Parklands has ‘hipplest’ priest

Reverend Stefan Hippler recently celebrated 30 years of being a Catholic priest.

Almost 20 years ago, Reverend Stefan Hippler came to South Africa to serve as a chaplain for the German-speaking Catholic community, little knowing he would end up at the front line in the battle against HIV/Aids in a country he would come to call his home.
Chock-full of charisma and always ready with hearty laugh, the 56-year-old German sports an earring, shattering one’s perceptions of what a Catholic priest should look like.
“When I first arrived here, there was some concern if I could be holy with a hole in my ear,” Reverend Hippler jokes.
On Tuesday June 28, he celebrated 30 years with the priesthood. On Facebook he wrote: “Today 30 years ago I was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Trier. Almost 20 years of this time I served in South Africa – an amazing journey of life so far I would have never envisioned on this very day in 1986. Thanks to all who were a blessing for me in the last 30 years.”
Reverend Hippler, who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, followed a youth chaplain’s advice and turned to the priesthood when his dreams of studying Egyptology did not work out.
“He said, ‘Just try becoming a priest,’ and I said, ‘Okay’. I was ordained in 1986, and I served as a chaplain for five years, and then I suddenly realised, ‘Stefan, you’re young, you’ve never really lived life, you don’t really know what life’s all about, and yet you preach to people about how to do things. It’s wrong’.”
This prompted him to ask the Bishop for sabbatical leave.
During this time, he had various jobs, including looking after a farm in Spain, working in a refugee camp in Yugoslavia during the war and working as a nurse assistant in a cancer ward in Germany.
He also worked at Frankfurt Airport, where he assisted unaccompanied refugee children from all over the world.
“There I experienced so much pain. You see a lot of things you never want to see in life,” he said. After working with the refugee children, Reverend Hippler said he had had enough of Germany and once again approached his Bishop asking if he could be placed somewhere overseas.
He was supposed to go to Mexico City, but the position had to be filled too quickly, so he “missed his flight”.
“The next position available was in Cape Town, and I came down in 1996 and saw that it was a really good place, and the people were nice. And I thought I would try it for three years,” he said.
Now 20 years later, Reverend Hippler, who lives in Parklands, says he will never leave South Africa.
“I never felt for Germany what I feel for South Africa. I feel more connected here. I’m home here,” he said.
Before moving to Parklands more than three years ago, he lived in several other areas including Camps Bay, Bakoven, Vredehoek, Green Point, Newlands and Tamboerskloof.
In 1999, while belonging to the Rotary Club of Signal Hill, Reverend Hippler realised the severity of the HIV/Aids pandemic.
He worked with Dr Monica Esser, a paediatrician at Tygerberg Hospital, to find a solution for the treatment and care of HIV-positive children.
At the time, he says, every third child admitted to Tygerberg Hospital was HIV-positive.
“We started the non-profit organisation, HOPE Cape Town, and established the first ward dedicated to the care of HIV-positive children. In 2001, we started with antiretroviral treatment three years before the government started,” he says.
Now with HOPE Cape Town well established, Reverend Hippler travels the world continuing his work supporting the fight against HIV/Aids.
He had barely touched the ground after returning a few days ago from a trip to America where he worked on establishing HOPE Cape Town USA, a sister NPO of HOPE Cape Town, before he left on Monday for Europe.
Asked what his thoughts are about the Catholic Church at present and the challenges it faces in the 21st century, he said: “Time is speeding up, and the church is an old lady who doesn’t want to walk fast.
“We have to embrace what is happening now.”