Thierry was born in Bruxelles on the 19th February 1931. He came from an aristocratic background. His father was Count Cornet d’Elzius de Peissant who worked for the legendry Wagon-Lits company. Thierry studied at the Institute Saint-Josse in Bruxelles. In September 1949, he entered the White Fathers at Thy-le-Château. He then went on to do the novitiate at Varsenare and theological studies at Heverlee. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 16th July 1955 and on the 1st April 1956, he was ordained priest.
Scanning through the notes of his professors, we learn that Thierry had a sound judgement despite rather mediocre school results. He was very generous and an untiring worker. He was not a leader but one could always rely on him. Thierry was supernatural with a serene character and optimistic by nature. However, he could lack self-confidence. He had a mild and genial temperament. He did not look for attention but he had a real influence on others by his openness, seriousness and his discreet good example. Humility was a characteristic virtue for him.
Thierry had asked to go to French speaking West Africa but in the end, he was appointed to the Congo. On the 25th May, we find him at Kilo Mines on the shores of Lake Albert in Ituri. He got down to learning Kiswahili. He seemed to have a certain gift for languages. In September, he was appointed as a teacher to the Junior Seminary and the following year to the Teacher Training College at Drodro where he took the place of the Director in 1959. By the end of the year, he was studying Kilendu, while still teaching part time and working as a curate in the Parish. In May 1962, he went to teach at the Junior Seminary at Fataki. He did the Long Retreat at Villa Cavaletti near Rome in 1965. Because of the rebellion in the Congo, he prolonged his home leave by some months, doing some ministry in Viamont Parish in Belgium. In July 1965, he was appointed Parish Priest of Drodro where he was to spend a number of years. His parents came out to visit him in 1971.His father died less than a year later. Thierry cared greatly for the deep faith of the simple people. He wrote, “One of the brave virgins who clean the church came a moment ago for confession. She told me, ‘Father, thank you for hiding your sorrow under a smiling face. You have given me courage.’ I find these words very perspective and delicate coming from a poor girl who cannot read. Happy are the poor in spirit.” A widow came and offered 50 makuta (not very much) for a Mass for his father. He remarked “the widow’s mite.” At Drodro, he distributed communion while addressing each one by their first name. Dining with confreres, he was always ready to get up and go looking for whatever the confreres needed, a saltcellar, a piece of cheese from the fridge. “His thirst for rendering service seemed an innate part of his DNA.”
Thierry, then a Regional Councillor, was appointed to the Parish of St. Paul-outside the Walls at Kisangani in September 1976. Health reason forced a return to Belgium in March 1980. However, he was able to take part in the Post Capitular Assembly in Bunia in 1981. He remarked and he shared with the group, “we do not see enough in Ituri, we are not really appreciated, we feel cut off, bad roads, lack of petrol, several languages” In July 1981, he had to return to Belgium once more for health reasons. He came back in May 1982 and went to Mongbwalu in the Diocese of Bunia as curate. After the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in 1985, he returned to the Parish of Geti where he remained as Parish Priest for five years. The Regional at the time, Fr. Louis Vernhet wrote, “He is Superior and Parish Priest of the community. It is a welcoming community, fraternal, open and apostolic. All the stagiaires and now a young confrere have flourished and feel completely at ease.” In the meantime, Thierry was again elected as Regional Councillor. He regularly preached retreats. In August 1991, Thierry returned to Mongbwalu, which would be his final posting before returning to Belgium in June 1994.
In July 1993, the outgoing Provincial of Belgium, Hubert Huybrechts, wrote to Fr. Louis Vernhet saying that he was looking for somebody to be responsible for the La Plante community in Namur, “he should be a good man, attentive to the confreres.” Fr. Vernhet was present at the going away celebrations that the Christians gave in honour of Thierry demonstrating just how much they loved him. The Regional took the opportunity to warn Belgium that Thierry was not a good driver! Thierry took up his new post in Namur on the 1st July 1994. For the next six years, he was at the service of the confreres and was elected to serve two mandates on the Provincial Council. Sought out by Jan Mol, then Regional of Ituri, Thierry returned to Bunia to serve as a hospital chaplain. He was much appreciated by the sick especially those who were very poor. When violent ethnic troubles broke out, he still went out even when bullets were flying everywhere. He always had his rosary to hand, praying for protection but almost certainly, for those people he was going to meet. One witness remarked, “How many rosaries did he recite during his peregrinations?”
Thierry left Africa for good in 2007. He returned to Namur. When his health deteriorated and he needed nursing home care, he moved to St-Joseph Home in Evere. He remained the same smiling, gentle, friendly and appreciative man. He was a spiritual man being “meek and humble of heart.”
On the Friday 25th November, after some days in a semi-comatose state, Thierry passed away peacefully. The Farewell Liturgy took place on the 30th November in the Chapel of St-Joseph followed by burial in Varsenare.
Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.