The spiritual ascension of
Father Henry La Praz who had given his life to the Divine Redeemer,
is an example of fidelity to grace. His vocation is bound to the
ministry of the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X. The La Praz
family, like many others, was attached to the Priory in Geneva from
its foundation. Therefore it is suitable to recall briefly some
altar of the Chapel of Our Lady of Lepanto, in Montreux.
and Glory to Christ the King. Weary of the postconciliar
liturgical reforms, the faithful hoped to find the teaching of the
Catholic Faith again in the traditional liturgy and for that reason
they asked Archbishop Lefebvre to send them a priest for the Sunday
Mass. On the feast of Christ the King, 1975, the Mass of All Times
was celebrated for the first time in the Communal Hall of Plainpalais
by a priest from Ecône.
The same faithful organised
my first solemn Mass for Sunday July 4th, 1976 and then asked me
to invite Archbishop Lefebvre to preach the homily. It was the beginning
of the “Hot Summer”; the Roman authorities had threatened him with
condemnation if he proceeded with the priestly ordinations on June
29th, 1976. Archbishop Lefebvre willingly accepted and great was
his surprise at having to speak before two thousand eight hundred
faithful in that improvised Cathedral at the Palais des Exposition,
They had come from all over to witness to him support and pray for
the preservation of Tradition.
of the Priory of St. Francis de Sales.
The first Mass at the Priory was celebrated at the hour of
the first vespers on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1977.
That foundation brought great blessings to all the family of Mr.
and Mrs. Gerard La Praz as well as many others besides; it appeared
to us to be reliving the fervour of the first Christians. A whole
spiritual life was organised; a new parish was born, composed of
all the faithful who had been courageously maintained in the Catholic
Faith by the Parish Priest, Father Pierre Marquis and his brother,
the Reverend Jean Marquis, as well as Father Gamacchio.
The decision had been taken
by Archbishop Lefebvre and Mother Marie Gabriel to send the first
Community of the Sisters of the Fraternity to the Geneva Priory;
we went to the Novitiate of Albano in the month of June to bring
back the nuns; I was accompanied amongst others by Jerome Dusonchet,
Michel Koller and by Henry La Praz.
at the tomb of St. Pius X and vocation to the Priesthood.
Sunday June 19th, 1977, was the occasion of a pilgrimage
to the tomb of St. Pius X and I was able to celebrate Mass at St.
Peter's, Rome, at the altar dedicated to the holy patron of our
Fraternity. On returning to the sacristy I asked my servers after
Mass: "You realise how fortunate we are to be able to pray
to St. Pius X at the very spot where he rests? I hope that you have
asked for many graces for yourselves" and, addressing myself
particularly to Henry, I put to him the question: “Have you prayed
for yourself?” In view of his evasive reply, I exclaimed: “Tomorrow,
I will say the Mass again at the same altar and I will say it for
your intention: like today, you will serve it for me and this time
you will ask for all that God wishes to give you of graces and of
blessings for your soul.” On Monday, June 20th, Henry served with
dignity and recollection the Mass which was to be the beginning
of his vocation.
A short while later Henry
came to see me and to ask me: “Would you look after my soul?” He
was a student at the School of Watchmaking and was a member of fifteen
associations. His activity was unbound but his spiritual life was
not yet the essential for him! It was he who reminded me of this
meeting when he said to me: “That day you hit me hard! You had asked
me to give up all the associations and that only afterwards would
you take care of me! I obeyed you and two weeks later, it was done.”
When Henry told me of his
vocation, I asked him to complete his School of Watchmaking and
to give his diploma as a gift to his parents to thank them for all
they had done for him. It is not good to stop when one is so near
However his desire to enter
the seminary pushed him to further his education and it was for
this that he went to the night school. His comrades told him: “You
know much more that we do; you do not need to finish this year…
Enter the seminary, become a priest!”
long road strewn with ordeals. Henry
assisted at the morning Mass in the priory, received Communion fervently
and did his thanksgiving on his bicycle on his way to the Watchmaking
School. On one occasion, he was so absorbed in meditation that his
cycling finishing in a gliding flight; he had collided with a car….His
day was fully filled because he still had lectures in the evening.
He now had but one goal in his life: to enter Ecône!
The Rector of the seminary
at that time was Father Tissier de Mallerais; Henry, seeking his
admission had many interviews with him but the reply was always
the same: "No!" Nothing remained further to him but to
abandon all human will and to put himself totally in the hands of
It is with these dispositions
of soul that Henry assisted at the ordinations in Econe on June
29th, 1980 ; after the ceremony he was called by the
Rector who told him: "Henry, you are expected at the start
of the next term!" Nothing could have caused him a greater
illness and prayer. Before and
after his ordination, Henry spent long periods in hospital. It was
given to me to be a witness to his sufferings; I was able to admire
the courage of his parents who visited him every day in the hospital
in Geneva. At the time of his illness which had interrupted his
studies at the seminary for two years, who would have thought it
possible to see him a priest one day? It was necessary to hope against
all hope. On Good Friday 1982, his apparent death was a fact. My
Mass on Holy Thursday every year had been said for his intention
and with all my soul I had entreated Our Lord, holding the Sacred
Host: "If Henry must die, make it that it should be on the
day after his ordination or later, but he must be a priest!"
The doctors advised him against
resuming the regime of seminary life. What remained to him of health
would not permit it and they asked Father Lorans, the Rector, to
allow him to finish his studies in a Priory. It was in this way
that it was decided to send him to the Priory of the Sacred Heart
at Sierre, as a priest ordained "ad missam"; his faculty
of hearing confessions would not be granted to him until one year
after his ordination.
Henry declared willingly:
“It is not the medicines which keep me alive, but the faithful's
prayers. How many have said to me that they will pray for me!” And
God did not take him until he was in the seventh year of his priesthood
and, to our joy, only after he had pronounced his final commitment
to the Society of St. Pius X. Father Schmidberger, our Superior
General, came himself to the hospital, on the feast day of the Immaculate
Conception, December 8th, 1992 to receive his commitment.
ordination and the First Mass.
It was on June 27th, 1986 that Father Henry La Praz and
Father Michel Koller were ordained priests. Their first Mass was
to be celebrated on Sunday June 29th in Geneva. What
a crowning achievement for my ten years of priesthood!
That celebration had gathered
together many of the faithful at St. Joseph’s Oratory. Father Louis-Paul
Dubroeucq celebrating also his ten years of priesthood and having
been the spiritual director of Henry at the Seminary, had said his
Mass at a quarter past seven; I had celebrated my Mass at eight
o’clock; Father Koller had sung his first Solemn Mass at nine o’clock
and Father La Praz at half past ten. A big meal for more than four
hundred people prolonged their parish feast. Many priests and seminarians
had surrounded the newly ordained and Master Roger Lovey had displayed
all his talents as Master of Ceremonies.
for the sick. Sick himself, Henry
cared for the sick. Despite his physical exhaustion following one
of his numerous operations, Henry one evening wanted to leave the
hospital to return to the Carmel of Mary Queen of the Angels at
Mount Pélerin. Towards eight o’clock in the evening, he phoned a
parishioner and asked him to bring him to the hospital of Riaz to
go to the bedside of a sick old lady. This parishioner tried to
dissuade him, without success; he begged him to drive him without
delay! The visit lasted a whole hour, the driver brought the exhausted
priest back to the Carmel and learnt the next day of the death of
the person whom Father La Praz had attended.
interview with Archbishop Lefebvre. One of Henry's greatest
joys was to be able to speak with Archbishop Lefebvre who showed
him a very special affection and who one day said to him: "Henry,
I envy you!" – "But why, your Grace?" – "Because
you have become the friend of suffering, you have become powerful
over the Heart of God".
honour of St. Francis de Sales. Henry
was driven by an uncommon priestly zeal and engaged in an extraordinary
activity when he could escape from the hospitals. His ministry led
him to meet regularly Eric Bertinat, friend of long standing and
like him born in Geneva. The idea of starting a newspaper came during
their meetings. They told me about it and asked what title to give
to this newspaper. The reply was immediate: "Controverses!
You know that St. Francis de Sales was Bishop of Geneva and that
he had converted the whole of Chablais, thanks to the pages which
now make up the first volume of the complete edition of his works,
a volume which carries the name 'Controverses'. The Patron Saint
of Geneva is the nineteenth Doctor of the Church and the first of
the French language. Do remember that the reading of the manuscript
page of the holy doctor where the Sovereign Pontiff is called by
the title 'Infallible Confirmer' had produced a deep impression
on the minds of the Fathers of the First Vatican Council and had
decided many to subscribe to the definition of Papal Infallibility.
In honour therefore of St. Francis of Sales, the newspaper will
be called 'Controverses'."
His last Masses. Father La
Praz had celebrated Mass for the last time on September 29th,
1992 on the feast day of St. Michael, the Archangel, before his
last hospitalisation. He left his sick room only to make a last
visit to the Oratory of St. Joseph in Geneva and to assist at the
sung Mass of March 19th.
Easter Sunday, April 11th,
1993 Mass was said in his hospital room of Loex; he received communion
for the last time on the evening of Ascension Thursday and Extreme
Unction had been given to him a last time in the moments when his
soul was recalled to god.
priest friend. Priestly friendship brings extraordinary
joys and we were happy to find ourselves amongst confreres. At the
time of one of our meetings in June 1992, Father La Praz said to
me: “You remember the Mass that you celebrated for me at St. Peter’s
in Rome, at the tomb of Saint Pius X? It was the beginning of my
vocation. And if I became a priest, it was thanks to all the prayers
which were said for me, to all the Masses which were celebrated
for my intention; and also to the nun who offered her life so that
I should become a priest. Suffering has been the companion of my
life. Many times, perhaps eight, I felt my soul separating itself
from my body; I saw a long tunnel and a luminous cross at its end
but it was not yet my hour… In my trials, I have no other consolation
than to read St. John of the Cross.”
Transformed by his priestly
vocation, Father Henry La Praz, priest and victim, united his life
to that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest, in offering
his sufferings for the glory of God, the Holy Catholic Church, the
Priestly Society of Saint Pius X and the salvation of souls.