Another Benedictine warrior goes to God

25 Jun 2008

By The Record

RIP: Fr John Wodon OSB

By Fr David Barry OSB
Jean-Marie Wodon was born in Marneffe, Belgium, on October 12, 1923, son of Jean-Narcisse-Georges Wodon, a Belgian army doctor, and his wife, Marie-Madeleine, née Licops. Jean-Marie had two brothers and two sisters, all of whom predeceased him.
His primary and secondary schooling was at St Pieter’s College in Leuven, followed by a supplementary year of boarding at St Michael’s College in Brussels.
He was admitted as a novice in the Abbey of Mont-César in Louvain/Leuven (now Keizersberg, Leuven) a bit more than a year after World War II broke out, on November 20, 1940, at the age of seventeen, receiving as his monastic name Jean-Baptiste.
Simple profession followed on  November 21, 1941 under Abbot Bernard Capelle.
Three momentous years later, with the Allied forces now in the ascendancy, he made his solemn profession on November 21, 1944, and was ordained to the presbyterate on 25 July 1946 by Bishop Suenens, then Auxiliary Bishop of Mechelen.
The German occupation of Belgium imposed a good deal of strain on the monastic community, whose monks were involved amongst other things in hiding Jews from the Gestapo.
Ironically it was an Allied bomb striking the monastery in late 1944 that caused a piece of shrapnel to lodge in Dom Jean-Baptiste’s neck in such a way as to be inoperable; this caused him chronic pain for the rest of his life.
After ordination Fr Jean-Baptiste studied agriculture at the Institut d’Agronomie in the Université Catholique de Louvain from 1947 to 1950, at the same time managing the monastery’s farm, a task he performed until 1961.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s he was chaplain to an Aged Persons Home, but had to leave that on account of a road accident.
He came to Australia in 1984, and applied to Perth Auxiliary Bishop Robert Healy for some priestly work.
Bishop Healy referred him to New Norcia, and he came to the monastery in February 1985.
At the end of 1987, after the required period of probation and with the consent of the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, he transferred his stability to Holy Trinity Abbey, New Norcia, adopting the English form of his name, John. 
Never a well man, he put his agricultural knowledge to use in the olive grove and orchard for some time, and had a stint as community infirmarian and also as sacristan.
Given the series of accidents he had, Fr John could be said to be accident-prone.
In November 1988 while driving to Perth he lost control of the car he was driving; it landed on its roof a hundred metres inside a paddock, and he escaped with two broken ribs, fourteen stitches in the hand and eight to the head.
He fell from a ladder in May the next year, and was found after a couple of days of extreme pain to have sustained a broken pelvis.
In January 1990 he fell from an almond tree and broke his right hip, but was able to visit family in Belgium in the middle of that year.
In August 1991 Fr John moved into geriatric care in Moline House, Karrinyup, where he remained for the next three years.
Even there ill luck dogged him. On December 31, 1991 he sustained severe burns from a radiator accident, treatment for which meant some weeks in the burns unit at Royal Perth Hospital and required two skin-graft operations.
After a period in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in October 1994, Fr John resided for a while in St Jude’s Hostel, Guildford. He spent some time in Cambridge Hospital, Lemnos Hospital in Shenton Park, and St Anne’s (now Mercy) Hospital, Mount Lawley.
In 1998 he took up residence in a St Vincent de Paul hostel in Guildford, and a few months later had an accident while picking fruit, this time breaking his knee, and had to spend some weeks in St John of God Hospital, Subiaco.
At the end of July 2005, Fr John moved to St Vincent’s Hostel, Guildford.
It was from there that he went recently via Swan District Hospital and Kalamunda Hospital to Hollywood Aged Care Village, where he died peacefully in the Nursing Home at about 2pm on June 11, with his Rosary in his hands.
May he rest in peace.


Fr John Wodon OSB