In the past month, two Assumptionist brothers passed on from this life – Fr. Camillus Thibault and Fr. Oliver Blanchette. Here, Fr. Dennis reflects on the joy and zeal they brought to our lives and their ministries.
Their exchanges across the table at Old English Road were often feisty and sometimes humorous. Cam, whose “filter” was not filtering so well, and Oliver who responded to what he thought he had heard. So they went at it on occasion, these two essentially kind-hearted men, both trying to come to terms with their assorted diminishments.
Beside their length of days, they actually had a good deal in common. Both were born into Franco-American families among those ethic enclaves where the requirements of assimilation ran up against the desire to preserve one’s linguistic and cultural identity. Both had the good fortune of being steered to Assumption Prep and Assumption College, where their surprisingly broad classical Christian education prepared them for lives of service that would take them well beyond Nashua and Springfield.
As Assumptionists, they both started off as teachers and ended up as pastors. For both of them, this clearly did not mean that they left one of these behind for the other. Their intellectual curiosity was alive to the end – Cam with a book always in hand and Oliver fully engaged with the world. What grieved them most in their last years- Oliver on account of his deafness and Cam for lack of ministry – was the struggle to share with others what was in them.
They were both missionaries. After several years of fruitful ministry in Hispanic parishes in New York City, Camillus was asked to go to Mexico at a moment of fragility in our mission there. He ended up staying for 30 years and was a central figure in its communal and apostolic re-founding. The missionary bug came much later for Oliver. At the age of 83, he responded to the call to be among the “second wave” of American missionaries to East Africa. It was no cameo. He stayed for 8 years, into his 90’s, earning the revered title of babu (grandfather) in Swahili. He not only helped our young men in formation with their papers; I learned just recently that at a time of tribal and linguistic tensions his presence as a spiritual guide and a respected elder had the force of healing in the community.
Cam and Oliver shared a fervent interest in what we have come to call the Lay-Religious Alliance. Camillus was working hard at this before there was a term to describe it, helping to form a large group of lay men and women in Mexico to a love for Fr. d’Alzon and to an embracing of his zeal for the kingdom of God. His efforts laid the groundwork for the Alliance not only in the Province but in the Congregation as a whole. Upon his return from Africa, encouraged by the support given by the “Friends of Fr. Oliver” (FOFO) to the apostolic projects in Kenya and Tanzania, Fr. Oliver devoted the last years of his life to promoting and encouraging the work of the Alliance in North America and beyond. Together with Fr. Claude Grenache, Camillus and Oliver were the Assumptionist champions of the Alliance.
We do well to give thanks for two such good servants, and we pray that God’s face may shine radiantly upon them.