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.
FROM THE SMEETS IN HOLLAND:
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
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)
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FROM CHARLES HENN IN ENGLAND:
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
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
University of Buckingham
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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.
FROM JEN BROWN OF AUSTRALIA:
This is for Father Thiel who art in heaven, and looks
down upon his children with love and affection and
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
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
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
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
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.