While he already had enough material to write « Un vicaire de banlieue, L'abbé Daniel JOËSSEL » which was published a few months later, François VEUILLOT wrote an obituary for La Semaine Religieuse de Paris. It appeared on 19 July 1941, p. 43-46.
Father Daniel JOËSSEL
Vicar at Saint-Geneviève of Asnières
« There was holiness in him, I would even say a holiness of great style ». Thus M. PRESSOIR, when asked about this priest of whom he had been the superior at the Carmelites seminary, bears witness to Father Daniel JOËSSEL. And, unknowingly echoing the attestation of the clairvoyant Sulpician, one of his confreres, who lived with him on the front, confirms it in these terms: «This priest, whom I consider a saint and under whose protection I place my ministry... »
However, he was not without his faults, the child and then the adolescent who, born on 15 July 1908 in Audincourt (Doubs) where his father ran a metalworking factory, grew up, in turn, in the family atmosphere and in the colleges of Saint-Jean de Béthune, in Versailles, and of Saint-Ignace, in Paris. Already, that captivating charm which, later, raised to the supernatural level, he would use to conquer souls, bent everyone to his will, even to his whims, and, in a less christian home, he would have risked becoming a "spoiled child". He was very sensitive, and would cry over nothing; he was very soft, and listened to himself complacently; his coquetry sometimes went too far. But, on the other hand, an angelic purity and a limpid and spontaneous frankness gave him that pair of wings which make souls soar.
At Saint-Ignace College, whose teachers appreciated in him « the perfect pupil... the beautiful soul... (the character) simple, gentle, jovial, full of spirit », and where his cheerful smile and his ardour for play made him popular with the pupils, « Dani » had already reached the heights where the call of God awaited him.
The first sign of his vocation was his zeal for the apostolate. Loved by his friends, he wanted to win them over to God. « Ah ! that one, I got him », he announced with overflowing joy to his mother, his dearest confidante and most precious adviser. And at the same time, « I'm going to be a priest », he told her.
However, in this soul magnetised to perfection, the missionary fervour was coupled with an irresistible attraction for the cloister, for which this director of works will always feel nostalgic.
At first, he preferred Solesmes to the seminary, where he is still remembered as a « young, cheerful, ardent novice who was seeking his way ».
His path was elsewhere, and in the autumn of 1930, after his military service, he entered the Carmelites.
His natural gifts of liveliness, enthusiasm, smiling cheerfulness, affectionate expansion, serene and communicative joy, quickly won him a happy influence on his comrades, all oriented towards God.
Not that he had any ambition, nor that he sought it. His humility was far too deep, his superior attests, a humility that was « natural, instinctive », which manifested itself, in the face of praise, by « a kind of spontaneous reaction ». « It was his radiance that imposed itself ».
And his talks, however flourishing they were, accentuated this hold. « He had a supernatural spirit, says one of his fellow students, that naturally his conversation was transfigured ».
And even more so, perhaps, the mute and dynamic preaching of his behaviour before the altar! « At the foot of the Blessed Sacrament, his fervour was a kind of tension, which could be seen in his attitude, in his looks »; and, in the same way, at the foot of Mary, from whom, sometimes, in the evening, he had to be pulled away.
In short, « an ardent desire for perfection and an admirable generosity to achieve it... He did not understand that one could look for easy, watered-down ways of imitating Jesus. »
And in his retreat diary, we find this reflection: « We are deceiving ourselves when we suppress the austere character of the Gospel under the pretext of making it more accessible to the world. He wanted to imitate Jesus, as the saints did... »
Such had been the seminarian, such was the priest.
Ordained on Holy Saturday (31 March) 1934, he stayed another year at the Carmelite monastery to prepare a doctoral thesis, which the overwork, joyfully embraced, of the apostolic ministry did not allow him to complete.
In July 1935, he was appointed vicar at Saint-Geneviève of Asnières.
He worked there for only four years, since in August 1939, as a reserve officer, he was suddenly called to another field of action by the impending war. However, these four years were enough for him to leave in this parish not only an indelible memory, but also living works and a whole phalanx of souls exalted and strengthened.
Ineffaceable memories of two traits in particular, one of nature, his joy; the other, supernatural, his mass.
His open and conquering smile will remain legendary. But this joy, apparently easy and spontaneous, did not only spring from the man's character; it was also one of the priest's virtues. He wanted, through it, to attract young people, and to communicate to them these same joyful impulses. « I work, he confessed, to keep joy, always, and also always the smile. » And, sometimes, he only kept them at the price of hard work.
His mass was one of the sources of this superhuman joy. « His mass was preaching », is the unanimous testimony; and no one, moreover, escaped this penetrating and entrancing impression. « A christian woman from Asnières confided to me that when he raised the Host, it seemed as if he was going to leave with it and that he could no longer detach himself from it. »
Also, many souls of all ages and classes had recourse to his guidance, which was understanding, engaging and strong, with, at times, almost divine lucidity.
But his most special field of action was male youth. From the very first day, he showed a marvellous adaptation to all young people, as well as to all the associations to which, in a short time, he was able to communicate a growth, a progress, a fraternal union, a joyful, deep and conquering spirit, which allows the most beautiful hopes.
His culture was appreciated by the Young Christian Students members and the YCWers loved his generous, simple and inspiring kindness. With the older children, his cordial familiarity in no way altered the dignity of his priesthood; with the younger ones, he was both captivating and almost maternal.
Especially in summer camps, perhaps his masterpiece! He devoted himself to them, moreover, without reserve, with a kind of passion, which did not exclude, moreover, either discernment or
prudence. « He lived totally with his children, says a witness, he gave himself totally to them, keeping nothing for himself, only the time to pray for them. » And there, how vigorously and lovingly he shaped strong souls! For, in the midst of the multiple and hectic actions, the former novice of Solesmes, the former seminarian of the Carmelites, although he reproached himself for allowing himself to be invaded by his parish works, remained a man of prayer. All overworked and eaten, « his life, assures one of his confreres, was a perpetual meditation. »
A revealing trait! In the dreadful ordeal of war, and although he suffered from being out of touch, he thanked God, especially at the beginning, for his hours of relative inactivity, which allowed him a certain recollection. « I can think and pray," he confided to one of his confreres, "and I find my soul a little bit! »
But here again, while deserving the praise of his chiefs, for the conscience he brought to the
accomplishment of his duties as an officer, and the love of the soldiers, for his justice and his solicitude, Father JOËSSEL was, more than ever, burned by the thirst for the apostolate.
He remained in constant communication with his children in Asnières; he gave precious assistance to the parish priests in the neighbourhood; he tried to create a flying parish among his comrades and his men. He multiplied the possible works, the preaching, the masses. He showed himself to be, finally, as one of his colleagues, who had become his comrade-in-arms, said, « a model priest ». « It was said of Christ, adds this same witness, that a virtue emanated from him. This was true of Father JOËSSEL: from the very first moment, one was gripped. »
At the beginning of may, he was still preparing, with love, a beautiful feast of Pentecost... and it was the offensive!
A few days later, a serious wound, but not fatal at first sight, put him on the battlefield and delivered him to the invading army.
Asnières and his family still believed him to be a prisoner, when on 12 September, a letter from Belgium suddenly dismayed his parish and his family: Father JOËSSEL had died on 30 May in a school in Ciney, which had been transformed into a hospital.
However, from this dramatic end, a luminous radiance blossomed, as it did from this priestly figure.
Accident of war, yes; but also holocaust!
For a long time, Father JOËSSEL had had a premonition of his death, so clear and persistent that it was like a prescience.
As soon as he was mobilised, this presentiment became an offering.
For his « kids », he was already used to inflicting heroic mortifications on himself; he conquered or redeemed their souls at the price of his blood. He wanted to give them his life.
« I have done all I could for them, he confided to one of his confreres during one of his furloughs, I have given all I could give; now I have only to die for them.». And, in a letter to his parish priest, Canon MULLER, he offered this sacrifice « so that they understand that our only happiness here below is to love the good God with all our heart... and above all, he added, so that there will be priests to replace me ! »
And it seemed, with certain words, that he knew the holocaust accepted from God!
His last letters, dictated from his deathbed to the hospital chaplain, have an accent of joy, confidence and peace.
« Make the children understand that my life was for them », he recommended to the vicar who had replaced him.
And to his parish priest : « I thank you for having helped me from the beginning of my priesthood to direct it towards Christ. Thank you for all that you have been for me as a Father and as a Priest. I die in the filial joy of having remained a child before God. »
Then, at the supreme hour, the two final attestations of the life that is passing away reflect, in a gesture and in a word, all the life that shone through. It is with great joy that Father JOËSSEL offers his life for the Church and souls, and to the chaplain who weeps as he receives his last blessing, he gives a broad smile...