My 65-year Vocation Journey
I was born in June 1926. In my mother’s bed were medals from the church where I was to be baptised two days later. I received my first Holy Communion on Christmas Day 1932 and was confirmed in May four years later.
In September 1937, at age 11, I joined the minor seminary at Mongazan, a famous school in Angers, France, where I learnt Latin, Greek and French. At the time I could not speak English.
Then came the war and our school was half occupied from 1940 to 1943. We were away from the battlefield but humbled by the defeat.
Then came Mr Charles De Gaulle and I could go to Paris after two years in the major seminary of Angers. I waited in our Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) seminary as I had to go to the army in Germany, where I was to become a reserve officer.
After just four days in the Black Forest, where the temperature was 30 degrees below zero, I fell very sick and was admitted to a hospital in Baden-Baden. I was in hospital from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday.
I was in hospital for so long that my mother became afraid that I would fall in love with the hospital nurses. A German doctor who was working there saved me. She gave me penicillin.
Following my recovery, I was sent to the Chaplaincy House to help the Chaplains in Baden-Baden to welcome people – I had a room to myself, which was kept clean by a girl whenever I went to Mass, but with whom I never spoke.
In September 1946, I was back in our Paris seminary though I had to go to the army again for three months. Three years later in 1949, I was ordained a sub-deacon, a deacon six months after that and then finally, on Pentecost Sunday 28 May, a priest.
On 29 June 1950, I received an appointment to the mission fields of Rangoon (Burma), but I could not get a visa. So on 19 March 1951, I went to England (Ruislip, Middlesex) to learn English with four other priests.
After seven months, my visa to Rangoon was finally approved and I took a boat at Marseilles on 4 December, docking in Singapore for an hour on 29 December 1951. Four days later I was in Rangoon.
I waited six weeks at the bishop’s house before going to Myaungmya in February 1952, where I learnt Burmese with ‘sayamadela’, a widow very devoted to my learning journey. Six months later I was sent to a village to practice my Burmese and another three months later, on 2 December 1952, I arrived at the Central School in Mayanchaung, near the minor seminary in Bassein (now Pathein).
Meanwhile, my MEP superior in Myanmar became the bishop of Rangoon. In 1955, he called me to Rangoon to start a minor seminary in the archbishop’s compound. We had 85 children when I left. I had taught them Latin so that they could go to the newly opened major seminary.
On 30 April 1966, I had to leave Rangoon because visas were no longer being issued. More than 230 fellow missionaries had to leave Myanmar during that time.
Back in France, I was told to work at our major seminary near Paris. In December 1966, my Superior asked me to go to San Francisco, in the United States, to be in charge of the finances of our missionary Society. There was an occasion when I went to the bank with US$1 million in my pocket but I wasn’t scared, because it was a cheque.
All these [frequent and sudden] changes ruined my morale, and after 15 months I left San Francisco for Singapore. In spite of the help of our confreres, I was going from bad to worse so I returned to Paris.
There, I found help in a presbytery near Versailles with three local priests and the housekeeper. She was my salvation because she could speak simply and told me, ‘You can do it. Work and be happy.’
So in September 1971, I arrived at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to serve with Fr Hippolyte Berthold. He left me in charge after two years and in 1981, I was transferred to the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, where Fr Michael Arro was the parish priest. Soon, Fr Arro asked me to be the parish priest as he had been appointed Superior of the MEP in Singapore. I had started working with Marriage Encounter Singapore in January 1980 and then started Engaged Encounter in September 1982. I joined Retrovaille in 1991, and helped out in Choice from 1981. This gave me much joy.
In June 1990, I went back to France for a month-long home leave and when I returned I was posted to the Church of the Risen Christ, with Fr Francis Lee as Parish Priest. During my time there, I fell sick with four blocked arteries but thanks to a good doctor, I got out of it without an operation albeit with plenty of exercise; I was even able to visit all parishioners in Toa Payoh on foot.
I am still in charge of the Legion of Mary Praesidia in Risen Christ parish, as well as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and the ministry of the sick.
I can still celebrate Mass although I do not preach on Sundays. As I require a walking stick to climb the altar, I do not give Holy Communion.
This is my story and Here I am, O Lord, since you have sent me. I say thank you to Fr John Sim for his kindness in looking after my needs.
Thank you, all of you, for your prayers and God bless you!
Ask Fr Loiseau
What made you want to become a priest?
It must have been the mighty God from above calling! I was in a Christian village, We heard the parish priest coming to my school and speaking about the priesthood, speaking about martyrs in Mexico, the thousands of martyrs in Spain and all these things. In Germany, Adolf Hitler started persecuting Jews.
The idea of joining the priesthood struck me while on the way to church when I was nine years old.
I had an uncle who was a priest, a great uncle who was a priest, and a cousin of my father was also a priest. In all there were 15 priests in my extended family. So it was something quite normal to want to become a priest in those days.
I was 11 years old when I joined the minor seminary. In those days, children did not go to secondary school. When I passed my final exams in primary school, we were 23,000, now there are 800,000 French children who complete their primary school.
In those days, there were very few who would be able to study. They would officially stop when they turned 14, but many a time they would stop before reaching 14.
I told my father I wanted to be a priest when I was 10. For the first 10 years of my life, I was the man who was supposed to succeed him in the farm. We were the owner of our farm, we were very poor and it was a small farm but it gave us a certain level of [financial] independence. In principle, the boy would be staying in the farm and the girls would get married and live elsewhere.
So when I said I wanted to be a priest, my parents made another child, but no chance, it was a girl. They tried three years later and another girl came. After that, they succeeded in having a boy; he was 18 years younger than me.
Were you influenced by the examples of your relatives?
It’s not easy to say whether we were influenced by their example or lack of example, it depends on where you are. You see, now there are no more priests in that area. When I joined the Major Seminary in Angers, there were 220 of us seminarians, now I don’t know if there are even 10. That was only 65 years ago.
When I was ordained, there were 16 others from our seminary who were ordained with me. Now, I believe there are 22 [men] who want to join our seminary in France, and that is wonderful!
What role did your parents play in your vocation?
My father gave me books on vocations when I was in the minor seminary. My mother and father also had siblings and relatives who were Religious and priests.
Was there ever a time when you wanted to leave the priesthood?
No, I had been looking at a girl, I think only once. It lasted, maybe, one afternoon, and that is about all.
I never spoke to her. She was half a mile away. And that is all.
I was clever enough to study and had no problems in school. In my time, one studied a lot to prepare for mission. After many years you go on mission. You would say “Ad sum” in Latin. It means “I am here!”
Was there ever a time when you felt that God was not with you?
None, I never thought of it that way. I never felt that I was not with God. But I went to church and I prayed and celebrated Mass. I never missed Mass.
And I had my confreres, Fr Michael Arro, in particular, and Fr Munier, Fr Berthold and others. It is of great importance for the priest to speak to each other, to be close to each other. So that when you have problems, you are helped. That is very important.
What was it like to be a young missionary in Myanmar?
I was sent to an area where I was to study Burmese. The place had been destroyed by the people of the town. There would have been 140 people dead, with two priests and two nuns. The buildings had been burnt, the church, which was made of wood, had been ruined. I was facing great danger.
Two to three years before that, there were six priests from the same diocese – three of them from our missionary society – who had been killed, for some reason or another.
We had the seminary of the martyrs in Paris. We lost quite a number in the 20th century, in Myanmar, Vietnam, China, Korea. We have 23 MEP saints but there were many more who had been killed (but not proclaimed saints). We were told to be brave, but when you are 25 you are brave. On my first Christmas there, I went to say Mass for the insurgents. I followed the two fellows who came to fetch me and we crossed a huge jungle in two days. It was a deep jungle! We slept in someone’s house for one night after that.
The men asked me if I loved milk, I made a mistake and said I loved milk. Oh dear, immediately, I got cow’s milk, I got buffalo milk, and condensed milk even.
They wanted to make me happy. That was a great advantage. We could have been killed at that time but we were really loved by the people.
The communists did not kill us because they pretended they were able to manage their own business without killing people, but there were insurgents of all kinds. They killed to get money.
I was staying in the seminary but for three months a year, during the holidays, I would go from one village to another to celebrate Mass and hear confessions, and so forth. To get to the villages I had to cross paddy fields. Being soaked for three hours in these paddy fields, my white cassock was soiled. I was in danger without the white cassock.
What are you most passionate about as a Man of God?
I’m not a man of much passion, so to speak, but I go on day after day. Now I do what I can, I say Mass, I hear confessions every day, before Mass. I cannot do much as you can see. I cannot visit the parishioners anymore.
When I came back from my holiday [in France] 25 years ago, I had four blocked arteries. The doctor told me that I would not be operated on if I would follow my diet and exercised. So I did not drive to visit the parishioners in Toa Payoh, I walked. The farther parts of Toa Payoh took 20 minutes to walk so when people came to tell me, ‘I could not go to Mass because it is too far,’ I could laugh at them and say, ‘What?’”
Among the sacraments you administer, which makes you feel closest to God?
If I reflected a bit, I would say, dear Jesus, you better be with me. (Chuckles)
When I say the prayer for forgiveness of sins (absolution), what happens? The prayer goes:
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you…
So you see, from the [beginning of the prayer] everybody is concerned, God the Father of Mercy, through the ministry of the Church, the whole Church is minister. We are all in unity so when I give the absolution, it is not me giving, it is the whole Church that gives absolution with God.
Which spiritual father/writer today has influenced your vocation?
I have 170 books on the Bible and that’s enough. I read only certain books, such as this series on the Bible.
You always go to the top [source] when you think of saints or Fathers of the Church, whether letter writer or not. Who sent him? Who gave the Holy Spirit? You have to follow St Augustine on this. He acknowledged that it was not he, it was God who was speaking through him.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I’m not going to tell you my defects. You can see them for yourself.
In my life I had some difficult moments. First, when I was in Burma for 14 years, they put me in the seminary to look after the money.
Then one year later, they put me in San Francisco [California, the United States] for 13 months to become the procurator of our Society. So I could have spent the rest of my life making money. I still remember, the boy I was sharing a room with, sent me to the bank with a million dollars in my pocket. When it is a piece of paper, one million or one dollar is the same!
With my parents at that time having financial difficulties, I was feeling very unhappy. So I asked to be transferred and I came to Singapore. I was in the Church of St Bernadette for five months, but I found myself without strength, without “life”. I said Mass every day, I heard confessions and so on but my life [felt] flat. So I asked to go back to France, where I found a parish to accept me.
There were four priests there. With the priests was an old lady, the housekeeper. She had been faithful to her husband during World War I, when he was in the army. When the husband died, she lived a very hard life, but you know what? She believed, she went to Holy Communion. She saw me; she saw how I was cooped up in my room. One day, she said to me, “Well Father, you can do whatever you want. You just have to want it and go. Visit the parishioners!” She saved me. Priests need the lay people to tell them the reality.
My strength is God. Our strength is God. “Without me, you can do nothing,” he said. God has his ways so let him do it. We just pray to him. We are to pray for ourselves and for the Church.
So now I’m here. I look after the Legion of Mary’s seven praesidia here.
How do you like working with women?
Women are different, very different. They can be very active. The women come to church and the men follow, more or less. The women will go to heaven so they will have to pull those men from purgatory. (No, they are not holier than men.) They have a better sense of the dangers of life.
The Chinese have this saying, “The woman is working in the morning. At noon she comes back because she is ready to give birth. She goes to her bed and gives birth. Then in the evening she is back in the field.” It was like this in the early days in France among farming families too.
How different was the Church in Singapore when you first came and now?
There were more children, that’s for sure. We say prayers for vocation but there is nobody to call. When I came, I had so many to call. While I was at the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, there were 10 vocations. Now, we only have seven men in the Major Seminary. Not even one will be ordained each year.
Which passage in the Bible is most meaningful for you?
Jesus says, ‘Love one another as I love you. Forgive everyone as I have forgiven you.’ If you do that, everything will be beautiful in the world.
What is your biggest contribution to the Singapore Church?
I was a parish priest for 20 years, and then assistant.
I was in Marriage Encounter for many years, which I like very much. I started Engaged Encounter in the archdiocese. The advantage of these movements is that we could speak to people directly. That was wonderful for us and for them, to be able to dialogue. The big problem of people is they don’t speak. That’s why divorce is so high these days, because they don’t get to dialogue.
A woman does not think and reason like a man. It’s the same with a man, he doesn’t think like a woman. So what should they do? First of all, look at the other one with love and sit down and ask.
If your husband laughs at you when you are trying to run away from a cockroach, do you think he loves you? If your husband tells you, “Oh don’t worry I’ll kill that animal,” then you will feel reassured.
But if he tells you, “Oh my dear, I see that you are afraid of the cockroach. Let us sit down and explain to me what you feel,” then you will feel loved. That way of speaking between husband and wife is very good communication.
What is your biggest concern about families today?
My biggest concern is there are no children. Pray for vocations? But nobody would come! I must say also, do families now eat together, speak to each other or listen to their phones? How much do they communicate? Do husbands and wives communicate with each other? Do husbands and wives pray together? Do families pray together? The family that prays together, stays together.
What is your greatest happiness as a priest?
My greatest happiness is to be at Mass; to bring forgiveness to people who are hurting, and to be able to baptise somebody whom you have known and who is close to you.
If a seminarian came to you with doubts about his vocation, what would you tell him?
I will tell him to pray regularly. I will tell him to carry on. When I joined the seminary I was 11. My father cried because his son would be going away and because I wouldn’t return for many months. I don’t cry very much. I had a good time in the seminary.
What would you say to a young man who would like to be a priest?
Go to the seminary, quickly! Our seminarians now are aged between 30 and 40. By the time they get to my age, they will celebrate only 25 years. Since I entered the seminary at age 11, I will celebrate my 65th year in the priesthood this year. So if a young man wants to be a priest, he should enter the seminary quickly.
I would also say, “Don’t be afraid. Pray every day. God is with you.”
How would you convince parents to allow their children to become priests?
I will tell the parents they have a duty to help their children to discern their vocation. If they refuse, that is a problem.
How can families be cradles of vocation these days?
Well, you see we have some families in Marriage Encounter who have five or six children but there were no vocations and so the parents were so sad. But we can’t help it. When I told my [parents] that I wanted to be a priest, they went on to have more children in order to have another son who would work in the farm. They had no intention of having five children at first.
Sure, I would recommend that families have five or six children so that Singapore will not die from not having people.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle to becoming a priest or Religious today?
Not having enough children. It is quite obvious, we pray for vocations but we don’t have anybody to call. I saw it coming some 25 years ago when the government said, ‘Stop at two’.
How do you feel about being a priest for 65 years?
I feel alright. I feel very happy. But among those who were ordained with me, there have been a number of martyrs. I could have been a martyr.
How would you describe your priesthood?
I did what I could, where I was. Year after year.
What would you say if you were to write your own eulogy?
I will not write my own eulogy. I don’t like the idea of people talking about the dead as if he/she was already in heaven. We are there not to say they are in heaven, we are there to say we should pray so that one day they would go to heaven!
First published by CatholicNews in their vocation series, “Man of God, Man for Others”.
Editor’s note: This post was done in memoriam of Father Loiseau who passed away on 26 Jan 2018. Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace
“Why I became a priest? Because Jesus called me of course” – In loving memory of Fr Louis Loiseau, MEP (1926-2018)
We thank the communities of Marriage Encounter Singapore, Catholic Engaged Encounter, the MEP community of priests, the Chancery, CatholicNews and PixelMusica for their contributions to this video.