by: Danilo S. Alterado, PhD
The proactive tandem between Bishop William Brasseur and Fr. Raphael Desmedt led to the establishment of Saint Louis College in 1952. That is the information I gather from the SLU centennial book Light of the North. (Another significant result of their collaboration was the building of the Maryhurst Seminary where I spent my college years.)
Reading through the pages of Chapter 3 “ Spreading the light of Catholic education” brings back a sense of reminiscence of my personal encounters with these two giants (that is, as builders of Saint Louis as an HEI) in the history of Saint Louis University. Having spent quite a considerable time myself as a CICM seminarian, I had the privilege of meeting Bishop Brasseur and Fr. Desmedt up close and personal.
I first met Fr. Desmedt in 1979 during the celebration of his golden sacerdotal anniversary together with Bishop Brasseur and Fr. Hatson. I was then a first year seminarian at Maryhurst Seminary and witnessing such celebration was really an inspiring experience. In my years at Maryhurst, I remember Fr. Desmedt as one of the regular confessor during monthly recollection. There was always a long line of seminarians who go to him for confession. I recall one of us said after his confession with Fr. Raphael, “…he gives inspiring and down-to-earth advises before giving the penitential prayer and absolution.” Indeed, it was Fr. Desmedt’s experience as a seasoned missionary that inspired us as young aspirants to the missionary vocation.
Another significant encounter with Fr. Desmedt was when I already graduated from Maryhurst and then preparing for the Novitiate. Before the Novitiate I worked for vocation promotion with Fr. Val Narcise, the Vocation Director then, and together with my classmates – Jaws, Macoy and (now) Fr. Gilbert, CICM. I remember one time staying behind at Home Sweet Home because I was not well and I had moments of exchanging conversations with Fr. Desmedt. He was already a “mellowed man.” (Tough and forthright was Fr. Desmedt’s reputation, so the stories about him were told during his active years. That was understandable given his stature in the CICM congregation, not only in the Philippines but in the world having served as Assistant Superior General, and of course as CICM RP Provincial Superior during the reconstruction years after WWII.)
My recollection with Bishop Brasseur was everyone’s bishop. He was there for everyone wanting to talk to him. At times he visited Maryhurst, seminarians flocked to him. As always the veteran missionary, a professor of theology and philosophy had words of wit and wisdom to share to all of us. Bishop Brasseur had earned a doctorate degree in Philosophy at the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome and he also finished a doctorate degree in Theology at the same Pontifical University at the time of his ordination. His missionary assignment had been usually cut short for several times because he had been recalled for teaching assignment – to teach philosophy or theology in Louvain, Belgium.
To the people of the Mountain Provinces, Bishop Brasseur was always a familiar and well-loved missionary. He is remembered as the tireless man of God who would not hesitate to climb the steepest mountain trail to bring the sacraments to the people. To them all, he was the kind of missionary who always made himself available, a prayerful man who cast off the trappings of his high office and always remained a pastor who cared for his flock.
At this point, I would like also to remember in special way other CICM Missionaries I have known and had made an impact in my youthful years. I remember the Priests in Tubao La Union when I was in High School, Fr. Norbert Lietaert, CICM and Fr. Renato Vernackt, CICM. I used to be their sacristan in the church and I recall the many times I accompanied them to visit barrios and celebrate the Eucharist. Their prayerful life, simplicity and hardworking character were the most unforgettable traits that impact to many of us.
In the occasion of the 150 years of the CICM Missionaries, I would like to say this short prayer:
Praise and thanksgiving to You Loving Father for sending us the CICM Missionaries, who in their selfless and tireless dedication to the missions you sent them, they have set apart communities to your Name. We thank you for the bountiful blessings we received through them. May there missionary presence and work of evangelization in our contemporary world continue to bear fruits for your glory in the many more years to come. With the intercession of the Blessed Mother Mary, I pray.
Thank you, Bishop Brasseur and Fr. Desmedt! Thank you CICM Missionaries!