HONG KONG – Rector of Salesian Missionary House, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong (China) Fr. Lanfranco M. Fedrigotti, S.D.B. announced the sudden death of Fr. Bernard Tohill S.D.B., 21 December. Fr Tohill was 19 years a member of the General Council (Mission Councilor and Regional Superior for the English speaking world).
At 6:00 p.m. dear 91-year old Fr. Bernard was still happily with us, sitting in his wheel-chair and having supper with his fellow elderly confreres of Casa Braga (Salesian Missionary House, Shau Kei Wan), assisted by the house nurse. Then, suddenly at about 6:15 he lost his colour and consciousness.
|Fr. Rector and the ambulance were immediately called and Fr. Bernard was given first aid assistance. As suggested by one of the elderly confreres, Fr. Rector gave him the papal blessing in articulo mortis with the plenary indulgence. In about 5 minutes the ambulance arrived. On the ambulance Fr. Rector anointed him with the oil of the sick. In a few minutes, Fr. Bernard was in the resuscitation ward (Eastern Hospital is less than 1 km from Salesian Missionary House). Outside the ward Fr. Rector and the nurse prayed for Fr. Bernard, but at about 7:00 they were told that the resuscitation had failed to revive him and he was certified dead.
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze Kiun S.D.B., informed, arrived immediately. With him, Fr. Rector and Sc. Anthony Pun, a young Chinese Salesian who had also arrived, recited the rosary for dear deceased Fr. Bernard. Before leaving the mortuary, after praying besides his body, in the name of all his dear ones, Fr. Rector kissed Fr. Bernard’s forehead in sign of gratitude, affection, and undying love.
Fr. Bernard’s death is a great loss also for our China Province, where he arrived, newly-professed, 73 years ago in 1937 and where he spent 51 of his 73 years of Salesian life, being one of its Rectors (1952-1958) and Provincials (1958-1963).
Fr. Bernard’s death is a great loss for the whole Salesian Congregation. The 22-year interruption in his stay in our Province (1963-1985) is due to the fact that he was for two years and a half Provincial of the San Francisco Province in the USA and for 19 years a member of the General Council with the Rector Majors Fr. Luigi Ricceri and Fr. Egidio Viganò. He was for 6 years (1965-1971) Regional Superior of the immense English-speaking Region that included the East Asia Provinces.
In this Region he had become a Salesian, making his first profession in Beckford, England, in 1937. Then, for 13 years (1971-1984), he was General Superior of the Salesian Missions, after which he had a year of spiritual renewal in Ireland (1984-1985). His 13-year missionary service made him, perhaps, the most travelled Salesian in the history of the Congregation. We don’t know how many times he travelled by boat, after his first trip by ship to come to China. However, he kept count of all the times he took a plane of some kind or other. They add up to 1538!
Here at home, for many years he was the regular confessor of several of our confreres. In Braga House, as long as his health allowed it, he was the promoter of cheerfulness and serenity, especially during meals. All along, he was for us a wonderful example of fidelity to our Holy Rule, of pastoral zeal, and of ardent love for the Church and the Congregation. He was a man of deep faith and fervent prayer, praying regularly the complete Rosary with its 20 mysteries every day. He kept up a deep friendship with the past-pupils he had served during his early years as a young Salesian in Hong Kong. Only yesterday, four past-pupils of 1948 came to visit him, taking pictures with him before the crib, chatting happily with him, admiring his enduring sense of humour, stronger than his senility.
May I conclude for the time being with a few words told me by dear Fr. Bernard Tohill on August 7, this year. At 5:00 p.m. he appeared on the door of my office, sitting in his wheel-chair, pushed by the nurse who accompanied him to Hospital this evening. He told me: “Father, there are many problems and difficulties in the Congregation. But we have Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament together with us. There is something that I want to tell everybody: ‘We must have confidence in Him! We must have more confidence in Him!’”
May the faith of Fr. Bernard continue in us who have been blessed with his love and friendship.