School of Religion, Philosophy & Classics

PhD for 79-year-old Theology Graduate

Dr Ossie Kretzmann gets his PhD in Theology.
Photos: Rogan Ward
Dr Ossie Kretzmann gets his PhD in Theology.
Dr Ossie Kretzmann gets his PhD in Theology.
Dr Ossie Kretzmann gets his PhD in Theology.

Dr Ossie Kretzmann will tell you that it is never too late to start something new or take your life to new heights.

This is because at 79, Kretzmann attained his PhD in Theology during UKZN’s Spring Graduation Ceremonies. ‘I feel humble but deeply fulfilled and grateful. It’s a paradoxical feeling that I have,’ he said. ‘While the study has been long and hard, it has also given me joy over the acquisition of new knowledge. I also realized how little I know,’ he added.

Kretzmann, the oldest graduate from the College of Humanities who also ministered the late statesman, Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, said his age did not deter him from pursuing his degree as he needed to study to make a fundamental contribution to a theological issue in the Methodist Church.

His study looked at baptismal convergence in relation to sacramental baptism and rebaptism. The findings were tested according to Methodist Church South Africa (MCSA) sacramental and evangelical hermeneutical requirement for an accurate Christian result. ‘These principles of testing form the basis of what it ultimately means for the Bible to be the highest authority and thus should serve as an objective arbiter for all matters of dispute within MCSA doctrine and theology,’ he said.

Kretzmann is grateful to God, his wife Deirdre, children, and especially supervisors Professor Lilian Siwila and Dr Helen Keith-van Wyk for their indispensable part in the study. ‘An old dog may not be able to learn new tricks, but with their assistance I have come to see that all things are possible at any stage of life,’ said Kretzmann who believes that God is using him to contribute towards the enhancement of the redemptive mission of Christ in the Methodist Church through this study of water baptism as well as in the promotion of Christian Ecumenism. 

Kretzmann was born in 1939 in Potsdam near East London, SA, into a German farming community. Because of financial constraints caused by the economic depression of the 1930s, a series of droughts, the loss of a herd of milk cows; his father was compelled to remove him and his siblings from school as they could legally earn a living. At the age of 15, he was employed as a delivery boy. At 19, he requested to enter the fulltime ministry of the Methodist Church. He would later become a lay preacher, later earning a B.A degree in 1968, a B.A. Honours in 1982, a Master’s degree in 2012 and now, a PhD.

Amongst the highlights of his ministry were the monthly visits to Robben Island for two years (1970-1971) where he regularly ministered to former president Nelson Mandela amongst the hundreds of other political prisoners; attending the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976 with an evangelistic group called Youth With A Mission; being part of the World Conference on the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem Israel (1974), and in 2009, being invited back into the Lutheran Church to do locum work where he received his Christian upbringing.

He gives credit to his parents, especially his mother, for saving his life after contracting diphtheria- a bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of the throat and nose- at two years old.