Obituary: Fr Michel Quoist

Michel Quoist, priest: born Le Havre 18 June 1921; ordained priest 1947; died Le Havre 18 December 1997.

Michel Quoist was an inspirational figure to many Catholics and other Christians around the world seeking to relate their faith more directly to everyday life than had been the case with pre-Second Vatican Council spirituality. A French Catholic priest of working-class origin, Quoist seemed to revel in presenting Christianity as part of gritty daily reality, rather than in the forms of traditional piety.

Quoist appeared frequently on French television and radio, but it was through his many books that he reached a wider audience throughout the world. His most famous was Prayers of Life, first published in French in 1954 (he completed the text on his 33rd birthday) and in English nine years later. The subjects of the prayers - a man whose wife had just left him, a pornographic magazine, a drunk in the street - were a far cry from the usual inspiration for devotional literature at that time. The book immediately became a bestseller.

Quoist insisted that all the scenes were authentic and had been lived and prayed before they had been written. "These pages can hardly be used as set prayers in the usual sense," he warned his readers, encouraging them to use them as an aid to meditation but not as a substitute for attending the liturgy.

Quoist's childhood was cut short by the death of his father, obliging him to go out to work from the age of 14. Although the family was of Catholic origin, it was through his involvement in the Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne, a movement aimed at the young working class, that his faith became real and he soon decided to train for the priesthood, entering the seminary at St Jean in 1938. In 1942 he went on to the major seminary of Rouen and was ordained priest in July 1947 in the abbey at St Oeun.

As a promising young priest he was sent to pursue sociology studies in Paris, gaining a master's degree in social and political science at the Institut Catholique, followed by a doctorate at the Sorbonne studying a working-class district of Rouen, which was published as a book, La Ville et l'homme, in 1952.

From 1949 to 1953 Quoist was a parish priest in Le Havre before being appointed youth chaplain for the town, a job he relished as it left him outside the narrow confines of the traditional parish with more direct contact with young people. He also became close to Abbe Pierre, a monk who had launched his famous appeal for the homeless in 1954.

Quoist's mission to young people was to remain with him, even when he returned to parish work in 1970. In the late 1970s he launched regular youth meetings for participants from Le Havre and neighbouring dioceses and was closely involved in devising teaching materials for religious education classes in schools and for young adults.

A second interest that took up much of his energy was the Church in Latin America, the continent with the highest number of Catholics and a severe shortage of clergy. For seven years in the 1960s Quoist was secretary general of the French bishops' committee for the region and was involved in preparing the priests who had heeded the call of Pope Paul VI to volunteer for several years' pastoral work there. He travelled frequently to Latin America to visit these priests and to support them and the "base communities" in their work for social justice. He also founded Echange Amerique Latine, which sought to give moral and financial support to Latin American lay Catholics who had volunteered for pastoral work in their dioceses in the absence of priests.

Quoist maintained his interest in Latin America, remaining president of the organisation to his death and devoting the royalties from his growing number of books to this work.

The books had followed at regular intervals (including Christ is Alive in 1970, Living Words in 1979), but Quoist always denied that he was a writer. The books are simple and direct (theologians might dismiss them as superficial) and they reached a wide audience, although none achieved the popularity of Prayers of Life. In 1988 Quoist published a further collection of 40 prayers (translated as New Prayers in 1990). He also encouraged the publication of testimonies of faith written by young people.

In December 1996 doctors discovered Quoist had cancer of the pancreas. He was given a choice of chemotherapy, which they believed would give him another two years, or letting the disease take its course. He chose the latter option, fearing that chemotherapy would leave him too weak to work. Doctors gave him two months. He threw himself into finishing a book he had long been writing on man's relation to God and fellow human beings. He completed the text just before his death.

Prayers of Life, written while Quoist was still a young priest, will remain his monument. Perhaps the most intense and personal (though he did not say so) was his prayer of a young priest on a Sunday night, coming home alone after the last Mass, seeing people leaving the cinema or flocking home after a day out, passing children on the street knowing he will never have any. "Lord, tonight, while all is still and I feel sharply the sting of solitude . . . I repeat to you my `yes' - not in a burst of laughter, but slowly, clearly, humbly."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower