The ordination of Henri Pillot was unusual, and his life became an inspiration for all he served.
There are calendar coincidences that are more than chance.
On Sunday, May 15, in Rome, an officer who became a priest, St. Cesar de Bus, was canonized; two days later, in Lyon, the funeral of another officer who became a priest was celebrated.
Henri Pillot had an extraordinary career, from the French military academy of Saint-Cyr to the university seminary of Lyon, passing through the Algerian mountains, the moors of Coëtquidan (a military school in Brittany) and the Alps. His ordination by Bishop Decoutray in 1992 caused a sensation. At 61 years of age, he was the first military general to enter the diocesan clergy of Lyon.
A priest who ministered by example
While his age, his personality, and his habits as a senior officer hardly allowed him to be a priest like any other, his charisma quickly led him to the service of young people as a chaplain of the Carthusian monks and of young scouts.
The scouts never knew much about his military career because he spoke little about himself: his rank was enough to titillate their imagination, and the thousands of souvenirs, decorative grenades, and framed medals that adorned his apartment made their admiring eyes open wide. Stocky, neatly presented, with a manly handshake and a short brush mustache, the man cultivated the aesthetic of his former occupation. Although he could sometimes use colorful language, he never presented himself as a moral authority and didn’t engage in highly theological discourse.
A man of the field, he was a priest to the young and ministered by example. He was always attentive to each one of the souls entrusted to him. Above all, he never lost his communicative joy, a mischievous look over which age had no hold, and a laugh that transformed his entire face and whose outbursts filled the whole room.
He laughed loudly and at everything
Fr. Pillot loved to laugh. He laughed a lot, loudly, and at everything—including himself, when his hearing began to fail, even though he loved music. To all, he brought the living testimony of a fundamentally happy man: happy with your presence, with the moment, and with serving the Good Lord as he had served his country in the military.
He fulfilled his double vocation, as many scouts, now husbands and fathers, testify today. They had great affection for their “Padre” and testify to the role he played in the construction of their personality on the threshold of adolescence.
At the end of his life, which he offered at the service of his country and his Church as a Brigadier General and a priest of Jesus Christ, he left “like a scout returning home after vacation.”