“After sixty years of priesthood, I am pleased to notice that it is amongst people with an intellectual disability that I have been able to be the apostle of the Holy Preaching which comes right from the heart and which is addressed to the heart.” (Father Thomas Philippe on the occasion of his 60th anniversary of priesthood)
Father Thomas Philippe was born on 18 March 1905 near Lille in France. He grew up in a family of 12 children of whom seven became members of a religious order. As he will say after 60 years of religious life, “my sacerdotal vocation goes back to the day of my first communion when I was only six years old”. Driven by this desire, he entered the Dominican order at the age of 18, took his vows a year later and was ordained priest on 25 July 1929.
Father Thomas Philippe taught theology in the Dominican faculties of theology in Rome, and became the rector of one of them in 1941. After the war, he gathered around him a group of students from different countries and started a community called “Eau vive” (Living Waters) in Paris. It was the theological and spiritual formation that Jean Vanier had sought when he joined this group in 1950.
Father Thomas described his coming to Trosly in 1963: “After many different services and hardships of all kinds, God led me to Trosly to be with people with an intellectual disability; those who are poor in their head, in their person, but who have such a love for Jesus”. He became the chaplain for the "Val Fleuri", an institution for about thirty people with an intellectual disability in the village of Trosly Breuil, in the Oise region of France. He invited Jean Vanier to visit him there and encouraged him to “do something” for these people. A year later, in August 1964, Jean Vanier, founded L’Arche.
In 1971, Père Thomas founded “La Ferme
”, a place of prayer and welcome set in the heart of the community. He celebrated the Eucharist there every day. He counselled and accompanied people from L’Arche, and many others who came for his help. “After sixty years of priesthood, I am pleased to notice that it is amongst them that I have been able to be the apostle of the Holy Preaching which comes right from the heart and which is addressed to the heart”.
Father Thomas remained the priest of L’Arche Trosly until the end of his life. He died on 4 February 1993, and is buried near the chapel at La Ferme in Trosly Breuil.Note: Quotations are taken and translated from a speech given for his 60th anniversary of priesthood (see La Maison Thomas Philippe).