Blessed Joseph Boissel was born December 20, 1909 in the marches of Brittany (France), in the hamlet of La Tiolais, outside the town of Loroux. He arrived in Laos in 1938.
In March 1945, the Japanese hit Laos. On June 1, Joseph Boissel was captured with his companion Fr. 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 and contact with the Hmong.
On Saturday, July 5, 1969 (the year the Diocese of Phoenix was established), 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 was unable to go there for ministry for several months. The catechist André Van was there, and he needed to know that he was supported.
Setting out around 4 p.m., 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.
Fr. 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.
Fr. 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. He 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 unrecognizable. Thérèse, hit in the head, remained mentally handicapped as a result of the attack.”
Pope Francis declared him a martyr along with 14 others slain out of hatred for the faith in Laos between 1954 and 1970. They were beatified Dec. 11, 2016.
“Their heroic fidelity to Christ can be an encouragement and example to missionaries, especially catechists, who in mission lands play a valuable and irreplaceable apostolic role, for which the entire Church is grateful,” Pope Francis said.
— By Fr. Roland Jacques, OMI, Postulator. Translated and Compiled By Fr. James Allen, OMI. This article was republished with permission of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate United States Province.