery Melaten, and laid down there a wreath.
For many decades the Nonni books stand their ground on the child and youth book market. His first work 'Nonni - Erlebnisse eines jungen Isländers, von ihm selbst erzählt' (Nonni - experiences of a young Icelander, told by himself) in the Herder Publishing House has been printed since 1913 in one million copies. It has been translated into forty languages.
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