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Chapter 9

Father Henry La Praz: Son of St Pius X


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 dates.


At the altar of the Chapel of Our Lady of Lepanto, in Montreux.


Honour 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.


Foundation 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.


Mass 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 the goal!

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!”


A 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 Divine Providence.

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 joy.


Henry's 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.


The 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.


Zeal 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.


An 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".


In 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.

The 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.

Father Denis Roch


Chapter 8

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