Saint of the Day – 5 July – Blessed Joseph Boissel OMI (1909-1969) Priest and Martyr, Missionary of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Founded by St Eugene de Mazenod, Apostle of sick – born on 20 December 1909 in Le Loroux, Ille-et-Vilaine, of the Archdiocese of Rennes , in Brittany France and died by being shot on 5 July 1969 on the road near Hat I-Et, Bolikhamxay, Laos, aged 59. He is one of the Seventeen Martyrs of Laos (including ten French, six Laotians and an Italian), whose combined Feast day is 16 November.
Joseph Boissel was born 20 December 1909 in the Marches of Brittany (France), in the hamlet of La Tiolais, outside the town of Loroux. into a family of modest farmers and became fatherless at the age of fourteen. He entered the Minor Seminary of the Oblates of Marie-Immaculate. His masters found him “conscientious, very devoted, honest and frank” and especially “very attached to his vocation.” He was Ordained a Priest on 4 July 1937.
Fr Joseph received his orders to the brand new mission of Laos, begun less than two years earlier. He arrived in Laos in 1938.
In March 1945, the Japanese hit Laos. On 1 June Fr Joseph Boissel was captured with his companion Father Vincent Le Calvez and the Apostolic Prefect, Msgr Jean Mazoyer, OMI. All three were taken to Vinh, Vietnam, where they were held among a hostile population. Back in Laos in 1946, Joseph again found his Tran Ninh peoples and had contact with the Hmong.
On Saturday, 5 July 1969, he decided to go to Hat I-Êt, a village of Kmhmu’ refugees a good 20 kilometers from Paksane, going up along the River Nam San. Because of the lack of security, that year he had been unable to go there to administer the Sacraments, for several months. The Catechist André Van was there and he needed to know that he was supported.
Setting out around four in the afternoon, he took two young Laotian Oblate Missionaries with him as usual, they were to help him with the visits, the care of the sick and the religious service.
The following is told by one of the two passengers, the only survivor able to do so:
Two or three kilometers before arriving at the village, at a bend in the road, I heard a burst of gunfire aimed at us. The tires blew out and I was hit in the hand. I saw a red flag moving in the forest bordering our route. A second burst of gunfire and Thérèse was hit in the head, since I am smaller, the bullets did not hit me. The firing came from the left, on the driver’s side.
Father Boissel was hit in the head – near the mouth and in the skull. The jeep went into a ditch, turned over on us and burst into flames. Father’s glasses were broken, he died on the spot… His big eyes were open. All three of us were completely covered with blood.
Father Boissel was dead, Thérèse was unconscious. I was in a huge daze… not moving… like dead. But I saw three young Vietnamese soldiers going around the vehicle three times. One said: “Let’s kill them!” – “Let’s burn the vehicle and its occupants!” They moved away and threw a grenade at the car. The grenade exploded – it was the explosions that caused our injuries. I said, “O Lord!” but veil of darkness came over me…
I don’t know how long we stayed like that in the car. But Thérèse came to first. She pushed me to get out… The grenade had deafened us… It was difficult for us to communicate, to understand one another… Both of us prayed to the Lord: “If you still need us… send someone to help us.” We went to sleep along the road. I put my hand on Thérèse’s heart and she put hers on my heart – united in suffering.
Oh, we had to wait a long time, from 4:30 until about 9:30. Finally, some people arrived to pick us up. Father’s body had been burned to the point that his face was totally unrecognisable. Thérèse, hit in the head, remained mentally handicapped as a result of the attack. She really has no happiness in living.”
Fr Joseph was Beatified on 11 December 2016 by Pope Francis. The recognition was celebrated in Laos, presided by Cardinal Angelo Amato. Below are the six OMI Martys of Laos and all the Martyrs of the region.