A few days ago, we bid farewell to our brother André Delalande, who passed away on May 1st at the age of 103. Over the past few days, we have received many signs of affection. All are a sign of the respect, admiration and gratitude that so many people had for him. With his death, many of us felt a mixture of sadness for his loss and gratitude for the gift his life represented for us.

Jean Baptiste Delalande (Brother André) was born in Flottemanville Manche (Normandy, France) on January 14, 1918. He was the eldest of 14 children, 8 boys and 6 girls. After training in Bairo (Turin, Italy), he arrived in Lebanon at the age of 16. In 1947, he took a break to study at the University of Lyon. After four years, he returned to Lebanon, where he remained for the rest of his life. His mission took him to many places in various schools in the province, including Jounieh, Aleppo, Champville, Rmeyleh and Damascus.

During the summers of 1963 and 1965, he took courses in exegesis at the Bible School in Jerusalem. As a result, he knew the Old Testament well and had memorized the New. He referred by heart to quotations with their respective books, chapters and verses. This allowed him to share his biblical knowledge with the brothers for 20 years during training sessions.

For his culture and also for his affection for the Lebanese people, he received several official awards:  the Medal of Knowledge (1958), the Order of Academic Palms (2002) and the Lebanese Order of Merit (2018).

For the past 40 years, he lived in the community of Jbail. It is in this community that I had one of the most striking memories that I have of Br. André. His presence in the school yard immediately comes to mind. I was always surprised to see him at the beginning of the day, when the students arrived. When the bell rang, they lined up in rows and said their prayers; Brother André was there. Sometimes he was the one who led the prayer. When he was not, he was simply there with them. Then the students would go to their classrooms, and when they passed by him, they greeted him with a hug, a tap or just a smile – one by one. It was their way of expressing their affection. The same respect and affection were shown to him by teachers or families when they saw him in the school.

Br. André would be up standing for several hours during the morning prayers with the students. Whenever there was a mass in the school chapel, he would get up early in the morning to ensure that everything was ready for the celebration. He would sweep the entrance daily. Many people like to participate in the Eucharist. Hence even during the holidays, Br. André made sure that the chapel was open for the morning Eucharistic Celebrations.

He was a man of a spirituality that was both solid and simple. He was studious of the Word of God, but his knowledge did not lead him to isolate himself in his books. Rather, he transmitted it in his classes, conversations, dealings with the brothers, children, teachers, and with his friends... He combined contemplation and action very well in his life. He showed it in his dynamism, activities he carried out, his reverence, and his moments of prayer. I remember when he prayed the psalms, he used a tone that seemed that he was singing them. In addition, he had a great love and devotion to the Virgin Mary. Mary was always present in his prayer, and she was his companion as he moved around. And he showed it in the daily recitation of the rosary and in the dialogues and meetings with teachers, students and former students where he used to make reference to Mary.

I was impressed to hear Br. André tell the story of beginnings of his vocation. He said that at the age of 10, when he was a mass server in his parish, his parents received a letter from Br. Aldegrin, who had been a director of a school in Achkut, Lebanon. It was a circular addressed to large families in France. In this letter, Br. Aldegrin presented missionary perspectives in the Middle East and proposed to train courageous children to help Lebanese and Syrian youth. Responding positively to this invitation, he went to the Bairo Juniorate to begin his formation together with other children and adolescents in order to preach the Gospel, through education to the young people of other continents.

But what struck me most was to hear him tell this story when he was over 100 years old and to see that he had devoted himself to it, even in the midst of the most complicated circumstances, like the war in Lebanon (1975-1990).

Our brother was a kind and helpful, insightful and intellectually passionate man. At the same time, he was jovial and close to people: a man with pleasant conversations. He was a brother who aroused the confidence of many people to share their worries and problems with him and people who found in him words of encouragement and enlightened advice to move them forward. He was a support, a confidant and a point of reference for so many people who lived and worked with him.

One can say that his life was a life of encounters. In him united the West and the East, faith and culture, education and evangelization, contemplation and action. He acted as a bridge; he knew how to bring together positions between different people; he brought culture and the gospel closer to children. For this, he had a way that never failed: his smile. With that, he broke all the defenses that other people could put in place. In short, his life was a hymn to peace.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Br. André. At the age of 100, he wrote a prayer in which he gave thanks for the many gifts that God had filled him with. He himself was one of these gifts. Thank you, Lord, for His life and for all that you have done among us through Him.


Watch Br. André and some of his sentiments here: