“Piot bruiteu, grand tavailleu”: this saying from the dialect of Picardy is roughly translated as “does not make much noise, but a hard worker” and it is a good starting point to approach the life of our confrere, André de Thézy. He did not talk much but was always eager for work. He first saw the light of day on the 23rd April 1925 at Ercheu in the Picardy region of France. He came from a large and deeply Christian family. He adored this land and he loved to go there during his holidays and meet his family who surrounded him with great affection.
In 1947, André began his novitiate at Maison-Carrée, near Algiers. He continued his studies in Tunisia and took his Missionary Oath 29th June 1951 in Thibar followed by ordination to the priesthood on the 12th April 1952 in the Cathedral at Carthage.
André’s first appointment was to the Diocese of Sikasso in Mali. He served in the young parishes of Kimparana, Koutiala and eventually Karangasso. For 30 years, he devoted himself heart and soul to these parishes except to do the Long Retreat at Villa Cavaletti, near Rome in 1965. It was Minyanka country and he was so taken by it that it became his adopted land. He roamed the villages, welcoming and winning over the population with his radiant smile.
Fr. de Thézy’s excellent command of the language facilitated his contact with the people. The superior of his mission wrote; “Fr. de Thézy is my irreplaceable helper. He is much stronger in the language than I. He is the one to settle delicate questions when I sense my inability to seize nuances in the conversation. He is always ready to answer any call for help from me. When one speaks about the customs, he comes to life and makes very succinct and judicious observations. He never stops trying to find out more about this subject. The Minyanka appreciate very much the relations he has with them, because even though he can be a bit reserved with his confreres, he feels very much at ease in his contacts with the people who live around us.”
In June 1982, he did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. He was appointed to the land of the Bambara. This obliged him to learn a new African language. He did it with his usual heroic availability. However, this venture only lasted two years. His sight was not the best and this obliged him to return to France definitively in 1984. He went to Vitry sur Seine to work in a parish. He served there for three years.
From the 1st October 1988 and for the next 27 years, we find André in residence at our house in Mours just outside Paris. He was a constant smiling presence for as long as his strength held up.
We remember him as a confrere loved by all: his colleagues certainly, but also the members of the staff, family members and visitors just passing through. Nobody was a stranger to him.
Manual work and all sorts of little services, even the most humble, such as putting out the bins or tidying up things that were lying about, did not put him off, indeed the opposite is true. Even when his strength began to fail, he still remained willing and able to do anything asked of him. In the garden of the house, his main place of work, people liked to see him, sitting in his chair, watching over a fire of dead branches, smoking his old pipe, or reciting his rosary, which put him in communion with everyone.
Right to the end, he held on without the slightest complaint even though he felt his strength diminishing. Two days before he left us, he persisted in pulling out the weeds that were growing between the cobblestones. He sight got steadily worse but he could see ‘with the heart.’
Many confreres from the Paris region came to concelebrate his funeral Mass in a beautiful ceremony. The chapel was hardly able to contain all the family and friends who surrounded him. Then, André’s mortal remains left for Ercheu for burial in the family vault. From now on, he will rest in his native Picardy.
Thank you André for asking to stay in the community of Mours until you breathed your last. You leave us a precious testimony that the community will keep for a long time and which it will try to emulate. You remind us of the Gospel saying: “For the one who is the least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” (Lk 9, 48).
Michel Groiselle, M.Afr.