Brother Thierry Jacques

Brother ThierryBrother Thierry

Welcome address for the Funeral Mass for Brother Thierry Jaques, Friday 30th October 2020 at 9.30 am

My name is Xavier Chevillard. On behalf of the community of the Maison St Joseph of the Little Sisters of the Poor and of the Fraternity of the Little Brothers of Jesus, I welcome you all this morning. We have named this gathering a Mass of Thanksgiving for Thierry and we pray to the Father with Jesus our Saviour. Thank you to Brother Sandro for calling us together for this Eucharist.

I am aware that there are only a few of us in this chapel but we are fortunate to be able to connect to family and friends from Belgium, the United Kingdom, Sweden… via a YouTube video link. The virus has spread everywhere and knows no borders, the same goes for technology!


Thierry was the eldest of four brothers; at the age of 19, he felt called to live the ordinary life of Jesus in Nazareth. That was in 1953. After his military service, he headed to the novitiate of the Fraternity which was in the Sahara Desert. I find it difficult to imagine what it would have been like for him and for his family at that time. Thierry’s parents had said to him “if you believe that this is your vocation, then go for it”. We know that, for security reasons, the novitiate was transferred to Farlete in Spain, in 1956. This is where Thierry took his first vows on 27 April 1957.

I myself was welcomed by Guy and Thierry in Leeds, England, in 1972. Thierry had already lived in several fraternities in different European countries. I am not going to go into all the historical details of Thierry’s life but I have read that he made good use of his natural skills as a carpenter and a typist. In 1973, he started a small fraternity in North London with Ian Ollivier; it was a period of expansion!

That is where he came into contact with l’Arche UK. He wrote that, during a Jean Vanier retreat, while he was in the chapel, a young woman approached him and pulled his head twice onto a book that she had just opened at a new chapter; but… Yvonne could not read. The first line of this chapter was a quotation from Carlo Caretto: I became a little brother of Jesus because God called me. I think that Thierry lived this to the full all his life; that is why I thought of putting it on the service booklet for today’s liturgy.

Practically speaking, Thierry dedicates his time to l’Arche. In 2015, he wrote “what had motivated me to commit myself to l’Arche was the realisation that most people with a disability can only have a place in the sun if other people are willing to let them have one. And yet, when it comes to work, although I didn’t have any particular qualifications, I was always able to get by. So… why not address this important question of work together and involve disabled people. That is why, with a team, we set up a craft workshop: there was weaving, candle making, wood work… but I was especially involved in the stone work.”

You all know too how strongly Thierry felt about the intervention of angels in our lives. Angel, in other words, messenger… as Yvonne had been for him in 1975. There is a photo of Thierry, dressed up as Angel Gabriel for a Lambeth community re-enactment of some scenes of the life of Mary and Joseph. Thierry used this photo in one of his Christmas cards. I also know that, if Thierry has often reminded us of the action of guardian angels in our lives, many friends from England have said that Thierry has been like a guardian angel for them, in the way Yvonne was for him in 1975.

And in homage to the five years that Thierry has spent at Maison St Joseph, here is what he wrote to the brothers in 2015, a few months after he arrived:

At the age of 81, it was time for me to think about a different way of life before becoming a burden to others or too confused to live this change well. In the old days, I could set off happily, whistling, hands in my pockets as I went on my way. This is not true any more. My dentures prevent me from whistling now; my hands are not in my pockets any more but searching for places to hold on to in order to keep my balance and, anyway... my pockets are filled with handkerchiefs because of a runny nose; there’ s also the glasses, the medication, the little bits of paper where I have noted down the things that I must not forget (and forgetting to read these notes when I need to…).

I was deeply moved by all that had been organised for me before I left: special celebrations where many good friends spoke publicly, celebratory meals with various friends, numerous cards and other signs of affection. It is true that, as I was reminded at these events, I was the oldest in our L’Arche Community, the elder who had been there right from the beginning. All the same, I was not expecting all that! And to top it off, the community gave me a large sum of money that they had collected: the idea was that I could travel back to London regularly and visit everyone. Yes, my departure filled me with deep emotion.

Here I am now, in Brussels, right in the city centre, in a home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Why Brussels? It brings me closer to the Brothers of my region and to the General Fraternity. It is also where many members of my family live. Once more, I feel really privileged. What I appreciate the most here is the quality of life that this community is trying to maintain through a great attention to the details which enable people to live with dignity and respect. The residents (about one hundred altogether) also bring their own contribution to the running of the home by getting involved in various tasks and activities as well as, for those who wish, participating in the liturgical life of the community: the Eucharist, the Divine Office, the Scripture Group.

There is a real contrast with the outside world. Here, at 81, I am one of the youngest… While in the outside world, people strive towards growth, development, progress (albeit not always in the right way), here the perspective is different: the plans that we make are of a different order; we try to slow down the process of regression. Forgetfulness is becoming more and more of a problem; I am slowly losing some of my mobility and independence. Sometimes we hear enigmatic fragments of conversations like “There was an ambulance in the courtyard this afternoon; who was it for?” “Madame X did not come down this morning…” “Five people are in hospital right now…” However, I wouldn’t say that there is a heavy atmosphere in the home. Many people still want to live to the full what they are still able to live as a whole person and want to celebrate life.

During this mass of thanksgiving, we recognise with Thierry that God has loved us first and calls us to live fully, until the end!

Adapted from Isaiah (41,10… etc)

"The Lord says: do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God and I come to meet you. I call you by your name because I know you. I have looked after you since your young age And until your white hair, I will remain the same. If you go through difficult times, I will be with you. The mountains and the hills may fall; My love… the covenant of peace I have sealed with you will remain forever because you are precious in my eyes and I love you."

Psalm 103
Gospel: John 14, 1-6