Jean-Marie was born on the 17th October 1922 at Bourbourg in the Diocese of Lille. Soon afterwards, his family (he was the eldest of 10 children) moved to the Paris region. He followed his secondary school education at the Minor Seminary of Conflans.
Jean began his White Father journey in October 1941 at Thibar in Tunisia. However, the war interrupted his studies and he was called up for military service in November 1942. He first served in the Chantiers de Jeunesse (a paramilitary organisation in Vichy France). However when the Americans landed in Algeria in 1943, he was called-up to fight, this time, for the Free French forces. He received some training in aeronautics in Algeria before being sent to England for further training in a Heavy Bomber Squadron. After the war, he entered our novitiate in Maison-Carrée near Algiers in September 1946. The following year, he found himself once again in Thibar for theological studies. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 27th June 1950 before moving on to Carthage for his final year of studies. He was ordained priest there on the 24th March 1951.
Jean-Marie had asked for an appointment to an English speaking country and he was sent to Ghana in West Africa where he was to work for the next 36 years. His first mission was Kaleo in the present day diocese of Wa and he arrived there in December 1951. However, he only stayed there for two years before he was appointed to Nandom in the country of the Dagara. He courageously got down to learning the language. Other appointments followed; Kaleo (1957), Damongo (1958) and Nandom again in February 1959. In September 1959, he was appointed to Ko and a year later to Tumu with the task of founding a new mission. The project was started in 1960 and he was the man in charge of the construction of the post and the work of evangelisation. His next appointment was to France to undertake missionary promotion work while based at rue Friant. He had to wait till 1967 before he saw Ghana again. He followed the Long Retreat at Villa Cavalletti in May 1966 before returning to Ko in 1967. He subsequently served in Hamile (1973) and Nandom (1979) and Fielmon, (a new foundation, 1982) and Lassia-Tuolu (1987) in Wa Diocese. This sequence of appointments was only possible because those in charge knew that they could count on the apostolic enthusiasm of Jean-Marie and his ease at meeting new faces, a certain facility at learning new languages but above all his great availability.
Unfortunately serious back problems seriously impaired his mobility. He had to take to his bed for six weeks at one stage. During his home leave in 1988 and after consulting doctors, he was advised to remain in France. This was difficult for him to accept. He spent some time as guest master at Angers and Lyon. He did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in 1989 before accepting a pastoral appointment in Fréjus. He felt at home right from the start and soon won the hearts of his parishioners. For four years, he took part in the different services of the parish while following strictly the recommendation of the doctors who prescribed a lot of walking, cycling and swimming. He was known by all parents and children who liked to see him running through the village with his appearance a tad like a Parisian street ragamuffin, which opened a good number of doors. People liked his Sunday sermons delivered without embellishments where he tried to make the link between the Gospel and the daily life of his flock. When he was appointed as superior to our house in Nantes in 1993, his departure was very much regretted by the people of the Var region.
For the next six years, Jean-Marie welcomed, with his customary cheerfulness, many confreres passing through Nantes. However, he missed pastoral work and when the opportunity arose, he was very happy to go to Maisons-Alfort for two years parish work. However, his health began to get worse and this forced a move to a retirement home. Initially, he stayed in Bry-sur-Marne in 2001 before moving to Billère in 2015. In these two houses, he was able to receive treatment and to walk a bit. Moreover, his radiant joyfulness and simplicity won the esteem of all. He also looked forward every year to participating at a big family reunion which brought together his many brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. He loved them all as they in their turn surrounded him with their affection. And indeed they were numerous attending his funeral some coming from far away to say in one way or another how much they appreciated their “uncle”
Jean-Marie returned to the Father’s house on the 31st October 2017. He was 95 years old. Nobody doubted that the Lord Jesus whom he had loved so much and served so faithfully in Ghana and France would have shown him straightaway the place reserved for the good and faithful servants. Thank you, Jean-Marie for your kindness always tinged with a bit of humour and for the cheerfulness that you spread all around you.
Michel Groiselle, M.Afr.