Fr Mihalic dies in California

CATHOLIC priest, missionary, newspaper editor, linguist, compiler of the first Tok Pisin dictionary and educator Fr Frank Mihalic died at the weekend. Divine Word Missionaries in Mount Hagen said yesterday Fr Mihalic died in his Californian home of the United States on December 8, 2001 after suffering from pneumonia and its complications.

Son of a Pennsylvanian farmer and railwayman, Fr Mihalic was born on November 24, 1916 to a family of 10 — four boys and six girls and raised among a “missionary magazine reading” family. Fr Mihalic first came to PNG as a missionary in 1948 and was based in Alexishafen, Madang. A few months later he was posted to Marienberg, East Sepik Province as parish priest where one of his first parishioners was “young” Michael Somare who later became the country’s first Prime Minister.

He worked mostly in the Mamose region until his return to the States due to “severe body complications” and after the Italy divine word missionaries recalled him. In 1969 Fr Mihalic returned to Wewak to set up the Wantok Newspaper and remained editor until 1979.

During those years Fr Frank published the Jacaranda dictionary and grammar of Melanesian pidgin, widely used in PNG in the early days — he also found time to translate the PNG Constitution into Tok Pisin and in 1981 was awarded the OBE for services rendered to Pidgin in PNG and an honorary doctorate of linguistics from the University of PNG.

In 1982 he was asked to head the Communication Arts department at the Divine Word University until 1997. Fr Mihalic spent 52 years teaching in PNG and in his term wrote more than 30 books, some of which are now used in many schools.

Post-Courier Tuesday 11th December 2001