Remembrances for our Deceased Brothers
Fr Jacques Louis Bouthillette, O.Carm. (1932-2016)
Given at the Funeral Mass in Gort Muire, Dublin, on June 2, 2016, by M. Kilmurray, O.Carm.
‘Jesus Christ is the face of God’s mercy….Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth’. I feel that it is appropriate to recall those words of Pope Francis as we celebrate the Funeral Mass of our brother and friend, Jacques Louis Bouthillette. In the final weeks of his illness, Louis was reading Pope Francis in His Own Words: My Door is Always Open, the spirit of Francis resonated with Louis. The Pope’s simplicity of life and his practical concern for the poor and marginalised inspired Louis because he too believed in a God of Mercy and Compassion. He won the greatest endorsement from Louis: ‘this Francis, he is some man’. Louis used the same words about his Carmelite brother, Leo Gallagher, after they had ministered together at Kriste Mambo for some twenty years: ‘this Gallagher he is some man’.
Louis believed in the Jesus of Nazareth who, during his time on earth, made God’s love visible and tangible to people in any kind of need including the hungry, the sick, the bereaved and the socially excluded. During his long life, Louis tried to live after the example of Jesus in his love of God and neighbour. He put flesh on the greatest commandment which we heard in the Gospel passage read at this Mass. Many people enjoyed Louis’ friendship and compassion during his earthly pilgrimage. He sometimes spoke of life as being a pilgrimage, one which ended for him on Thursday morning last in the Beacon Hospital.
As we give thanks during this Mass for his long and fulfilled life, I feel that Louis would make his own the words which Len read from the Book of Ecclesiasticus: ‘bless the God of all things, who fosters our growth from birth, and deals with us according to his mercy’. In the “ups and downs” and “twists and turns” of life, Louis trusted in the loving Providence of God. This was especially evident when, at the age of 52 years, he decided to transfer from the Marist Brothers to the Carmelite Order. This decision was not taken lightly nor from any difficulty with his Marist Brothers but in response to a lifelong inner niggling that he was being called by God to priestly ministry. Louis wanted to be a priest within a Religious Order but this was not juridically possible within the Marist Brothers. He would have to leave familiar surroundings and, as he wrote at the time, ‘why should I leave a comfortable situation to face the unknown?’ Louis valued community life and he had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The motto of the Marist Brothers is ‘To Jesus through Mary’. In choosing to transfer to the Carmelites, Louis was moving to another Order in which Mary has a special place and which values community life. I think it is appropriate that the crest of the Marists should be alongside the Carmelite crest on the leaflet for this Mass.
Louis first came to know the Carmelites at Mount Melleray Mission in Zimbabwe, where the Marist Brothers had been invited by the late Bishop Donal Lamont to establish a secondary school in 1959. This school is now the Marist High School, Nyanga, which is one of the best Catholic schools in the region alongside Kriste Mambo High School, with which Louis also had a long association.
Louis was spurred on in discerning his vocation to be a Carmelite priest by the death, at an early age, of his friend Fr Tom Power. Tom died in his early forties in 1984. On the day of Tom’s death, Louis was visiting one of the Carmelite Communities and decided to remain for Mass which was being offered for Tom. During the Mass, Louis felt a special bond with the two Carmelite celebrants as ‘two new brothers’ (his own words) coupled with a strong impulse to face up to his niggling desire to be a priest.
Of course, the Marist brothers were sorry to lose such a valued member but the authorities of the Order facilitated Louis’ wish in every way possible. He made his Solemn Profession as a Carmelite at Gort Muire on September 11, 1988, alongside Brian McKay. He had completed his theological studies at the Milltown Institute and was awarded the Bachelor of Divinity Degree. His contemporaries at Gort Muire during those years, though much younger, included the current Prior General, Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm., and Fr Francis Kemsley, O.Carm., from the British Province who read the Gospel today. Before returning to Zimbabwe, Louis ministered for a short time as deacon at Whitefriar Street here in Dublin.
Louis was ordained priest by Bishop Patrick Mutume, Auxiliary Bishop of Mutare, during an open-air ceremony in front of the novitiate house at Kriste Mambo on April 15, 1989. Louis’ prayer on that day was ‘God be praised for all that he has done for me’ as a Marist brother and a Carmelite friar. The words of St Paul in the second reading come to mind: ‘there is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord’.
At Kriste Mambo, as Manager of the School and in priestly ministry, Louis did not spare himself. He brought his expertise in education to bear on the development of the school over the next twenty years. In collaboration with the teaching staff, he introduced Forms 4 and 5 whereby the pupils could now take ‘A Level’ examinations. As I remarked earlier, Kriste Mambo High School is one of the top schools in its region of Zimbabwe. Louis was never concerned solely with academic success but also with the overall development of the young person. He wanted the pupils to become good people. Louis had a great affection for the young, and they sensed this whether they met him in the classroom or in the grounds of the school. He joked with them and he guided them. He listened to their stories because those stories were important to them. I remember standing on the stage of the Assembly Hall at Kriste Mambo when as many as three hundred pupils expressed their fondness for him with applause and the chanting of ‘Baba Louis’.
I can hear him ‘what is this Kilmurray fellow talking about’. The Gallic accent always stood him in good stead, especially with the ladies!
Jacques Bouthillette belonged to three families during his life: his natural family, the Marist family and the Carmelite family. He loved all three. He was given the name Louis when he joined the Marist brothers over sixty years ago, and he retained it for the rest of his life. It somehow suited him well.
The youngest of twelve children, Jacques was born to Albert and Ernestine Bouthillette, French-speaking Canadians, on April 10, 1932. Today we think of his three sisters who are still living – Lucille, Pauline and Jacqueline – his nieces and nephews and extended family who are unable to be with us for this Funeral Mass. Lucille, who is now ninety-six years old, was Louis’ godmother. I also think of his very good friends Gilles and Jocelyne.
Louis grew up in a home imbued with the Catholic faith. In a reflection on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of his ordination, he spoke about his deep attraction to the Eucharist from an early age. He remarked that it had not been so easy to nourish this devotion because, at the time, the parish church was a long distance from his home. It was only possible to go there on a Sunday. However, this attraction remained with him throughout his life as a Marist brother and as a Carmelite friar. It became the source and strength of his ministry. He was consoled to be able to receive Holy Communion in the days before his death, thanks to Fr Dan Callaghan.
When he had completed his time at Kriste Mambo High School – some twenty years – Louis moved to the student community at Mount Carmel in Harare where he became a wise counsellor and guide to many of the young Carmelites who were in formation there. He also took a great personal interest in the Marcelline Orphanage set up by Mr and Mrs McDonald for children who were without parents due to extreme poverty and the fatal effects of HIV/AIDS. He supported this project spiritually and materially over the years. He would say that he himself drew much inspiration from the great care given by the McDonalds to those children. He compared them with the great Canadian, Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities.
Louis was a man of faith and had little time for ‘piousity’. He often spoke about the need for a healthy balance in religious life between prayer, community and service. He was a man of prayer. He was a generous brother in community. He was a hard worker. He was gifted with his hands whether dealing with machinery, gardening, building or carpentry. One of his great hobbies was bee-keeping. Of course, Louis’ bees produced ‘the best honey in Zimbabwe’! He could be single-minded and often used the Gallic shrug in dismissing those who might disagree with him on some point or course of action that he deemed to be the right one.
Louis did not find the restrictions of illness and age easy. He had enjoyed a long and generally healthy life and, until the recent illness, had always managed to bounce back into full activity within a short time. He was ready to move into the peace of God but he wanted it to happen quickly or not at all! It was good that he was able to spend the greater part of the last year in Canada renewing friendships with his natural family and with the Marist family.
Louis, there is so much that we could say about you. We are blessed to have known you. We will miss your unique personality and that Gallic shrug! Repose en paix.