Father Harry Thiel CSsR
First Mass Father Harry Thiel CSsR, Apostle to the Hmong Hmong Center Father Harry with Pope John Paul II Father Harry Thiel CSsR, Apostle to the Hmong
Apostle to the Hmong
Ruamrudee International School
Father Harry Thiel

Father Harry Thiel is a very important person in the history of Ruamrudee International School. Staff members and students of the early 70's will remember Father Harry as the Director of RIS and Pastor of Holy Redeemer Church. He served the school at the 'old campus' from 1970 until 1973.

In more recent years our Community Service groups have become more familiar with Father Harry's work among the Hmong Mountain Peoples. Trips of teachers and staff members to the mountains of Nan, and the Hmong Center in the city of Chiang Mai, and into the mountain range of northern Thailand have been an inspiration to those who had the privilege of witnessing Father's work there. Our visits to the homes of Hmong families, accepting their hospitality in their simple dwellings, have taught us how humbly the poor people eke out their living. Father Harry Thiel lived among these people, walking the mountain passages, sleeping under mosquito nets in huts with dirt floors. He was a Redemptorist missionary in Thailand for forty years before he returned to the States to care for the Hmong refugees in America.

Father Harry Thiel died in Seattle,
Washington on October 11, 2006.
May he rest in peace. Amen.

Remembering Fr. Harry Thiel, Spirit of RIS

Eulogy for Fr. Harry Thiel
October 15, 2006
Sacred Heart Church / Seattle, WA USA 98109
Written by Caroline Tamayo / Seattle, WA 98109

Father Harry on his last visit ot the Sacred Heart rectory in Seattle. Sept 9 2006
Dear RIS Family,

Greetings from Seattle. I hope you are doing well and in good health and spirits. Thank you all again, for coming together during the last weeks of our dear Fr. Harry Thiel. Thank you all for your kind words and memories with our own Fr. Harry Thiel. My time with him for the past 7 months made me understand what your class experienced; there really is no other than our own Fr. Harry, a great moral teacher and leader.

I am very grateful for all your kind words and actions during those challenging weeks that I never thought I would ever encounter and witness. I feel blessed to have a family like you, and to have learned from our own Fr. Thiel, until his last breath of life. I hope that this brings us together in many ways to support one another when our time of need comes. This is an important lesson as Fr. Harry Thiel told me his last sermon, "take a vacation" which meant take time feed your own soul and spirit for our humanity ... take time for loving others around us as we love ourselves.

Attached are Fr. Thiel's last photos post surgery during his visit to the rectory on 19 Sept. 2006. Attached is some form of my eulogy and the exact writings of RIS who contributed, namely Preena Smeets (73), Charles Henn (72), and Jen na Nakhorn) Brown (71). I also used the words of Peter Sun (71) on his description of Fr. Thiel, and a story of mischief during Chombhala's (73/4) time. Writing a first eulogy ever, I wrote the piece, but changed the format of my words when I was at the podium. I shortened my piece and started speaking from the major points in my head based on select written details. I did keep the words of the contributors named above verbatim. Generally, I always speak extemporaneously from major points or outlines because my work has always demanded that of me. So for all, I tried to reconstruct the words I shared at the church on Fr. Harry Thiel's funeral mass.

Meanwhile, I wish all the best to everyone. I hope to see you in Bangkok , Thailand around 2007. Thank you for all your kind hearts and generosity during this time of reconnection and the passing celebration / memory of Fr. Thiel.

Blessings with love,

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Fr. Harry Thiel was known as the best School Director of RIS. RIS is an international school that educated international students from 57 different countries. He served as our RIS School Director / President and Church Pastor from 1970 - 1974. Although I was only in elementary school, my brothers were all high school students at that time, quite active and vocal in the direction of the school.

My pathway with Fr. Harry Thiel was a providential moment in March 2006. There was a reason from God. Towards the end of my parents' visit in February 2006, they were happy that they finally attended the church 5 walking blocks from my condominium in Seattle. My parents said to me, "this is the church you will attend, a Redemptorist Church, not the one in Capitol Hill (Jesuits)." I agreed, because the pastor was dynamic and there seemed to be a need in this church. We somehow saw Fr. Thiel's name in the bulletin, but I was too busy to take time.

It was when I met with Fr. Dawson, our pastor, in March, I inquired with Brother Paul about Fr. Thiel - as listed on the bulletin. Brother Paul told me Fr. Thiel was a missionary in Thailand for the Hmongs - I knew this was the same Fr. Thiel from RIS and Holy Redeemer so I left my contact information for Fr. Harry Thiel.

On the day that I was feeling down and exhausted from my ability to advocate for our immigrant and refugee population at work, I was walking to the parking lot from my office having a silent personal conversation with God asking "Why am I a warrior for all causes? Can't You, God get someone else to do this work? Why me???" At that point, I heard my cell phone rang, and it was Fr. Thiel calling. (Normally I don't hear my cell phone when walking in the parking lot from work.) The indirect answer of God came from Fr. Thiel who told me to remember the richness of our RIS childhood and school. It is by example we learn and understand our role on this earth for our humanity. RIS was a great solid foundation for multiculturalism and global citizenship. We never forget this family that gave us strength to continue our work today.

When I told Fr. Thiel what my parents' said that "I will attend this church, because it is Redemptorist and I was baptized by the Redemptorists at Holy Redeemer Church Bangkok," Fr. Thiel replied, "once a Redemptorist, always remain one." So there is no escaping from this order. (crowd laughter) Fr. Thiel was also a visionarist as the pastor of Holy Redeemer, again ahead of his time. He helped design the church, a unique Thai design with a modernist 2/3D sculpture of the Stations of the Cross. He bridged cultures in our faith.

The high school graduates from the era between 1970-1974 always remembered Fr. Thiel in every RIS way, and it was Fr. Thiel who truly created the "big happy family" that is forever. My dear brother Archito (71) is joining me from Houston, TX, to represent his classmates and friends. Some of you may remember Charles Henn in July 2006 during Fr. Thiel's Golden Jubilee - that was when Fr. Thiel announced with excitement to all that his former student came to celebrate with him. Charles was representing his RIS classmates as well as paying his respects for a mentor. Charles is also a childhood friend and classmate of Archito since 1st grade. As thankful to Charles for his surprise presence in Fr. Thiel's celebration of the 50 years Jubilee , I am thankful for my brother Archito's presence during this special time to say good bye to our dear Fr. Thiel. Archito's presence represents our RIS family (1970 - 1974) who could not be here today. My presence will be the voice and spirit of our RIS family (1970-1974) who have been with us in this journey during Fr. Thiel's last month of life.

It is Archito and his friends who told me of the reasons why this group of seniors form 1971-1974 remembered Fr. Thiel with the greatest, utmost affinity. He was the best School Director, teacher, and mentor - he bridged international cultures of the 57 different nationalities at RIS School - to allow Catholic Education to make sense in their lives as Catholics for some, and as other religions for others. The bridge of religions through moral and ethics class deepened the bond for one another, created a family and leaders who today are in positions of leadership that impact our global humanitarian and economic world.

I am constantly in awe of the love the RIS students have for our Father Thiel, and feel humbled that God chose me to serve Fr. Thiel in his last stages of life. By serving Fr. Thiel, all the RIS alumni came together one last time, to connect with Fr. Thiel, laugh with him, reminisce the grand days of growing up and of Fr. Thiel teaching them important life lessons by example, and to love again our RIS family. This journey brought the RIS family together with their Father Thiel one last time.
Peter Sun (71), now head of ASEAN Foundation in Jakarta (ASEAN - 13 Asian and Australia countries) summed it up nicely,

"The best tribute we can pay to him is to live our lives the way he taught us to - practical yet principled."

Archito pointed out to me that in each yearbook, Fr. Thiel would write a message to all. His message was the most read, most reflected, and revisited to see how relevant his messages were for everyone, for life. Fr. Thiel was truly ahead of his time. Here is an excerpt for the class of 1971 ...

"Take a Stand! ...(he described great men who took a stand and created something in their lives because they said, 'I will succeed') ... You too, my students, will succeed in your life depending on your motivation now - if you take a stand for something now ... 20 years from now when you look back at your performance at RRS you will know what your performance on this day meant to that day ... so be not simply good, but be good for something ... take a stand!"

It is with Fr. Harry's practical but principled ways where he acted on what he thought, cared for and believed - the important lessons Fr. Thiel taught us.

The following are emailed by 3 RIS Alumni who wish for their words to be heard at this service.


I am glad I spoke to Father Thiel two weeks ago. I surely hope he still remembers me. Unfortunately I cannot be there to pay my respects, but I would like to dedicate this poem to him...

To Father Harry Thiel

We want to always remember
The beautiful life you lived
And keep alive the memories we have
Through remembering

You're so special to all of us
A wonderful mentor and person indeed
Your love, your laughter and warm smile
Reflected a heart that believes

Altough we will miss you so very much
We know we'll see you once more
For this is the hope we have in God, Father
Being re-united in the Lord.

Helen ('69), Paula ('68), Richard (71), Prena('72) Smeets
The Netherlands

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It is with deepest sorrow that I send this message of condolence to those nearest and dearest to Father Harold Thiel, and to all those whose life, like mine, Father Thiel had touched and made a difference. I regret most sincerely that I am unable to attend his funeral service in Seattle, and, instead, have to send this message from England, where I am now tied down by obligations.

We each and every one of us have our stories to tell about how Father Thiel made a difference to our lives. Mine is essentially no different from those who were students at Ruam Rudi International School in Bangkok, Thailand, in the early 1970s. Father Thiel was then our beloved and respected - but not feared - school Director. Nobody feared Father Thiel. But nobody would deliberately do anything that would displease him for the love and respect we all had for him and the school he ran. We remember his friendly and paternal presence, and regarded him as our elder friend who came to talk with us about life and things in general several mornings a week when we were in our senior year. The lessons we learnt from those cheerful talks were personal: we took what was most relevant and most needed in our lives at that time; the rest resounded later in life in his voice when the need arose. In that sense, Father Thiel has never left us. And he never will. In our hearts, he will always be our Father Thiel. In our minds, over three decades later, we know that there could not have been a better school Director for the youngsters we were than Father Thiel. In his words at the time, the school was "one big happy family".

For me, I have a particular homage to pay Father Thiel. In my junior year, I had what is best euphemistically described as a 'personality clash' with one of the teachers. This person was the only teacher who ever had trouble with me in the 12 years I had been at Ruam Rudi International School. I got on very well with all the others, and I was, indeed, top of the class in nearly every subject. In my senior year, I asked Father Thiel for a open reference. The reference he wrote was to have an immeasurable effect on my life. He wrote, very diplomatically, that I was "having difficulties in making the transition from boyhood to manhood", but added, very positively, that he had no doubt that I would "grow up to be a gentleman of sterling character". His words puzzled me a little at the time but had no other effect. I was too young to realize the damage the clash with the teacher had done to my reputation and credibility; too young even to realize that few of the teachers would have written a reference for me other than one, perhaps, that mentions nothing more than my good grades. As the years passed, I came to realize the wisdom and charity of Father Thiel's words. Eventually, they became aspirational.

Father Harry Thiel has passed on, but he lives on in the Kingdom of Heaven and in all our lives. None of us could ever forget him; none of us could ever stop blessing him for touching our lives.

Dr. Charles Henn
Consultant Professor
University of Buckingham
United Kingdom

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On Thursday evening, alumnus Lekha (71), asked me to contact her younger brother at the Royal Thai Embassy. When I spoke with Chombala (73), I realized he was one of the challenging students in his time at RIS. Chombala shared a story of he and his group's meeting with Fr. Thiel. This group of 4 often skipped school and made so much trouble. Chombola, as the spokesperson of the group, stated to Fr. Thiel, "We have enough credits to graduate so we don't have to attend 12th grade next year." Fr. Thiel smiled and told them that they still need to complete 12th grade and 16 credits is not enough to graduate. He remembered how respectful Fr. Thiel always was when they were always in trouble. Today, Chombala is the #3 man (Minister Counsel) of the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington DC. The #2 man (Minister) is also an RIS alumnus of 1973. Fr.Thiel had hope for all his male students to become gentlemen of sterling character as all of them are today.

On the evening of Tuesday, October 10 at Swedish Hospital, we closed off some RIS calls. We called Jen (na Nakorn) Brown (71) in Melbourne, Australia and had a wonderfully funny and loving conversation. Jen was the news reporter on the last day of school; she impressed Fr. Thiel of her courage and ability to take those risks to ask questions based on her inquiring mind. He remains impressed that Jen pursued journalism and communications in Australia and made a mark on Australian television producing a version of Good Morning Australia. He is even deepened that Jen's current work is with a foundation that supports child development and foster children.

Since Jen and I shared similar life stories of overcoming adversarial situations because our passion in our work and leadership eventually broke glass ceilings with success. Fr. Thiel was our cheerleader and approved how we continued breaking the glass ceilings for future generations as Asian female leaders of various public industries and institutions in western countries. Yet, he admired the humility and humbleness of our being, because we put forth love and passion in our work and life, lessons learned from RIS, Holy Redeemer, and Fr. Thiel.


This is for Father Thiel who art in heaven, and looks down upon his children with love and affection and guidance.

Dearest Father Thiel,

I was so privileged to have spoken to you on the phone a day before you signed off from our earthly world. Caroline gathered up all your worldwide children to be there for you because you were there for all of us.

You sounded so tired when we spoke. You in Seattle USA and me in Melbourne , Australia . But you still held that important conversation and I could sense in your voice that you had great compassion and pride for all your RIS students. I could even picture that wonderful grin from ear to ear that has always been with me since my last day of school in 1971. You have given me a priceless gift of more fond memories.

I'm sure we all feel like I do in that:

RIS gave me the best years of my life and a great understanding of the world full of different cultures and religions.

RIS taught me how to accept people for what they are inside and how to share and care in a world full of competition and consumerism.

RIS has given all its students a stability to pass on good deeds to their children

RIS has given me the big extended family so unique and special, that it's carried on into the second generation.

As I always used to say in my student days LOVE AND PEACE to our big RIS family.

Jen na Nakhorn (Mrs. Brown From Melbourne Town)

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March 11 to October 11, 2006, Fr. Thiel shared lots of life lessons and helped me affirm my work in this world, and most importantly my own being. May 2006, he told me about his warrior side for the Hmong refugees - how he fought against the communist insurgence in the Hmong villages and how he advocated for the Hmong refugees to settle in Seattle area among other places in USA. He continued sharing those stories at the nursing home, for me to learn what real courage is, and what love truly is. The Hmong community is his family in Seattle. The Hmong Missionary he built in Chiang Mai is his heart love.

It is of these examples that made me transcend my views, feelings and beliefs to a higher level. God answered my questions on that March afternoon, in that parking lot through Fr. Thiel. He helped me recognize within me the love, vision and talents I need to continue sharing on earth. Fr. Thiel helped me understand the role of a warrior, visionarist and compassionate leader on earth, as I continue to be the visionary warrior and leader for our people.

Fr. Thiel told me that his future sermon will be: "take a vacation for a year from the overworked life we lead." It took me a while to understand this wisdom. As I reflected deeply, I shared with our RIS community that Fr. Thiel asked we take time to trust in our God, our Divine and our Universe.

Father Thiel brought me home to the Catholic Church in deeper ways than ever, to bridge with other cultures and religions a peaceful harmony. The lessons at the nursing home and hospital were the moral and ethics course he taught my brothers and their generation at RIS. The lessons of multicultural values in our Catholic faith and ways will continue in my work, a warrior to bridge understanding and grow love from within.

It is here in Seattle, of my providential moment with Fr. Thiel. It is through Fr. Thiel, who guided me personally to receive the Grace of God within and transcend my being.

We love you Fr. Thiel forever in our hearts. We thank you for the lessons you taught us that forever is in our work and life. Our RIS and Holy Redeemer families will always remember you.


Original URL: http://www1.rism.ac.th/2005/Alumni/FrHarry.asp

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