CANADA-UNITED STATESFr. Armand Mathew, OMI: 1922-2013
When, in 1852, St. Eugene de Mazenod sent the first official group of Oblate missionaries to Brownsville, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexican border, he dispatched men who were on fire with zeal for preaching the gospel in most difficult circumstances. When Fr. Armand MATHEW, at the age of 90, died peacefully in his sleep on the night of June 22, 2013, at the Brownsville Cathedral, there died a man every bit as zealous for the poor as those early Oblate pioneers.
In the internet guestbook on the occasion of his funeral, someone wrote this tribute to the deceased missionary: “How many countless beautiful evenings did you spend with us on a monthly basis preaching the word of God? You helped us to find God within ourselves and each other. Your endless compassion, love, and devotion for us and those less fortunate left a passion in our hearts and minds. You were a true angel among us and brought us closer to God. Like Jesus, you were our teacher, and we your disciples. We love and miss you tremendously.”
He died a few weeks before celebrating the 70th anniversary of his first profession of vows (1943). A priest since 1949, he spent many years as a formator in the juniorate and the novitiate. But the cause of justice, peace and the integrity of creation became the crusade of his later years. He was especially interested in encouraging poor Mexican immigrants to the United States to become engaged in the civic life of their community so that they could take control of their own lives. He was one of the co-founders of “Kids Voting USA-Brownsville,” an organization that teaches school children the importance and process of civic involvement.
In a statement provided by the University of Texas at Brownsville, where Fr. Mathew had helped to launch the Center for Civic Engagement in 2001, UTB President Juliet V. Garcia said, “Padre dedicated his life to being an advocate for social justice and challenged each of us to join him in the battle against indifference. He was humble and of kind heart; he had unlimited courage and stamina. He loved without limit and condition and taught us to try to live a life that made a difference in the lives of others. He lent us his courage and expected us to do the same for others. He never gave up on a cause he believed in, nor would he let us give up either. Knowing him we have known an angel among us.”
A video made at the time of his 90th birthday gives a good picture of a man with the heart as big as that of St. Eugene: http://goo.gl/1sgBG.
On June 29, 2013, the Hmong
American National Catholic Association honored Oblate Father Daniel TAILLEZ on
the occasion of his 50th jubilee of ordination to the priesthood;
they thanked him for his many years of service to the Hmong people, first as a
missionary in Laos and then among the Hmong diaspora in the United States, the
Philippines and Thailand. The celebration took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
where Fr. Harry WINTER represented the U.S. provincial, Fr. William ANTONE, in
addressing the assembly and thanking Fr. Taillez in the name of his Oblate
When the Hmong started coming to the United States in the late 1960’s and early ‘70s, some former catechists from Laos approached the parishes or dioceses where they settled. They requested the services of priest missionaries whom they had known in their native land. Fr. Taillez (born in France) began serving the Hmong in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 1980, and Fr. Umberto NESPOLO (a native of Italy) took over the responsibility of Hmong on the West Coast in 1984.
Ordained in 1963, Fr. Taillez went to his first assignment in Laos in that same year. He was constrained to leave Laos, along with other missionaries, in 1975. He then served in Haiti until 1979 and the next year, began working with Hmong refugees at an Oblate parish in St. Paul, Minnesota. In his years in St. Paul, he baptized over 500 Hmong Catholics.
Since 2002 he has been responsible for Hmong programs on Catholic Radio Veritas, which airs from Asia; he worked first in the Philippines, and now in Thailand. His Hmong broadcasts reach China, Vietnam and of course are heard in the USA.
The pioneer of Hmong radio ministry was the late Fr. Yves BERTRAIS (†2004) who holds a very special place within Hmong studies as one of three co-creators in 1952 of the groundbreaking Hmong Romanized Popular Alphabet (RPA), now the most widely used Hmong script worldwide.