Father Harry Thiel, CSsR, inspired Hmong to embrace Catholicism
BY TERRY MCGUIRE
Father Harry Thiel, a Seattle native whose 43 years of missionary work
in Thailand saw him draw thousands of Hmong to Catholicism, died Oct.
11. He was 76.
Father Harry Thiel
Father Thiel, who grew up in St. Edward Parish
and then Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Seattle, had been living in
residence at Sacred Heart with his fellow Redemptorists since returning
from Thailand two years ago. Last summer, he celebrated his 50th
anniversary as a priest.
He was assigned to Thailand in 1958 and
four years later began his long-running apostolate with the Hmong, a
hilltribe people. He taught the Hmong the Catholic faith and they
taught him how to survive in the forest, he said in a 2004 interview
with The Catholic Northwest Progress.
then that there were 5,000 Hmong Catholics as a result of his ministry
and that of the catechists he had trained. He also founded the Hmong
Catholic Center to educate and catechize the people.
lives he touched included Chakrit Chuleekorn, a Hmong seminarian who is
to be ordained to the priesthood in Bangkok later this month. Chakrit
credited Father Thiel for where he is today. "Father Harry my hero," he
wrote in an e-mail to Redemptorist Father Joe Maier, who is ministering
in Thailand. "He helped me and today I have finished my
education without him I will not became a Catholic and a Redemptorist."
"I am proud to carry his mission to his people."
Thiel was among the first to assist and make the world aware of the
Hmong refugees pouring into Thailand from Laos and Vietnam after they
had helped the U.S. against the communists.
Through the local
papal nuncio, he alerted Pope Paul VI to the situation, and soon
assistance from the pope's Peter's Pence Collection was on the way.
Father Thiel assisted in six refugee camps, and some of those refugees
later relocated to Western Washington. In 1984, he and his catechists
had a private audience with Pope John Paul II during the papal visit to
The genial priest was known as a humble and conscientious man, dedicated to service to the very end.
had a great love for the ministry and the people," said Redemptorist
Father Ivan Dawson, Sacred Heart pastor. He recalls that Father Thiel
suffered greatly from deteriorating feet and legs. But though he sought
treatment for his ailment, he was uncomplaining, apparently considering
it his cross to bear, Father Dawson said.
Dolores Usher, Father
Thiel's sister and a resident of Renton, said her brother was a true
representative of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the
Redemptorists. "He was humble and loved the poor, and worked for the
poor, and didn't look for vain glory," she said. "He was happy in his
job, and never tired."
"Everybody he touched, he helped in one way or another, whether he knew it or not."
said people remarked to her at his funeral that he would advise them at
the end of confession to "always stay close to the Lord, because you
never know when you're going to die."
In addition to his sister, Father Thiel is survived by numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
A funeral Mass was celebrated Oct. 16 at Sacred Heart Church.
may be made in his name to the Hmong community, c/o Sacred Heart
Church, 205 Second Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98109-4817.