Michael Windey, the fourth of twelve children, was born in 1921 in Buggenhout, a small town in the east of Flanders, in Belgium. The Windey-family – mother, father and twelve children, was very committed, and had a deep Christian outlook on life. After finishing his studies in college in 1938, Michaël decided to join the Jesuit order. Two of his brothers did the same; three sisters also entered religious orders. In 1946, his desire of going to India became a reality. He was sent by the Prior to this far, unknown country. In the departure hall, he said farewell to his family and friends, under the impression that he’d never return home. Only fourteen years later, his mother, brothers and sisters saw Michaël again. His father had died shortly after he left in 1946.
In 1950 he was ordained a priest in the Jesuit college of Kurseong, North-East India. At first, Father Windey taught history at St. Xavier’s College in Ranchi. Later on, he moved to the South of India, to Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, where he professed his final religious vows. He completed his studies of Social Sciences in Allahabad University (1954-55) and in The Hague (1959-60). Back in Ranchi, Michael founded the now well-known St Xavier’s Social Institute and became its first Director. He taught Sociology at the University and other educational institutions in Ranchi. Michael was a multi-faceted person, a multi-tasker: Director for several schools, Promoter for the Maria Congregations, and Secretary to the Indian Bishops’ Conference.
During the famine of 1967 in Bihar, Michael cooperated closely with the Indian freedom fighter and politician Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979). While functioning under emergency conditions, Michael’s immense working and driving powers clearly stood out. He convinced his students to investigate the impact of natural disasters in far-away affected regions. This knowledge would later be a solid, scientific base for the first VRO activities. Michael also had a profound admiration for Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and shared his philosophy of nonviolent activities as a means of revolution of the very poorest of the poor. Living like an ascetic, he wanted to be near them. Michael used to wear the same, very simple, white linen clothes. He drank water from barrels, creeks or pools, but seemed to be immune to any disease. A handful of rice, some nuts or a banana were enough for a meal. He made do with short naps on the ground or on a bench in the train.
The 1969 floods submerging Guntur made Michael move to Andhra Pradesh. In 1971 he officially ended his career as a professor and teacher to fully give himself to the poor, following Gandhi´s call to reconstruct Village life as the way to bring about India´s advancement. He would become known around the world as the founder of the Village Reconstruction Organisation (VRO). Villages destroyed by natural disasters were rebuilt; new Villages with solid, stone houses were constructed, Schools provided education for lower castes, basic health-care became accessible for Village people. The Organisation has spread to other states of India thanks to Michaël’s never failing commitment and the moral and financial support of numerous volunteers. Schools provided education for the poor and basic health-care became accessible for Village people. Father Windey received many prestigious international prizes and awards, among which the ‘Gandhi Peace Prize’, the ‘National Gandhi Award’ (India, 1982), the ‘International Man of the Year’ (Cambridge-USA, 1994) and the ‘Global Dialogue Peace Award’ (together with Desmond Tutu and others, Zug-Switzerland, 2003). In 2005, he received the Award-Medal of the Knight of the Order of Leopold Award from Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium. In 2008 Father Windey’s health problems forced him to return to Belgium. This time for good; consultation with the treating professor in hospital indicated the impossibility to travel back to India. In the early morning of September 20, 2009, Michael felt the end was very near.”Are you afraid?” the confrere-Jesuit who was watching over him, asked. “No” Michael whispered, “what a wonderful prospect”. “I’m going back to my creator… going to see all my beloved ones who are already in heaven…what a story I will tell them!…
Niece of Fr. Michael A. Windey