For over 45 years Father Don Sybertz has been very close to the Sukuma people in Tanzania. With his low-key, laid-back style he never worries about time. If the Sukuma people come one hour late for a meeting, Don arrives two hours late. The local people say "Padri Donati can out-Sukuma the Sukuma." Their deep affection for him is reflected in his local names that show he really belongs. Upon arriving in Kilulu Parish he was called "Mwana Helena" which means "Son of Helen," after his mother. Don’s Sukuma name is "There Are No Weeds In My Field" that reflects his conscientious way of living the Christian life. Letters are so rare from Don that they are framed by the receivers.
Don ‘s hobby and apostolate are collecting Sukuma proverbs, stories and songs. When Father Tom Shea pulled Don Sybertz’s leg by making up the proverb “The dog is standing in the banana plantation”, the Maryknoll community in Ndoleleji responded with its own proverb for Tom: “The person who makes up proverbs will be bitten by a dog”. When asked if he ever got tired after collecting some 5,000 Sukuma proverbs, Don quoted the proverb that says “That which is good is never finished”.
While on his motorcycle or in his truck, Don Sybertz would often get stuck in the mud or have to ford a swollen river especially during the rainy season in Shinyanga. Sometimes he would have to sleep overnight on the road. When asked if he ever told these travel adventures to his family and friends back in the United States, Don commented: "They wouldn’t believe me if I told them."
Don says that he loves "Spirituality and Sports" in that order, but sometimes his friends wonder. In a homily he explained his future apostolate as "emphasizing the adult catechumenate and improving my tennis game." He thinks that it is bad luck to listen for the sports scores of his favorite Boston teams on the radio so he always tries to get the news from others. One morning after vesting for mass in the sacristy Ndoleleji Parish, he formally processed over to another priest and whispered, "Did the Boston Celtics win last night?"
Folklore is starting to build up around Don. Once he and Brother John Wohead were leaving Mwanza Airport together to fly to Nairobi and continue on to the USA for Home Leave. Don had sent his passport to the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam to get it renewed but didn’t tell anyone. Upon arriving at the Mwanza Airport he calmly told John and the other Maryknollers that he didn’t have his passport. But he said it should be coming in the mail bag on the incoming plane from Dar es Salaam, the very plane that was taking them to Nairobi. When the plane arrived Don arranged for the postmaster to open the mail bag right there on the runway. He found a letter for Don with his passport inside, and with a big smile on his face, held it up for everyone to see. There was a big cheer from all the passengers on the same flight. Shortly afterwards Don and John boarded the same plane and flew off on their trip.
On another occasion Sybertz and Wohead traveled through Europe together. John made all the arrangements for hotels, transportation, tours, etc. After several weeks John got tired of being the "manager" and said: "Don, starting right now you’re in charge of making all our arrangements!" For Don this was easy. The next day he booked his own flight to Boston.
There are many versions of the stories of Don flying to the States without informing his family ahead of time. It seems that once at the bus stop in North Weymouth, Massachusetts he met a nephew who reached home first and informed Don’s Mother: "I just saw Father Don in town." Mrs. Sybertz said, "Oh, you couldn’t have! Don is still in Tanzania." Ten minutes later Don walked though the front door of his home and said, "Hi, Ma."