Gaby was born on the 19th July 1935 at Pittem in West Flanders to a farming family of eight children. He followed his secondary school studies in Tielt. In September 1954, he entered the White Fathers at Boechout. At the time, his uncle René (+1964) was working in the Congo. He did his Spiritual Year in Varsenare from 1956 to 1957. He was appointed to Eastview for his theological studies. As was the custom at the time, Continue reading “Gaby Claerhout 1935 – 2017 (PE nr 1089 – 2018/03)”
Wim was born in Tilburg on the 20th November 1926. He wanted to become a missionary and he received the first part of his training at St. Charles, near Boxtel, and ‘s-Heerenberg. He took his Temporary Missionary Oath on the 17th September 1948, taking the religious name Winfried which was the custom for the Brothers at the time. Continue reading “Wim van Dijk 1926 – 2017 (PE nr. 1088 – 2018/02)”
Hans was born on the 2nd November 1931 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He entered the Spiritual Year in ‘s-Heerenberg in 1952 before going to Thibar, Tunisia for theological studies. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 20th June 1956. He finished his studies in Carthage where he was ordained priest on the 21st April 1957. Continue reading “Hans Remhs 1931 – 2017 (PE nr. 1088 – 2018/02)”
Jan was born in Eindhoven on the15th February 1938. He followed, more or less, the usual formation programme of Dutch White Fathers at that time and studied in Sterksel, Santpoort, Boechout in Belgium, St, Charles near Boxtel, Dorking in England (Novitiate) and finally his theological studies in Heverlee. It was there that he took his Missionary Oath on the 28th June 1964 followed by ordination to the priesthood at Roosendaal on the 3rd July 1965. Continue reading “Jan Franse 1938 – 2017 (PE nr. 1088 – 2018/02)”
Jean was born on the 17th August 1928 at Couillet in Hainaut Province in the Diocese of Tournai, Belgium. His father was Secretary General of the Railway Workers Trade Union and worked in Bruxelles while his mother was a school teacher. Jean attended the secondary school of the Athénée Royal de Charleroi before going on to finish his secondary schooling at the junior seminary of Bonne-Espérance at Vellereille-les-Brayeux also in the Hainaut Province. Continue reading “Jean Boulanger 1928 – 2017 (PE nr. 1088 – 2018/02)”
Jaak was born on the 11th November 1925 at Meeuwen, Limbourg Province then in the Diocese of Liège, Belgium. He came from a farming background and his father served as the secretary for the commune. Jaak began his secondary studies at the College of Bree but the last two years were done in the Junior Seminary of St. Trond. He entered the White Fathers Continue reading “Jaak Van Dyck 1925 – 2017 (PE nr. 1088 – 2018/02)”
Kees, as he was affectionately known to his family and confreres, was born in Teteringen in the Diocese of Breda on the 30th September, 1929. At the age of 20 he decided to apply to join the Missionaries of Africa as a Brother. After postulancy he was received into the Novitiat e at s’Heerenberg on the 7th of September, 1951. After 2 years he made his first profession on the 6th August, 1953. He then went to Luxemburg to the Brothers’ Scolasticate for Continue reading “Cornelius (Kees) Akkermans 1929-2017 (PE nr. 1087 – 2018/01)”
Jean-Pierre was born on the 18th September 1926 in Schaerbeek, one of the 19 municipalities of the city of Bruxelles. Primary schooling was at a school run by the De La Salle Brothers. He did his secondary schooling at the Institut Sainte-Marie in Schaerbeek. In 1944, in the middle of the war, he entered the White Fathers at Thy-le-Château. The novitiate at Varsenare followed and he studied Theology at Heverlee, where he Continue reading “Jean-Pierre Pickard 1926 – 2017 (PE nr. 1087 – 2018/01)”
John’s health had been poor for as long as anyone could remember. He fell almost daily, did fall or collapse occasionally, was often in pain, had digestive problems, walked with difficulty and still survived and remained actively present in community. We began to think he was indestructible.
Then suddenly he was gone! On Thursday evening, September 21st, after a rosary walk with Jean Robitaille, he left the house for his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Pushing his walker across the church parking lot, he was knocked to the ground in a freak bicycle accident. That night, he lay in the hospital and totally in character telling Jean: “Get me out of here.” His brain was bleeding, however, and soon he fell into a coma. He died the next morning.
With a mixture of sadness, love, and gratitude, friends and colleagues gathered for memorial Masses in the US and in Scotland. In Scotland, there were former Young Missionaries, survivors from a group John helped found in his early years. In Florida, the community remembered him as a born leader, a steady presence, and a “go to guy.” Two Irish American men who met John only recently at AA mourned the loss of their new friend. They recalled his wise presence in their group. “John said little the first few times although there was something profound about his presence. One evening, the topic had touched “spirituality” and John stood up and leaning on the chair in front of him as everyone looked and listened: “Faith,” he said,” as he often did, “is nothing more than believing something on the word of another.”
In Washington, the Africa Faith and Justice Network recognized his major role there and everyone recalled his charm, humour, and wisdom. In all three places there was the shared memory of a dynamic priest. The love and respect for him was shared by all.
John Lynch was born in Newmills, Fife, Scotland on the 18th April 1936. After secondary school he studied at the Priory, Bishop Waltham. He studied Philosophy in Blacklion, Ireland and did his novitiate in s’Heerenberg (Netherlands). Four years of Theology in Carthage in Muslim Tunisia followed. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 27th June 1961. This would prove to be his longest stay on the African continent. He was ordained priest on the 30th June 1962 at Oakley, in the Archdiocese of Edinburgh.
At Carthage, though he fitted in well, he had a difficult time with his health. After ordination, he was appointed to Uganda but he was held in Scotland on doctors’ orders after major stomach surgery. He never really got over this loss. He served as bursar, teacher, Vocations’ Director and promoter of Missions in the various houses of the British Province, St.Boswells, Bishop’s Waltham, Dorking and Rutherglen. His football skills and youthful personality touched many young people. In 1972, he began his long service in the then American province. He did a little more vocation work, then studied counselling, earning a MA from Loyola University, Chicago. He served as counsellor and spiritual director to a large community of Religious Sisters in Michigan for five years. Returning to Chicago, he coordinated a modestly successful Associates program sending a handful of Associates overseas including an outstanding priest from Milwaukee, Father Jerome Thompson, who served for a number of years in Tunisia and other countries.
By this time, John was an important presence in the US Province. He was Provincial from 1987 to 1994 and in 1999 he became Provincial Treasurer and worked on the fundraising program. Feeling the need for lay expertise, he hired an assistant who now directs the fundraising effort.
John had a rich and interesting personality. He was always the first to welcome newcomers with that broad smile of his and to engage with them and listen to them. He loved being in community and loved being around people. Red of hair and complexion, he was not to be pushed too far or frustrated too much. He adopted America as his country yet remained a Scot. Never losing touch with his roots, he spent home leaves in Scotland enjoying time with his sister, friends, and with the Rutherglen community. Every once in a while, in America, he would regale us again and again with tales of the eccentric and cantankerous pastor of his youth. Then he would break into bursts of inscrutable and entertaining dialect. He loved to joke and tease, humour fuelled by a certain irony and near pessimism regarding human nature.
Without illusion, firm and tough though he was, he could be a soft touch for the hard luck story. His heart was too big. With confreres or “colleagues,” as he liked to call them, he was generous to a fault. He survived on indomitable tenacity, not without a streak of stubbornness. In the labyrinth that is the Washington house, you always worried that he would fall down the stairs. You could tell him to please take the elevator but he seemed to regard that as “giving in” and the day after your request you would meet him dragging himself up the main stairway.
Poor health not only took away his dream of Africa. He also suffered from alcoholism, a condition that became urgent early on in America. Humbled by this addiction in the 1970s, he had to accept treatment and, through AA, face the challenge of interior growth. There he learned to call difficult problems by their names and to acknowledge his own challenges. In his fading years giving homilies at Mass in the Washington community, he would sharpen his tone, naming something needing improvement in our life together. He would pause briefly and glance around the room daring us to deny it!
On a trip to Uganda in 1983, he gave a retreat to a group of diocesan priests amazing them by his open admission of his own struggles with alcohol. As Provincial and Provincial Treasurer, he had to confront very difficult situations and often painful decisions. This helped both individual confreres and the Province/Sector as a whole.
During the last fifteen years of his life, he suffered from painful back spasms, underwent knee and shoulder operations, had serious stomach ailments and reduced mobility. All this struggle and suffering, by the Grace of God, transformed him into an outstanding Missionary of Africa.
As a leader of Missionaries and a friend and counsellor to Religious Sisters, seekers and many recovering alcoholics, John channelled his struggles, illness, pains, and losses into a wisdom we could count on. He never stopped searching for depth of spirit. His book shelves were filled with the latest writings of Nouwen and Rohr and many others. He was the “Wounded Healer” of Henri Nouwen. In time of trouble we could go to him not for a pat on the back or cheap optimism but for authentic hope, the hope spoken of by St Peter in his letter. He would listen to us, respond, and then share from his own life. We missionaries would leave ready to continue our journeys on the road to healing.
Bob McGovern, M.Afr.
Francis was born at Luceville in the Diocese of Rimouski, Canada on the 12th June 1947. At primary school in Saint-Albert-le-Grand he was considered a brilliant student. After finishing 7th class, his Parish Priest brought him to Rimouski so that he could sit the admission exam for the Junior Seminary. Francis was already thinking about becoming a priest. So at the age of 13 years, he became a boarder at the Junior Seminary in September 1960. Up to that time he was considered to be reserved even shy but life at the seminary allowed him to mix with the other students and to take part in the sporting activities.
In 1964, the White Fathers organised a missionary exhibition at the Junior Seminary. Francis was very much taken by the African sculptures and drums on show. Later on he wrote, “The two White Fathers present spoke to us with great enthusiasm about Africa and the pastoral activities in their countries of mission. The distributed the magazine “Mission” which I read with interest…I was attracted to the White Fathers because they worked in Africa. For me, the White Fathers were supermen because of their activities and dedication. They seemed to me to be zealous, optimists, working on behalf of the poorest and wanting to do something to change the face of the world. They were men of God and I felt called to be like them.”
Francis entered the novitiate of the White Fathers in Quebec in September 1968. It was a period of training in community life, prayer, and sharing of responsibilities. One year later, he began theological studies at Eastview near Ottawa, Ontario. Now, he discovered international community life which pleased him a lot. He took his Missionary Oath in Eastview on the 6th May 1972 and he was ordained priest in his home parish of Luceville on the 12th May 1973. The biblical text on his ordination card and which was with him all his life, was from Psalm 16 (15) “C’est toi, Seigneur, mon partage et ma coupe. Mon destin est dans ta main. Le lot que j’ai reçu est le plus beau” (cf Ps 16, 5-6.)
During his years of training, Francis’ professors saw him as the man with the welcoming smile. Everybody in the community respected him, he was attentive to others and always ready to be of service. He was a man of prayer with a solid faith and piety. He also possessed a great sense of sharing. He was always ready to invite the European confreres to stay with his family during the summer holidays.
In August 1973, Fr. Thibault left for Africa. His first appointment was to Zaire (now DRC) more precisely to the region of Ituri. He started in Logo in the Diocese of Mahagi. The parish had 40,000 Christians scattered though 35 villages. Even if the priests visited each village three or four times a year, there was no time for personal contacts with people. This necessitated training leaders locally to preside over the Sunday prayers.
Francis got down to learning the local language, Alur. As there was no language school in this part of the country, he had to manage things for himself with the help of the personal notes of the confreres and the aid of a catechist with whom he walked every morning in order to learn the rudiments of this language.
1975 was a turbulent year in Zaire with many changes taking place. Political decisions radically affected the life of the Church. Some changes gave rise to feelings of foreboding and insecurity among the Christian population. Christian youth movements were banned, non African Christian names were forbidden and the Catholic press was suppressed. Yet the life of the Church continued. Pastors organised catechism courses in each village and appealed for volunteer catechists.
In a letter to the Canadian Provincial, Francis wrote, “I have not accomplished anything superhuman or heroic during these last four years in Africa. But I was very pleased with all the Africans and my colleagues. I love this missionary life and I am ready to begin again.”
Francis returned to Canada in April 1977. After some months of rest, he returned once more to Logo. In 1981, he was appointed to the parish of Aba in the north of the Diocese of Mahagi. This meant learning a new language, Lingala. The long journeys on bad roads tired him out causing sleeplessness and stomach problems, he would have the need to take a green drink every morning. Soon the Regional advised him to return home and get some strength back. He returned to Canada in January 1982.
After a well deserved rest, Francis accepted an appointment to Canada for missionary promotion work in schools in the Québec region. This was a difficult apostolate for him because he did not feel at ease in the large secondary schools. In 1986, he was appointed superior of the Provincial house in Montreal while also taking on the task of local bursar. This was a delicate task which he carried out adroitly. He gave compassionate attention to each confrere while emphasizing the importance of community life and welcoming visitors.
In 1989, it was time to think about returning to Africa. The Regional reminded him that he was needed in the Congo because he was very much missed by the confreres who had known him there. Francis was appointed to Ugonjo again in the Diocese of Mahagi. With another confrere, he shared responsibility for a Training Centre for Pastoral workers. Sessions were organised for leaders of Christian communities and retreats given to priests and religious. Work also began on a translation of the New Testament into Alur, the local language.
Francis spoke about his wonder at the faith and hope of all the Congolese which he met every day, “These people are poor. They meet many difficulties. They can be put down and disheartened but they stick it out and help one another. As for me, my presence among them is only a drop in the ocean but I am happy to be here with them. I take each day as it comes seeking God’s presence in my life.”
Francis did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in September 1992 after which he returned to Ugonjo. Here he was to suffer two painful events. On the first occasion four robbers disguised as soldiers arrived at the mission and threatened the Fathers at gunpoint and took away anything they could lay their hands on: money, radios, tools even the car of the fathers. Some months later the same confreres underwent a similar robbery only this time a watchman of the mission was killed. Francis was very traumatised by these violent attacks and the Regional thought it best to transfer him to a more secure post. Fr. Thibault was appointed to the Regional house in Bunia in the neighbouring diocese. He became the bursar and was in charge of receiving visitors. However, he still felt ill at ease. The painful experiences at Ugonjo gave him nightmares and the genocide in Rwanda affected him a lot. He could no longer concentrate and showed signs of stress. In May 1994, he was asked to anticipate his home leave and return to Canada and take the necessary time for rest and receive treatment.
After resting some time in his family, Francis felt much better and accepted to go as superior to our house on rue Argyle in Ottawa. His kindness, his sense of service and organisation and his attentiveness to others contributed to keeping the Ottawa community a harmonious and joyful one.
Francis left Ottawa in 1999 to take up the job as local bursar in the Provincial house community on rue de l’Acadie in Montreal. He was familiar with the way the house functioned as he had been superior there previously. He carried out his duties sagaciously until June 2005 when he left for Mexico.
Francis went firstly to Querétaro. It was difficult enough for him as he had to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture. As he had a good reputation as bursar, he was put in charge of purchases for the kitchen and for the maintenance of the house. In 2009, he was appointed Sector Treasurer and went to live in Guadalajara. He also accompanied our Mexican students who wanted to have a community experience and prepare themselves to work in Africa. This was a new experience for Francis as he had never been involved in Formation work before. However, he was happy to share with these young people his experience and his missionary enthusiasm.
On the 23rd July 2012, Francis returned definitely to Montreal. He needed rest, to relax and regain his strength as the smallest activity seemed to tire him out. His doctor advised that he follow therapy to deal with his stress. One began to see the first beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease; he was beginning to mix up the present with the past, had serious problems with his memory, and was becoming more and more confused. He took up residence in our retirement home in Sherbrooke where the nursing staff could look after him and make sure that he took his prescribed medication.
Fr. Thibault lived in Sherbrooke until the 15th December 2015. There was a marked deterioration in the state of his health and he was brought to the Hotel-Dieu hospital for evaluation. The doctor told us that Francis ought to go to a centre specialised in long term care where the medical staff could look after him in a more appropriate way. Francis was admitted to the Centre d’Hébergement de Soins de Longue Durée in Asbestos, Québec. Little by little he got weaker just to the point where he became incapable of recognising the confreres, relatives and friends who came to visit him.
Francis returned to the Father on the 6th September 2017. His funeral took place in the presence of his mortal remains in the Chapel of the Missionaries of Africa in Sherbrooke. After cremation, his ashes were buried in the cemetery of Luceville, his native village. May the Lord grant him the peace and eternal joy promised to his faithful servants.
Michel Carbonneau, M.Afr.