Letter from Father Georges BELLETEIX to Mr François VEUILLOT
Georges BELLETEIX (1899-14/01/1973). Ordained in 1938. Private secretary to Mgr DUBOURG 1938-1940. Then sub-director of the Works in Haute-Saône from 1940 to 1948. Parish priest of Besançon-Saint-Claude 1948-1950, then archpriest of Lure from 1950 to 1960. Vicar general of the diocese from 1960 to 1968 and prelate of His Holiness. Chaplain at Besançon-Saint-Maurice from 1968 to 1973. General chaplain of the aid to priests.
Archbishopric of Besançon
Besançon, November 18, 1940
I have just returned from a trip and found your note. I am going to be late in replying to you, but I do not want to and cannot refuse you a few lines about Father JOËSSEL. I venerated him and was almost reproached for the sympathy and admiration I felt for him.
I apologise for these few words scribbled in haste, so as not to delay the sending. They will probably not tell you much except that in the army as in his parish, Father JOËSSEL was a model priest.
I do not know where you can find other information; his commander and all the officers of his group are either killed or prisoners, and most of the officers of the regiment are in the unoccupied zone, making it impossible to reach them.
May these lines, of which I myself am somewhat ashamed, help you to rediscover the figure of the one I consider a saint and under whose protection I place my ministry, which begins in the parish works.
His Excellency (1) was very sensitive to your note. He thanks you for it. The Bishop is doing very well and is putting on a brave face here in the present circumstances.
Please accept, Sir, the expression of my respectfully devoted feelings.
(1) Mgr Dubourg. Archbishop of Besançon from 1936 to 1954.
Father Belleteix's testimony
It was said of Christ: "a virtue emanates from him". This was also true of Father JOËSSEL.
From the first contact, one was seized.
As an artillery lieutenant in the 2nd group of the 30th Artillery Regiment, his influence went beyond the limits of his group and extended to the whole regiment. He was - and this in no way diminishes the value and merits of his fellow soldiers - the most listened-to priest.
His influence on the officers was unquestionable. You had to hear those in his group talk about him! Those in other groups looked for an opportunity to have him frequently among them. He was really the chaplain of the regiment, a chaplain of whom we were proud.
During the regimental celebrations, there was only room for him from the religious point of view, and at the wish of his leaders. Examples? The colonel of the regiment was transferred. He wanted the last mass he would attend to be celebrated by Father JOËSSEL and the divisional chaplain was asked to abstain so that the ceremony would keep a family "character" (sic). At Saint Barbe, the divisional chaplain was asked to let Lieutenant JOËSSEL officiate and speak.
The same hold over the men: the first one, he had organized a study circle in his group, very quickly, at the request of all, he had to create some in the other groups.
The men in his battery adored him, and were full of praise for his spirit of justice and his charity. He knew them by their first names and never lost sight of them.
And yet this priest was humility itself. He denied having any influence and always considered himself inferior to his task. How many times did I have to wind him up because he had moments of depression because he thought he was inferior to his task as a priest. He did not want to admit that he had a profound influence on all those around him. He wanted to organise a retreat for the officers, but he did not want to preach it himself, despite the exhortations of the chaplain who considered him the only one capable of doing a good job.
What can we say about his delicacy! At the beginning he did not want to organise a friendship circle in his group, so as not to appear to favour those who would come there, or who would have come there with a self-interest. He wanted to be fair and impartial, to be a priest for all, whoever they were, to be an officer and to do his duty, to serve if necessary without sparing his best Christian militants.
He did not want to confess officers or soldiers of his battery or even of his group out of delicacy and called on his confreres or the chaplain.
His sole aim was to win souls for Christ. He was the first to organise, as we have said, a friendship group, with prayer vigils. He wanted beautiful, lively masses with beautiful songs, and last may his joy was to be able to present a very beautiful choir and, for Pentecost Sunday, he had prepared a solemn mass with a magnificent musical program. On Pentecost Sunday we were in Belgium.
Always ready to help. If the divisional chaplain was annoyed, caught short of being able to provide the sunday masses, he would go and find Father JOËSSEL and always obtained his help.
This assistance he lent to all the parish priests of the parishes where his regiment was stationed. Let us question on this subject the Fathers of Hazebrouck (St Eloi or Notre-Dame), of Cléty and Quesques (Pas de Calais).
His relations with his confreres were full of cordiality. The lieutenant no longer existed, he was the comrade, or rather the big brother. He also held frequent meetings between priests and seminarians of the regiment. He personally needed them because he was prone to bouts of « blues »; but a little thing, a visit, a bit of conversation would cheer him up.
« Come back, you've done me good... tell the confreres to come and see me to chat a little, they comfort me. » In fact, chaplains and confreres received much more from him than they could give him.
He did not forget his beloved parish of Asnières. He spoke of his parish works, of his oldest children, especially of his YCWers. He wanted all these children, those of the regiment and those of St Geneviève, to have a communion of prayer and thoughts. The children of Asnières would make sacrifices for their mobilised elders, and the latter in return would offer their miseries for the parish works of their lieutenant-priest.
On 10 May... He was preparing, as I said above, a splendid party for Pentecost... The division went up to Belgium, north of Antwerp, then suddenly came down on Landrecies, his group was separated from his regiment and could not withdraw with it.
Everyone was worried. What has become of Father JOËSSEL? This was the question on everyone's lips. No answer could be given. We were still hoping. One could not believe that the most eminent priest of the division had been killed. Alas, we had to face reality. And since then, the letters that arrive tell us of the pain felt at the announcement of the sad news, all of which repeat the supernatural influence exercised by this priest.