They called him Papito
When congregations in Argentina today celebrate anniversaries, you often hear the names Gantner and Toplisek mentioned. As pioneers, these two friends and Apostles laid historic foundations. In all of this, a special kind of processed cheese and a widow played a decisive role.
No, they were not the first Apostles who were active in South America. The very beginnings go back to a Dutchman named Sietse Faber, who had been ordained as an Apostle for Argentina in the year 1900. But from about 1915 on until the mid 1920s, his activities were somehow lost in the fog of history.
This is why Eduardo Gantner and José Toplisek were instrumental in paving the way for the small and widely dispersed flock to grow into the strong District Church that it is today. The decisive impulses, however, came from a high-flyer who was passing through: Assistant Chief Apostle Heinrich Franz Schlaphoff.
Finding faith the second time around
Eduardo Gantner, born near St. Gallen in Switzerland in 1872, came into contact with the New Apostolic faith twice. First, during a business trip to Paris (France) and later during a visit by Artur Weder, the eventual rector of the congregation in Paris.
Weder, a Subdeacon at the time, had gone to pay Gantner—who ran a cheese factory—a visit because he wanted to know more about a certain kind of processed cheese. Artur Weder was so enthusiastic when he told Gantner about his faith that he came along to church. Gantner decided to examine it more closely—and finally decided to stay.
When their paths crossed
Joseph Toplisek was born in Austria in 1886. He apprenticed as a carpenter, but also trained and qualified as a piano and harmonium builder. Unwittingly, this would turn out to be very useful indeed for the congregations in later years.
He emigrated to Argentina, where he met a New Apostolic man who had been won over for God’s work still by Apostle Faber. José Toplisek joined the congregation in Urquiza. Here he not only crossed paths with Eduardo Gantner, but the two remained lifelong friends and companions.
By order: Spanish instead of German
When the later Assistant Chief Apostle Helper Schlaphoff came to South America in 1930 and assumed the leadership of the Church there, he sealed the Families Gantner and Toplisek and ordained José Toplisek as a Deacon. When the Assistant Chief Apostle came to Argentina again in 1931, he ordained both men as Priests.
With his typical dynamic and assertive way, Apostle Schlaphoff turned the Church upside down. One of his most radical measures was the abolition of German-speaking church services. The sermon was to be conducted in the national language—as was the case in his other working areas.
The local ministers were not particularly convinced of this, because the members were mainly German-speaking. For four months they conducted services in Spanish for a single widow. But then the congregation began to grow because this very woman had eagerly invited people to church. This is how the Chief Apostle Helper related the story.
Special mission with a long-term effect
Also his next visit meant new ministries and new challenges for the two friends. In the eyes of the Apostle, Priest Gantner had developed leadership skills. In 1934 he ordained him as a District Elder and gave him an assistant in José Toplisek, whom he ordained as an Evangelist. At the same time, the pair received a special mission: to obtain official recognition for the New Apostolic Church in Argentina. After four years of great efforts and setbacks, they achieved their goal.
The rest of the story about these two men played out in the founding years of the Argentine congregations. Eduardo Gantner was ordained as an Apostle in May 1939 and José Toplisek in May 1944. On 11 October 1948—exactly seventy years ago—Apostle Gantner passed away and Apostle Toplisek took over the leadership of the Church in the country.
“This is how the life of one of the greatest pioneers of the New Apostolic Church ended,” the Assistant Chief Apostle wrote. “Our Papito has died,” he wrote, remembering that the brothers and sisters called him Daddy. “But his spirit lives on.”