Xavier was born on the 3rd December 1918 at Niort in the department of Deux-Sèvres, France. He was the tenth child in a family of eleven children. His family was deeply Christian and produced six priestly vocations. Two boys became Diocesan priests, one joined the Dominicans, and one joined the Benedictines while Xavier and his elder brother François joined the White Fathers. When François was studying Theology in Thibar, he sent photos of the place home. All his life, Xavier remained much attached to his family. He followed their progress through life with attention and affection. When he spoke to his parents about his desire to become a missionary, to follow François, they thought he was too young and asked him to go to University. He chose to spend one year following a Pre-Medicine course at the Institute Catholique in Angers. One year later, in 1936, he entered our Philosophy House at Kerlois armed with a diploma in Physics, Chemistry and Biology (P.C.B)
Unfortunately, during his second year, Xavier fell ill with Pulmonary Tuberculosis. This meant a long separation from the White Fathers. He spent a period in a sanatorium for clergy at Thorenc in the department of Alpes Maritimes where he found a solid spiritual climate and struck up many lasting friendships. He then went to the Major Seminary of Poitiers and he was ordained Priest there on the 23rd May 1943. He studied for a Licentiate in Theology at the Institute Catholique of Angers before entering the novitiate of the Society in Tournus on the 8th December 1944.
Xavier’s first appointment was to the Society’s Junior Seminary in St. Laurent d’Olt. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 8th December 1946. In 1949, he was sent to Kerlois to teach Philosophy. He finally arrived in Africa in September 1952. His appointment was to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) as curate and chaplain to students in the Cathedral Parish of Ouagadougou. However, while he was in France on home leave in 1958, he was appointed once again to Kerlois and he became superior there in 1963. Freed from teaching duties and as superior of the house, he formed a tight knit team with the young professors. He spent seven years there in total.
Despite all his objections, Xavier was appointed Provincial of France in June 1965. He formed a close team with Frs. Raymond Saclier (+2001) and Jean Longin. The understanding between them was just right. Xavier could also count on the competence of François de Gaulle in the area of finances. During his mandate as Provincial, he was involved in the foundation of the retirement house in Bry sur Marne. He was particularly interested in the events of 1968 and the participation of the many White Father students, studying at Strasbourg University. Many students were actively involved in the events taking place there and in the push for reforms. Xavier never had a negative attitude, he spoke with them, he listened to them, and he trusted them. His sure discernment, his broadmindedness, and his sense of fraternal dialogue stood him in good stead. The confreres attending the 1967 Chapter in Rome very much appreciated his interventions. It was the Chapter of aggiornamento where, with much prayer and reflection, the Society set out to renew itself and its mission in Africa in the light of Vatican II.
Xavier was very happy to return to Africa in 1972. He was the only White Father in the community of African diocesan priests serving the Cathedral Parish of Ouagadougou. He was very much at home in parish ministry and among many other things he helped couples with their marriage preparations. Moreover, he became the trusted collaborator of Cardinal Paul Zougrana, M.Afr (+2000). For many years, he served as secretary to the Cardinal carrying out many diverse tasks. This could include writing letters, homilies and speeches, which he drafted once he had received the main ideas from the Cardinal himself. He also accompanied him on his many journeys particularly to Rome. He did all this with dispatch and discretion. Xavier said it was a real pleasure to work for and with the Cardinal.
Beside all these jobs, Xavier was also the Episcopal Vicar for religious sisters. He helped particularly the Soeurs de l’Immaculée Conception as much on the spiritual level as on the juridical level. He liked to visit their communities to share in their prayers, to listen to them, to speak to them, all in a very unassuming way. He was also in charge of the Marriage Tribunal for the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou and the neighbouring dioceses. This demanded a lot of hard work because he had no training for this function, but he got to like it and dealt with a certain number of cases that allowed Christians to normalise their relations with the Church and find peace. It was hard work but indispensible.
Xavier was also a chaplain of the prison. There he met officers and civil servants who were victims of the revolution of Thomas Sankara. He also met Catholics and later as animator of a Charismatic Renewal Group, he met some of them again. He encountered high-ranking Muslims with whom he maintained relations. He also had a close relationship with President Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. He enjoyed a special place in his home and until recently, he was still in contact with the father of the late President, with Madame Sankara and her children.
One could keep adding to the list of all Xavier’s activities and initiatives. He was always ready to be of service to everybody. He facilitated the Africanisation of the Diocese of Ouagadougou through his links with the clergy and hierarchy. In December 1982, he had to be repatriated urgently to France after suffering a fractured skull in a motorbike accident. He was treated in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paris and then he underwent a craniotomy at the Duran Hospital. He recovered remarkably quickly, so after convalescence at Billère, he was back in Ouagadougou in 1983. He was appointed professor in the Major Seminary of St. John and he taught there for five years. From 1988 to 1990, he stayed at the guesthouse in Ouagadougou while still serving as Episcopal Vicar and on the Marriage Tribunal.
The mission asked Xavier for one last service in October 1990. He took up residence in the mission of Zinder in Niger following the departure of the Redemptorist Fathers. It was a difficult time for him. There were only two in the community and he was not used to a very new type of apostolate in this country that was 95% Muslim. He stayed there for three years at the end of which he returned to France for good.
On his return, Xavier had a thorough check up in Billère and then joined the reception team at Rue Friant. He also looked after the Library. He moved to Bry sur Marne in 1999 for a well-earned retirement but he also took responsibility for the library of the house. In 2012, he needed more adapted care and he was transferred to Billère. He left us peacefully, surrounded by his community and by the staff of the house, on the evening of Thursday, 22nd September 2016. He was 97 years old.
Such was the life of this White Father missionary, a servant of the Good News in Africa and at the service of the confreres with whom he liked to live in community. Community life, with its emphasis on prayer and which brought him closer to his Benedictine brother and nephew were indeed very dear to him. Throughout his life, Xavier helped many confreres with his concern for the Apostolate in its many different forms. Thank you Xavier for all that you did. Thank you for being who you were. Thank you for all that you leave behind. Adieu!
The Billère Community
Petit Echo nr. 1078