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The late Father André Lecoeur's long service to St Richard's parish was commemorated on 24th April by a Memorial Mass at St Richard's, and, on Sunday 25th, a Mass was said for him at Our Lady's at Bosham.
The sung Memorial Mass at St Richard's was concelebrated by Fr Kieron, with Canon Richard Incledon and Mgr. Benedict O'Shea, described by Fr Kieron as "his distinguished predecessors "
Father André was born in 1924 , ordained priest in France in 1947 , and became our loyal summer supply priest for forty years, from 1968. He died at Brive on 22nd March aged 85, having made his last visit to Chichester in 2009.
There were many tributes. From Fr Kieron, then Julia Janiec, and finally we have received tributes from France.
At St Richard's, Fr Kieron paid tribute in his homily:
"Although it is generally a preacher’s prerogative to make tenuous links (well it is this one’s anyway!), three themes come together quite naturally during this evening’s mass: the Good Shepherd; Vocations Sunday and Fr André Lecoeur. It seems entirely fitting that we should pay tribute to and pray for, Fr André who during his life was a shepherd to so many people from different countries and different walks of life. Not only did he minister to thousands of students for whom he was so much more than an English teacher – but there was his Summer Parish as well! It is not easy to know how to attract young people to the priesthood or religious life – especially in these shadowy days for the Church. But the example of somebody like Fr André might be a good start. A scholarly and holy priest with a simple and passionate interest in people and a bi-lingual sense of humour which was never lost in translation! At one time he explained to Canon Fogarty just why the good sisters at Carmel needed to go to confession so often, it was not because they were great sinners but he offered three reasons:
it gave them a chance to talk
it gave them a chance to talk about themselves
it gave them a chance to talk about themselves to a man!
For over forty years André was more than an honorary curate in Chichester; in fact his cumulative time spent in the parish would easily trump that of most curates and one or two parish priests to boot! In the latter years Fr André found that he was out-living most of the crowd he had “grown up with” but that meant a new generation was able to enjoy his carefully crafted homilies – even if that did include a good natured “y’know” count! A few years ago it began to look as though the journey would be too much for any subsequent summer trips – but then Flybe came to André’s rescue with two weekly flights from Southampton to Limoges. So now chez André was only two hours away from St Richard’s!
Two years ago Fr André was delighted to be able to join us for the Golden Jubilee of this church, and having his photograph taken with the Cardinal was a privilege and great joy for him. Nine months ago he returned for “one last time” and even those of us who had heard all that before were fairly well convinced that this would be the last one. He had become increasingly frail and his hearing had deteriorated to the extent of making conversation quite a strain. Nevertheless, although he was only assigned to “light duties” he applied himself with typical thoroughness. But it became apparent that his constitutional walks around the city – with stick and beret – were becoming shorter and the times he spent alone in his room were becoming longer. However, he never lost his appetite, either for food or for conversation. He always did more than justice to the meagre efforts of the cook (usually me!) and his conversation was wide ranging. Though like many people hard of hearing, he found it more agreeable to talk than to listen! He could wax eloquent on the relative merits of members of the French Hierarchy and it’s probably just as well that I can’t remember everything that he said! He would frequently allude to the fact that he came from a particularly pagan part of France and yet, I suspect that he underestimated the effect that his own staunch faith had on so many people.
It is perhaps, becoming increasingly difficult to hear the authentic voice of the Good Shepherd these days. There is so much other noise competing for our attention and so many other voices that seek to drown out the sound of faith. Our own bishops have apologised this week for the actions of those who have certainly not been good shepherds. Some, it must be said, have acted more like wolves. So it seems that sometimes those contrary voices can come from within the church itself. Just as we may have done our naming and shaming, so it is also essential that we name and celebrate all that which is good, wholesome and life-giving. So this opportunity to learn from the example of Fr André could not have come at a better time. At this Easter mass just as we pray that Fr André will join the Lord in his resurrection, so we may also pray that the Church will rise again with faith, courage and integrity.
This summer will not be the same. The great affection that André had for Chichester was well known to his friends in Brive, but sadly, they still informed us too late for anyone to get to the funeral which was celebrated on the Feast of the Annunciation. Perhaps that in itself provides a link with us as for the previous forty something years Fr André had always been in Chichester for that other great Marian Feast, the Assumption. So as we gather to remember someone who undoubtedly had a true vocation to model himself on the Good Shepherd, our prayers accompany him on his final journey which takes him beyond anywhere that Flyby can take you!
I will conclude by adapting the Prayer after Communion for the feast of the Annunciation:
May the sacrament we share
strengthen our faith and hope in Jesus, born of a virgin
and truly God and man.
By the power of his resurrection
may he come to eternal joy. We ask this…….."
In 2004 Fr André's 80th birthday was celebrated at a memorable Parish party.
A commemorative article for the A&B News has been written by Julia Janiec, our long-serving former Parish Secretary.
Julia notes: "Fr André first visited the parish when St. Richard’s Church stood at the corner of old Market Avenue and South Street. The cramped conditions, dry rot and damp convinced him in 1949 that this was not a healthy place to live, although he was very taken with the surrounding countryside and close proximity to the coast, both of which he visited by bicycle.
Following his ordination to the priesthood in France in 1947, he replaced an English teacher at his old school near Paris, combining a English degree course at the Sorbonne. After his first visit to Chichester, he did not return to England for four years, but missed the contact and the language. After serving as a Chaplain for five years to French children visiting England, he took a summer supply post on Long Island. Whilst there, he met a priest from England, whose former Professor, Canon Dermod Fogarty, required a supply priest in…Chichester.
By now, the new church and presbytery was well established in Market Avenue so his accommodation was far more suitable. He became a regular summer visitor, often staying for two months, during his own school’s holidays, where he taught English.
His contribution to the life, both spiritual and social, of St. Richard’s Parish, cannot be measured. For someone who spent much of the year speaking his native French, his English sermons, meticulously prepared and handwritten in English, were always beautifully crafted. His wish to continue as our summer supply was paramount. He was with us for three weeks in 2009, sadly to be his last visit. He may well be the longest-serving priest in Chichester over the last five decades. Our summer will be different this year, without his wise words and spirituality.
He died in Brive on Monday 22nd March in a Nursing Home, to which he had only recently moved. His Requiem was held on Thursday 25th March, the feast of The Annunciation. His particular devotion to Our Lady made this date very appropriate".
Fr. André Lecoeur died on March 23rd 2010 at the age of 85. His requiem was celebrated in the Sacred Heart Church in Brive on Thursday, March 25th.
Monsignor Charrier, who could not be there because of the plenary meeting of the French Bishops in Lourdes, sent the following message:
I very much regret that I cannot be with you to pray for Fr. André Lecoeur who has passed from this world to the Father. His death is a great sadness to me. So many of us received from him human warmth and light to enlighten our faith.
Until recently, he kept his vitality, and his great joy was to celebrate Sunday Mass in a parish and to share the reflections of some among you.
From Lourdes, where we are holding the Plenary Assembly of the French Bishops, I join you in my thoughts and prayers.
May the Lord grant him life in all its fullness.
May Our Lady of Lourdes pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Below is the testimony given at the beginning of the celebration by Monsieur François David, director of the Edmond-Michelet group of schools.
"There you are, dear Fr. Lecoeur, gone on your last journey, your Easter, which you have prepared for all through your long life. It is in the name of Catholic Education, which played such an important part in your life, that I have been asked to address you.
I can see you shrugging your shoulders and reminding me once again of the old Latin saying “de mortuis nihil dicitur, nisi bonun” Say nothing of the dead unless it is good.
I know too that you would have listened with your legendary mischievousness and that the remarks would be immediately analysed for mistakes to be noted. So, without aiming to be exhaustive, and I apologise in advance, it seems to me that we can say of you that you have been a man of a threefold fidelity
Fidelity to your mission as a teacher
That of a professional at the service of the young people first of all at Ussel then at the heart of our three schools: Bossuet, Notre Dame and Joan of Arc, anticipating, without realising it then, the reality of our school group today.
You were one of the generation of the 1959 contracts of association, which demanded that all teachers have a state diploma. You obeyed your superiors and obtained an English diploma from the Catholic Institute of Toulouse. As you told me you kept an eye on the demands of teaching while at the same time wishing to challenge and use the language, enriched each summer by your visits to Chichester where you went to perfect your English and to immerse yourself in the life of an English parish – an added linguistic value while at the service of the Church. I am sure that your British parishioners, like us, are very sad today.
I was never your pupil, but it seems to me that in listening to my friends who benefited from your teaching that it was rigorous, demanding, appreciated by some and dreaded by others, but never shy of technical advances. You were one of the first to use a tape recorder in the class room, a very avant garde move in the 1960s. You were at the same time a Christian teacher, living your professional life in the spirit of the gospels.
Fidelity to your schools
At the Bossuet School you were a studious pupil and already committed. It was during the years before the war that you were already attentive to what was happening in the world around you. You have described to me the first meetings of the Young Catholic Students, the beginning of Catholic Action, of the debates with your friends and the evening discussions organised by Edmond Michelet. Undoubtedly, that was the time when your vocation was born. You left Bossuet School with two Baccalaureates in your pocket to enter the Carmelite Seminary in Paris where you crossed paths with a certain Jean-Marie Lustiger.
As a new priest you came back to your old school which you were never to leave again. You taught there right up to your retirement and then continued to have your midday meal there right up to January 28th this year. In the midst of generations of successive colleagues you have shared the joys and pains, the successes and sufferings of the teaching community which you belonged to until you took your last breath. You were happy to know the rising generation of teachers, who are the world and the Church of today and tomorrow. The presence of so many colleagues, the oldest to the youngest, is a tangible proof of the esteem and affection in which you were held.
Allow me to express my own thanks, for your active presence during the hard times for our school, especially over the last ten years. Thank you for your analysis, humorous, down to earth, but without concessions to the point of being as sharp as a flint. For were you not a pupil of the Bouyssonie brothers who knew a lot about the matter of stones! They could touch, even wound a little, but once they were collected and analysed they proved to be well weighted, full of truth and intelligence. We ask ourselves, gathered here today as his friends, if in the end they didn’t hide a great sensitivity, even a timidity, which I guess was only overcome by an even greater tenderness.
In any case the “Song of our stones” is not ready and we are keeping watch that we never forget all that our schools owe you.
Finally Fidelity to the Church
You always wanted to be a man at the service of the Church, your first and ultimate commitment. You are of the generation formed on the morrow of the Second World War, nourished, as we have seen, at the heart of Catholic Action and its specialist groups. You were at your full vigour at the time of the second Vatican Council, you saw the developments and adopted them, you were in your mature years when new communities moved into the Corrèze and they attracted you. You have always sought to serve across the divisions , convinced that the mission of the priest is wider than that of the baptised, it was not to reject but to understand, not to separate but to draw together around Him who gave meaning to your commitment and to serve Him wherever the need was felt. So when the school where you were living finally decided to allow the pupils to go home for the weekends, you gave your free time as a supply priest to the surrounding parishes, Ayen, Objat, Rosiers, and I think Aubazine. Also at the same time you gave your support to several groups: Siloe, Equipes Notre Dame, Alliance, please forgive me if I have forgotten some. Some of us here will remember the wonderful time when we celebrated your 80th birthday here, when all that you had sown was presented to you as a marvellous harvest, a great thanksgiving.
Yes, dear Fr. Lecoeur, it is on the rock of fidelity that you had a life rich for yourself and enriching for us; a fidelity to your vocation as sure as the star in the storm; a fidelity which convinced you that you held a body and soul which did nor belong to you and which today has brought you to meet Him whom you have always served.
At this hour, you have, we believe, verified that beautiful saying which you worked on with your friends in the Young Catholic Students, who, with Péguy, so loved by Edmond Michelet, affirmed again and again,
“Our fidelities will be our fortresses.”
25th March 2010
Published in the The Church in Corrèze. Translated by Susan Line