We loved our Marcel with his little white goaWe loved our Marcel with his little white goatee, his lively eye, the questioning smile; we nicknamed him the ‘native’ which delighted him. He was an exceptional missionary, small, strong, sturdy; he did everything without drawing attention to himself.
Marcel was born on the 16th January 1916 at Serres-Castet just to the north of Pau. He appeared in this world 10 years after his four sisters He father was delighted as he saw in him the future heir to run the family farm. Marcel grew up in a rural setting, friend of nature and of plants. When he was seven, while driving a team of oxen down the hill of Serres-Castet, a wheel of the cart crushed his left arm. He was operated on and well looked after in the Marzet Hospital in Pau. He always looked on this ordeal as a preparation for missionary life.
In May 1928, Bishop Emile-Fernand Sauvant (+1939) recently retired Vicar Apostolic of Bamako and a White Father came to Marcel’s school to impart the sacrament of Confirmation to the students. He challenged them to consider a missionary vocation and Marcel said to himself, ‘Why not?’ Thus his White Father vocation was born. Obviously his father was disappointed because of the future of the farm, but he knew the White Fathers in Algeria and he reassured Marcel, “You will be happy with them and, as for us, we will find a solution.”
Marcel began his philosophical studies in Kerlois in 1934. To pay for his journey, he went mushroom gathering in the woods around his house. He was very happy because he gathered enough to pay for his journey. At the big station of Montparnasse in Paris, he had the joy of meeting another candidate from Alsace also on his way to the White Father’s seminary. They found it difficult to understand one another given their different accents and Marcel liked to laughingly tell this story for many years afterwards. It was a good preparation for international life in Africa.
After his novitiate in 1936 at Maison Carée near Algiers, Marcel was called up for military service in a Regiment of Zouaves based in Tunisia. He was happy living in the barracks with Berbers, Arabs, Maltese and Italians. He began military service in 1937 and was to spend nearly seven years in the Army. However, after he was demobilised in 1940, he was able to begin his theological studies at Thibar in 1940. He was called up once more in November 1942 and served mostly in Tunisia throughout the war. After demobilisation in October 1945, he was free to take up studies once again. He took his Missionary Oath in Thibar on the 25th June 1946 followed by his ordination to the priesthood in Carthage on the 2nd February 1947. 50 years later, he was still able to read from the four gospels in Arabic and his confreres were dazzled by his fluency.
After his first Mass in Serres-Castet, Marcel was appointed to Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso. He was sent to the country of Liélé. In the different posts in which he served, he learnt the local language by ear while walking without taking notes. He said, “You will hear something a 1000 times but at the 1001st time, you will hear it with music.”
Marcel spoke to everybody and everybody knew him. He was close to nature and plants. He was curious and he liked to chat with mothers in the courtyards about the different plants that they used as medicine and he also kept himself informed by consulting old people. Whenever he was on safari, he collected medicinal herbs found in the countryside and brought them to the Sisters running the dispensary with the idea of finding out the correct dosage to be given to the patient. Marcel left behind him “A manual of medicinal plants of West Africa.” Later on, in collaboration with a confrere (Charles Bailleul), it became a book entitled “Richesses Medicinals”
Marcel was a typical Béarnaise farmer, wily and smart. Anything he read left a deep trace in him. He was curious about everything not only in things botanical but also for helping confreres whose car had broken down and all sorts of other problems.
Marcel served for many years as a Parish Priest and in 1960 he was part of the team that founded the Léo mission post in Burkina Faso. He learnt a third language and as he wrote, “I am no longer 20 years old but things are not going too badly!” He was entrusted with the direction of the Catechists School of Imansgho in 1970 before returning to spend the rest of his years in Africa in Léo. He continued to study and draw up lists of medicinal plants with their uses, preparations, dosages and formulas. He always used local plants to cure himself. Obviously, very successfully given the great age he lived to!
Marcel said good bye to Africa in 1994. He was strongly advised to do so by his superiors as he needed to go home for a rest. He spent a year with his sister near Billère, then in June 1995, he joined the community of Billère where he said himself he was made very welcome. He did some ministry in the neighbourhood. He was always ready to render a service; he equipped himself in his room with a sort of mobile breakdown service ready to repair anything. He followed the construction of the new residence with great interest especially in the new techniques of construction and fitting out which later allowed him to become the handyman of the house.
Marcel lived many happy and pleasant days in our house. He was always ready to be of service and a wise advisor for many of us. As he was approaching his 100th birthday, Marcel made it known that he did not want any special celebrations. Humble as he was, he left us some months before the celebration. One morning, after having prepared the coffee machine, he left us discreetly, without a sound, lying down on his bed.
We keep the memory of a first-class confrere, discreet, full of humour and good common sense, always smiling and energetic. He remained gallantly upright and active right up to the end.
All his life was the image of the humble life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Thank you Marcel for your presence among us.
Your Confreres in Billère