Bro. Joseph LaMielle, S.J. (PAT) 85/58

15 June 2009 in Clarkston, U.S.A.

Born: 9 Oct. 1920, in Harbor Beach, MI, USA
Entered: 10 Oct. 1947 at Milford, USA
Came to India: 1952
Returned to USA: 1998

Perhaps the word “workaholic” could best describe Joe LaMielle. He tried to work himself to death in all his assignments in Patna Province. But it doesn’t give the full picture. Joe was also a “prayaholic”, always faithful to his prayer life and spiritual exercises. Our memory card on Joe would show him plowing the fields on a tractor, repairing motors, supervising building work, digging wells for the farmers of Bihar, providing for the material needs of Jesuit communities; in a word, never idle. And this was in all kinds of weather: the scorching heat of summer and the pouring rain of the monsoon. He didn’t spare himself, and this, of course, had to take its toll. He suffered from chronic filaria that thickened his legs and ankles, frequent bouts of fever, diarrhea, and finally heart problems. In his final years, he fell and suffered a broken hip, which curtailed his mobility. In spite of all this, Joe was always cheerful and smiling.

Joe came from a close and loving farm family. However, the family was struck with tragedy when some of its members contracted polio. One died, another was paralyzed for life. After his high school studies, Joe spent a year at Assumption College in Windsor, Canada, and then joined the coast guard where he used his talents as an instructor. Then he heard the call of the Lord, and entered the Society at Milford. He performed many useful jobs as a junior brother, and his mechanical skills were put to good use for the Milford community. When he volunteered for India, his superiors generously sent him, knowing that his talents would be a great asset to Patna mission. This proved true during his 46 years in India.

His first assignments were at St. Xavier’s in Patna (1953-54) for maintenance work, and at Loyola Industrial School (1954-55). His longest assignment was at Khrist Raja in Bettiah, where he made the farm a model of agricultural production (1955-67) and later constructed the new primary school building there (1993-95). He made his contribution to XTTI, our novitiate, as minister and farm manager (1967-70 and 1975-76). He and Fr. Joe Knecht made an excellent team for the newly established Bihar Water Development Society in Sasaram and Chenari (1970-75). When he was appointed to Rampur mission with Fr. Bob Ludwig, he found the change pleasant and relaxing, with the friendly care of the orphans at the end of his day’s work in the fields (1976-85). He then moved to St. Michael’s in Patna as minister, supervised the workers in the large campus, constructed the new classroom block, and provided for the needs of the Jesuit community (1985-89). The beautiful church at Latonah, and the Jesuit residence there, are monuments to Joe’s building skill (1989-93), as also is the second-year novices’ building at Itarhi (1995-96). His final contribution to Patna is the beautiful, large classroom block at St. Xavier’s (1996-98).

When Joe went for a home visit to the USA in 1998, he had to admit that he was worn out. He didn’t want to decide his own future—a lifetime of obedience was very strong in him. Even if he had decided to return to India, he didn’t feel the energy to undertake a new work. So he wisely stayed on at Colombiere Center, helping out with maintenance work there, and happy to play second fiddle. In view of his heart condition and filarial fever, it was the right decision. A couple of times during his years in India, Joe suffered from mental depression, perhaps a result of his physical ills. He pulled through it all, no doubt because of his spiritual strength. He will be remembered as an ideal Jesuit Brother, who gave all he had without counting the cost. He gave a lot of love to his Jesuit companions and especially to the people of Bihar whom he served. He will be remembered not only for the material monuments of his labor, but even more for his dedicated life of love and service.

- Jerry Drinane, S.J.

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