It was Sunday, the feast of Christ the King and the nurses were helping Jean get ready to go down to Mass at our Nursing Home in Pau. As there was plenty of time, they invited him to lie down before going to the chapel. Hardly had he done so, when his heart gave out and Jean Vialleton died as discretely as he had lived his life.
Jean was born on the 10th April 1926 at Dunières a village in the northeast of Haute-Loire Department in the Diocese of Le Puy. His father was in the confectionary business while his mother was the homemaker.
Jean did his primary schooling, initially with the local sisters before moving to a primary school run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart where he received a primary school certificate. He then went to the College Notre Dame de Vallebenoite in St. Etienne as a boarder for his secondary school studies. He passed the first part of the Baccalaureate Exam. However, this period of his studies was severely disrupted by the war as his father was in the Army and by the death of his mother in 1940. His father remarried when he returned from the war.
Jean left school for a period of two years and worked with the youth of the Parish. He returned to his studies in 1945 and went to the Junior Seminary of Yssingeaux. There he obtained the second part of his Baccalaureate Exam.
How did Jean get to know the White Fathers? He never spoke about it. However, we do know that the White Fathers in Lyon often visited the secondary schools in the region.
Jean joined the White Fathers in 1946. He followed the usual course of studies; two years of Philosophy in Kerlois, one year at the novitiate at Maison Carée near Algiers, military service (one year) in Tunis, three years of Theology in Thibar and finally one year of theological studies in Carthage. He took his Missionary Oath in Thibar on the 29th June 1953 and his ordination to the priesthood took place in Carthage on the 18th April 1954.
All those responsible for Jean’s training remarked that his relationships were hampered by his shyness, which meant that he could seem to be brusque and abrupt with people. He was very devoted and got on very well with children. This was to be a constant in his life.
After ordination, Jean went to La Manouba in Tunisia to study Arabic and Islam. From 1956 to 1963, he was teaching at the White Fathers’ College at Maison Carée. He was appointed to Kabylia in 1964, firstly at Beni Yenni then at Boghni and finally at Tizi Ouzou. For 22 years, Jean taught in colleges witnessing to his missionary vocation at the service of the Algerians through the means of teaching. He did the Long Retreat in Villa Cavalletti in 1965 and took some time out for studies in Lyon in 1972.
At his request, Jean left Algeria for Rwanda in October 1978. He was appointed to teach in the Junior Seminaries initially at Ndera and then at Kabgayi. During the following years, he occupied other teaching posts. He was appointed to Nyakabanda in June 1991 and did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in October 1991. In May 1992, he was appointed to teach French to White Father candidates attending the Foyer Ngongo in Goma. In 1993, he returned to Kigali to work in the Library/Archives of the Regional House. He was a witness to the genocide of April 1994. He was evacuated with the help of Belgian paratroops, firstly to Nairobi and eventually to Paris.
After his return to France, Jean expressed the wish to work in pastoral ministry in his home diocese of Le Puy. In July 1994, Bishop Henri Brincard of Le Puy appointed him to Saint Romain Lachalm where he was to remain until May 2013. If there is one thing that marks the life of Jean Vialleton, it is his apostolate to young people over the course of his priestly ministry. It began during his training and continued during his work in Algeria and Rwanda. His niece testified at his funeral that he liked to be with young people and to teach catechism to them.
In May 2013, Jean was hospitalised at Firminy and then at Rosières. He asked to retire to a White Father Retirement Home. While he was waiting for a place, he stayed in a Retirement Home for clergy in Polignac, not far from Le Puy. He moved to Billère on the 23rd January 2015. He died there on the 20th November 2016.
“Well done my good and faithful servant…Come; share your master’s joy.” (Mt 25, 21)
Maurice Cadilhac, M.Afr.