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 took his Missionary Oath on the 22nd July 1950 and was ordained to the priesthood on the 24th March 1951. His professors underlined his solid piety, his generous character and his balanced judgement. He was talkative and read a lot. He was a good organizer, an ‘instructor,’ even a bit of a handyman, but finishing jobs fully was not his strong point. He had a strong will, even a bit obstinate, typically Luxembourgeois – his family came from Luxembourg. One of them commented on his “smiling stubbornness.” He could be very direct, lacked tact, sweeping in his judgements; he liked to have the last word. He was quick to criticise. Physically he was described as being as strong as a horse and a loud voice to go with it.
Jean Pierre was appointed to Mozambique and left for Lisbon in order to learn Portuguese on the 12th November 1951. He became deeply immersed in Portuguese culture. He continued on to Africa in May 1953 and he was appointed curate at Manga Parish. In January 1954, he was sent to teach in the seminary at Zȯbuè but in July of the same year, he was recalled to Manga to be the Diocesan Treasurer. The Regional noted that Jean-Pierre was adept at handling material things and was as much a business man as a procurator. However, the appointment was a disaster. Jean-Pierre’s accounts were a mess, not because he was incapable but because he kept everything in his head and wrote nothing down. The Regional noted, “A great confrere, but he can get on your nerves as he knows everything, does everything better and can do it the quickest.” He was very generous always ready to help a confrere who asked him. He spent nothing on himself. So that he could get some pastoral experience, he was sent to Murraça to learn Chisena at the beginning of 1956. He worked in the parish of Charré until he was recalled to Zȯbuè seminary as bursar. He was to spend the next six years of his missionary life there. The regional praised his spirit of obedience noting that, “on could send him anywhere which was ideal for his superiors.” After his home leave and the Long Retreat at Villa Cavalletti near Rome (1964), he returned as curate to Manga, then moved on to Munshava where he became superior in January 1968. On the 25th May 1971, 32 White Fathers were expelled from the country for disloyal behaviour towards the colonial authorities. This provoked a decision that all leave, not without some conflicting feelings on the part of some…Jean-Pierre had worked there for 17 years.
Jean-Pierre was appointed to Malawi and at the beginning of March 1972, he joined the parish of Katete in the Diocese of Mzuzu. He undoubtedly had a gift for languages and two months later, he was working as curate in Rumphi. In May 1973, he was appointed to the Bishop’s House in Lilongwe. This last position took into account his state of health which was beginning to cause some concern. He also met again with some of the ‘old boys’ from Mozambique and the proximity of the border allowed him some contacts. The Regional noted that Jean-Pierre had some strong ideas on the way of running the apostolate. His work was very much appreciated. Lilongwe the new capital of the country was expanding at a crazy pace. Jean-Pierre wrote, “The main objective of our (Parish) team is to train teams of lay people to animate the different districts of the city. This means continual toing and froing.” In 1977, he moved to another parish in Lilongwe, the Sacred Heart Parish of Chilinde. He remained there as Parish Priest until 1992. He undertook significant developments to the parish buildings. In 1984, he took part in the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. In 1990, he had to undergo a number of operations for kidney stones.
His last appointment in Malawi was as Parish Priest in Kawale in 1992. From 1993 onwards, he had to return to Belgium annually. In 1995, he left with the intention of having a sabbatical time. He did not realise that he was leaving Africa for good. In May 1996, he followed the session “Towards the Third Age” in Rome. He was then appointed superior of rue Linthout in Bruxelles. He ran the house very capably, at the service of the confreres and attentive to the needs of the visitors. Having some medical knowledge, he was able to orient many confreres towards appropriate medical treatment. He looked after hospital appointments for confreres and regularly visited those who were hospitalised. He was also well up in the area of computers and he was useful in this domain as well. His family counted many doctors and computer experts and they all readily helped him, something that he was very proud of. In the dining room, his booming voice could be heard at all the tables and he always had the last word. He kept himself up to date and, for example, followed courses at Lumen Vitæ. He liked good liturgies and prepared them with care. He remained superior of the Linthout community until 2003. He continued to be involved in ministry in his native parish of Saint-Albert in Schaerbeek and he animated prayer groups and Bible Study groups. He knew for some time that prostate cancer was slowly undermining his health. In 2005, he participated at the 70+ session in Rome. During 2016, one could see the marked deterioration in his condition and on the 22nd November, he agreed to move to our community in Evere in order to receive more appropriate care. The old warrior accepted, not without some difficulties, the decline of his strength. His solid faith helped him to persevere. He died peacefully on the 29th September 2017 in St. Joseph’s home, Evere. May he rest in peace.
The funeral took place on the 6th October 2017 in the big chapel of St. Joseph’s nursing home followed by burial in our cemetery in Varsenare near Brugge.
Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.