PAGE 9


An extract from

"Destined for a Mission"

The autobiography of
Fr Kevin Wiseman WF

Published by KAAS Publishing Corporation
Re-printed with kind permission of his sisters


Fr Wiseman died 19th March 2001, aged 80 (see Page 5 the Obituaries section).
The following is taken from the covers of his autobiography.




(cover sketch by Stanley, circa 1942)

Click below on the for the Chapter you wish to read :

 
Foreword


Prologue
 
Chapter 1
The Beginning
Chapter 2
Training for the Priesthood
Chapter 3
World War I
I
Chapter 4
In Big
Trouble
Chapter 5
Sweet Freedom




























FOREWORD
by Father Tom O'Donnell, WF

Was it Saint Exupery who said this? "It is not two people looking into each other's eyes but two people looking in the same direction, who are truly friends."

The Kevin-TO'D friendship has celebrated its diamond jubilee and we are still looking in the same direction, still trying to see others through the eyes of Christ as Missionary Priests.

Admiration in teenagers is a great incentive. How I admired Kevin's feats of courage on a bicycle (his was always a fixed-wheel type), and of his humility. He never ever spoke of his prowess on two-wheels or of anything else.

There was one unforgettable Easter Monday cycling trip to Brighton. After completing eighty miles and only forty more to go with three hours to spare, we were just coasting down a long hill when suddenly a 13-year old named Abbot hurtled passed us and he was without the strength to brake. Acting swiftly on his instincts, Kevin set off in hot pursuit, his pedals flying as he levelled with the youngster. Then he grabbed the saddle stem and, thanks to his strength and skill in handling his fixed-wheel-braking, they both stopped short of a busy crossroad. Kevin refused to brag about this incident and especially of his bravery and superior cycling ability. Hence, this trip was never mentioned ever again.

I remember Kevin spending holidays helping his father set up type in their family printing business. He could cleverly read an open book from any possible angle. Reading a page upside down! I envied him. When I expressed a wish that I could do the same, he simply said, "Where's the problem?"

One of the greatest pleasures in our friendship was that his mother, father, sisters and brothers all welcomed me into their family. Kevin acted as my interpreter because he naturally learned to understand my Canadian accent.

After his two-month unjustified encounter at Fresnes Prison, we were happy to see him back and be reunited with the other students at St. Denis. He was thin and exhausted. He had gone through an enormous experience; his strength and courage had been stretched to the utmost — the military tribunal, death sentencing (twice), starvation, and a near mental breakdown. When we asked of his ordeal, he would simply answer briefly, "It is over and done with, anyway it is no big deal" I treasure a letter that he wrote to all of us during his captivity.

This, my dear friends, is my fond recollection of Kevin, whose life and mine run on parallel tracks. I hope you will enjoy his story. "To have a friend, be one." — Viscount Samuel

Father Tom O'Donnell, WF


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PROLOGUE

Fresnes Prison
(Cellule 59)
March 4,1942


Dear Reverend Father

What I am going to write you is difficult for me and it will be difficult for you to read out but may Our Lady help you.

On Ash Wednesday, I was judged 'guilty' of having tried to render help to England, by giving a useful address to a British soldier to help him escape, whilst being in German territory. Since I was not considered a Prisoner of War the judgement was for death.

I was brought to Fresnes on Thursday, 26 February. I was informed that my "appel de grace" had failed and that I should be executed that day at 15H. I then wrote to you and home, but at half past one the order was contradicted and I thought I was safe. But on Monday evening I was informed that the sentence had been pronounced. A second time, but because of something (the appeal for grace), I believe the whole affair needs confirmation from Berlin, and this may take quite a while.

You may well ask, what are my sentiments?

Well, I have come to an understanding with Our Lady, the Immaculate Mother of God, and through Her I offer Our Lord my life along with the subsequent difficulties, thanking Him for allowing me to suffer for the following reasons: (i) since He suffered so much for me on Calvary, (2) to make reparation for my sins and negligence, (3) and offering all for those I love, my Parents, you Fathers and fellow-students. On the other hand I cannot help confidently looking at My Heavenly Mother and saying, "Mary, if God can allow it, please intercede for me and spare my life for those I love and send me back to St. Denis. I hope these intentions are good. If not, please, will you tell me where I am wrong?"

I will give my news to the Procure (rue Friant) and ask them to break the news as gently as possible to Madame Crussard. I have permission to write to my parents and will write a letter but I have not the courage to post it, Father! Will you inform my mother (per Father Brown) that I have changed camp and they will be without news for a week or two. Later if I must die, I hope you will be able to break it gently for me, and send my letter to them which I shall ask to be forwarded to you. But I feel and confident at times and feel that all may turn out well.

Please let Tod or somebody put my stuff together until we see what will happen and remind him to collect his trousers from the tailor. If I die you had better share up my bits of things amongst yourselves. Please tell Jock Phelp that he mustn't worry about me. Give him my best wishes and tell him "We've both tried to do our bit. "

I am allowed to write freely, and I hope your letters will reach me. Don't try to send me anything (it is not allowed). In any case, what do I need? A week ago I went to Confession and hope soon to receive Holy Communion. Now, Father, please think of me, during Holy Mass and you my fellow students, pray very hard for me. You surely realize how I need your prayers and it is hard to be deprived of Holy Mass.

You must think I'm getting Holy or going daft, but I've realised an awful lot, having faced death for nearly two weeks, and I think that if by our prayers, Our Lady restores me to St. Denis, you will meet a more sensible Kevin. But may God's Holy Will be done. Yes, pray very hard for me, because sometimes I find it difficult to pray at all, and then I am unhappy.

But usually I am happy. I don't worry much and I look with confidence to Our Lady for a happy ending whichever thing may happen.

So, I'll wind up asking you finally to pray to Our Lady for me, and for my parents, whilst I try to say a few prayers for you, Father, and for Fr Moran and all my friends. Give my love to all. Write back soon, please.

I'll be writing soon and may God bless you.


Envoi de
Joseph Kevin Wiseman
Cellule 59



I wrote the above letter to Fr John Maguire, the White Father who was in charge of the seminary students in St. Denis prison. When I spoke to Fr Tom O'Donnell on March 3 1999, he told me about this letter that he hand-copied on a notebook he started at St. Denis and had saved it all these years.Thank you TO'D for sharing this letter with us.

Shall I start at the beginning ? . . . . . .


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In Big Trouble

Jock was a Scottish soldier who had been left behind after Dunkirk, ditched his uniform, put on civilian clothes and was picked up as a British civilian and directed to our camp. I wrote out the name and address, Geddes gave it to Jock. The boys escaped from a work party and that was that or was it? What must have happened was that when these young men got outside they went and got a drink which was not too wise since there was no alcohol in the camp and it went to their head. Jock spoke poor French and had a strong accent and besides he was noisy. The Gestapo got on their trail and followed them to the house of Mlle. Demeur. She was not in but the boys got nabbed and thrown into the prison for escaping. But where had they got this address? Guess who? Father Wiseman!

Now the Gestapo were on my trail. I was interrogated and told that the woman was to be shot as a spy, thanks to my carelessness, etc. I was not happy and they left me to stew in my anger, my shame. It was hard. I had another interview with the Gestapo along different lines. They were asking questions about my background. How I had come to France, why, and different dates. I was confused and then came Ash Wednesday, February 18, 1942. And I was to leave the camp under armed guard with the officer in charge telling me that my guard had orders to shoot and the last bullet would save me; perhaps he had read cowboy stories?

My guard and I walked along the street and boarded, first a bus and then I think we took the metro to downtown Paris. It was exciting to be "out" and see people. By the way I was 21 years and a week old. I had a black beard, cropped hair and wore a white habit with a black coat over it. I wore a pair of boots which were two sizes too big for me and thus attired my guard and I crossed the Place de la Concorde where there was no traffic. In later years I often thought back to this day when I tried to cross this busy intersection. So we went to rue Boisy L'Anglas and the Hotel Crillon. This had been a beautiful hotel and had been taken over by the German authorities and I was led into a room where civilians and their guards were sitting around.

One man was taken into another room and came back telling us he had been convicted of selling on the black market and given 6 months in prison. There was a lady who spoke to me but I forget her "crime" and then I was called into the room. There must have been 6 or 7 German officers sitting behind this huge table. The one in the middle did the talking, one fat one with a shaved head played with his revolver and I was asked if I spoke German to which I replied, “No."

" What about French?" I could manage but was not too good. "Fine so we have a student lawyer who is your advocate and your interpreter in English." I was interrogated along two lines: first, my relations with the woman, Mlle. Demeur and that was quite simple, but second, they asked about my life since the beginning of the war and they basically asked me to admit that I was a British soldier and were I to do so my crime of "helping an enemy soldier regain his line of battle in war time" would not be serious and I would then have to be sent to a military camp. If however, I persisted in claiming to be a civilian they would then have to apply the fullness of the law and treat me as a spy. The penalty for this would be death by shooting.

My mind was made up. I have given them the truth concerning the woman. I have given them the truth concerning myself. They could shoot me but I would stick with the truth. The president of the officers said, "It is your choice, we can only condemn you to be shot as a spy, but your lawyer-interpreter will be able to put in an appeal for mercy on your behalf. Have you anything further to add?" "Yes," I said, this time in German, "What about the woman?" He smiled and said, "She had escaped, so you are taking the rap." I was happy. I saluted him in a military fashion. I went back to the waiting room and told the others my bad news. Mine must have been the last case for the day so we were herded outside into a truck with two wooden benches for us prisoners and our guards.

I did have one very negative thought. I was going to be shot . . . why wait? I would jump through the window on the stairs and hopefully kill myself, but that was scary and besides I was soon needed. Once seated in the back of this truck I began to listen to the talk of the others, and they were saying, "But does no one speak German?" and I said "I can manage" — so I was invited to be the interpreter and this is the story.

There was a pretty woman of my age and she had been convicted for foretelling the ultimate victory of De Gaulle and the free French. I think she got six months. She was a clairvoyant and the German soldiers had found out about her gifts. So I was called upon. She held the hand of one soldier and said "Your brother ... has been killed ... in the East ... something with his head. "Yes I got a telegram this morning. My brother was in Russia and a bomb blew his head off."

Wow!!! There were other predictions but shortly before we reached the women's prison of Cherche-Midi, one of our groups asked her to read my hand. I hesitated because I thought I was going to die and God would be angry with me for believing in this magic. She smiled and said "Your life is in grave danger . . . you will not be killed . . . a very important personage will appeal for you . . . your life will be spared because you have a very special job to do with 'little ones'."

The truck stopped and the young lady fell into my arms and kissed me. Another lady, Agnes, and I were alone when we reached the prison of Fresnes, a very famous prison reserved for the really big boys.

I remember the phrase "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." I was taken to cell 59 in section 3. It was dark, it was cold, and I was very much alone. I had one cigarette which I smoked halfway through. I kept the other half for the next morning. Agnes persuaded the guard to bring me a packet of candied fruits to cheer me up. It was a special gift from someone who had nothing. I lay down on the wet mattress and pulled the damp blanket over me and slept. My first night in a prison cell. It was frightening, I was there to be shot, and I was hungry. Everything was wrong, so I took stock of my situation. I had a cold and one handkerchief.

Life began. There was noise outside and a soldier opened a little latch door and shouted something at me. He pointed to a tin gamelle so I put it on the ledge and he filled it with "coffee". It was hot, it was liquid, and it tasted so so. I drank it gratefully and felt some heat go inside me. A guard opened my door and came in to check. He decided I should get another blanket. I said, "Thank you. " After some hours there was noise again in the corridor and this time there was a distribution of soup. It seemed to be boiled cauliflower with some cucumber in it. It was warm and I was grateful. A third time before dark there was a distribution of a piece of bread and a slice of sausage. I gobbled it up and fell asleep. The next day was the same performance except that they took away my shoelaces, my cigarette case, and my wallet. What could I do? I was helpless, I was left with my rosary beads. Many thoughts were going through my mind, mainly about death, about God, and such important things. I began to pray the rosary and it seemed very appropriate . . . "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen." It became an obsession. I could eat, I could read the one newspaper sheet spread on the tablette attached to the wall for a table, I could pray the rosary. This must have gone on for a week.

I think it was the 26th of February that I had the visit from the president of the tribunal. He had another officer with him and his interpreter. "It is my sad duty to tell you that your appeal for mercy has failed and you will be shot today at 3.00 p.m. Have you anything to say?" I replied, "if I had something to say would it help me or someone else?" "No." "So I have nothing to say." "Is there anything you would like?" I did not know what to answer, so he said "We will give you a pencil and paper to write your last will and testament", and they went.

I was alone and my first thought was, I am glad I did not take too much notice of that pretty lady, so God will not be mad at me. The guard brought in a paper and a pencil and I wrote to my parents and to Father Maguire who was in charge of the White Father group in the Internment camp. I forgot to mention that I was assured I would have the visit of a Catholic priest, before I was shot.

Writing took up some time; it was confusing and then they brought the soup and my guard feeling sorry for me and thinking it was to be my last meal dug down deep and my soup was quite substantial. Without thinking I swallowed a spoonful and then thought, if I am to receive Holy Communion I must be fasting so I dumped the thick soup down the toilet. I had important things to do. The door opened, the guard came in and he was very excited. He told me in pigeon German that the Kommandatur had phoned and I was not to be shot! ! !

He was happy for me, but I broke into tears and my first thought went to the pretty lady . . . perhaps? The priest did come. His name Father Stock, a German national who had lived in France and was used by the army to visit prisoners such as myself. He said very little, I remember him saying that I should be grateful that God has spared me; I would not receive Holy Communion because I had eaten a spoonful of soup. He left me and I was so hungry! It had been a stressful day. Life continued for another few days, perhaps a week or less, and the officers came back from the tribunal with the upsetting news that my case had again been brought to them and they had passed the same sentence. So I asked what had taken place the previous week and they said, "that was just nonsense" and now because of the "nonsense" my case would have to go to Berlin to be okayed and that could take time. In the meantime I would have to stay put where I was. I could have the permission to write letters and I was given paper and a pencil. I wrote to Father Maguire. I wrote to the White Fathers in Paris. And I prayed.

Perhaps I should jump ahead and tell you what happened that February 26. Each day a list of those to be shot was prepared and Fr. Stock got his copy so he could see the sentenced before they were shot. He did stand with them till they fell at the end; he helped thousands of people and he died of heart failure perhaps because of the stress. That day he spotted my name. I was a student-priest, so he ran to the general and told him that I was a kind of churchman and it would be very bad German propaganda to kill a priest since they were trying hard to get the co-operation of the church in France. The General who was new to Paris said he would take the word of Fr. Stock, took a pencil and crossed out my name. Hence I lived.

The long haul began. Days and days . . . Father Stock came back to see me and brought me Holy Communion and I was on a high for two days. I thought I was in heaven. He also gave the Imitation of Christ and "Prieres du prisonier." Small extracts from the gospels, some prayers, etc. I began to have a spiritual feast, prayer, reading, meditation. Because I was so elated I began to remember all sorts of books of talks, and I got a sign from God. My cold got better! Living in the cold damp, and my cold ended! I decided that God told me I was going to live, otherwise why take the trouble to heal me? I got into novenas (the powerful 9 days of prayer which made God listen). I made a novena, I had decided that I had made a good retreat, that I was prepared for a new life and I wanted to be back with my friends in the Internment camp. The first novena did not work, nor did a second series of 9 days, so I tried a third. Three would do the trick, but when the 9th day of the third novena came by I knew it was not to be. I was disgusted with everything, including God and prayer.

It was lighter by now so I knew the days were getting longer and some warmth was drifting into the cell. I lay down, pulled the blanket over me and cried in misery. The door opened, a strange German sergeant came in wearing carpet slippers. I jumped ... rules demanded that I be at attention before a guard. He waved me down, sat on the chair and asked, "Why are your here?" I told him I was to be shot. "No, that is not so," he said. He offered me a cigarette which I declined. I don't know why. He told me that his brother was a Jesuit, that his son was a priest . . . he just chit-chatted and wanted to make me happy. Finally, he stood up and said in accented Latin "In te Domine speravi non confundar in aeternum." He left me. I always looked on this visit as if an angel had come from God. Again God was hearing my prayer. I was preparing for my future. I was called to be a servant, to be a priest.

Another incident comes to mind. One day I was very hungry and I spotted a snail climbing up the wall, leaving a slimy trail behind . . . . I looked at the companion in my cell and bethought myself that Frenchmen eat snails, but they fried them and I had no means of doing that. Should I eat it raw ? That was too much and I decided I would let it live; it could share my hunger in that cold cell. There was another aspect to the whole story; I was still not ready to die. I wanted to live to do things. I cannot place exactly when, or how, but I did come to a time in prayers when I could turn to God and say, "You are the boss, and should you decide to have me killed, fine then I say that is fine with me . . . so long as I am in harmony with your wishes." It almost seemed as if I had tasted the company of God and wanted to stay with God forever . . . . to die and be with God was more attractive than to carry on living, even in freedom. This was a major hurdle in my days of retreat; those special days of closeness with God.

Chapter 5

It happened this way. The door was opened, "Wiseman, pack up. " That was easy, I looked for a souvenir and took the Rules of the prison from the door and hid it in my spare shirt. I was escorted to the office and they gave me a big envelope with my shoelaces, my cigarette case, and my wallet. I could not sit still until they threatened to lock me up again. Finally my "angels" arrived. They were three military police with the metal insignia around their necks, revolvers in their belts. They all patted their sidearms and wagged a finger at me, "Don't try to escape." I smiled. I was a free man. No one would ever put me in prison again. "Do you speak French?" I replied, "A little." We got into a military car; two in front and one at the back to keep on eye on me. I was carrying a couple of books, my Imitation of Christ, and a theological book. My companion tried to get me into conversation about Englanders and politics, so I pointed out to him that the writer of my book was a German. Frankly that was not my bag. I was free, the sun was shining and I had not seen the sun in three months. There were flowers in the flower stalls, there were beautiful women walking the sidewalks, there was life. I felt inebriated with the whole scene.

We stopped, the driver and his companion asked a French policeman for the way to St. Denis. Their French was quite primitive and he could not understand so I asked simply, "La route pour St. Denis s'il vous plait?" The policeman was relieved and he explained in detail but I was not listening. I was looking at the wonderful world around me. The driver asked my advice whenever we reached a crossroad and I pointed to whichever avenue seemed the most attractive. We got lost. My "angels" got mad; they called me a politician, a theologian. They did find a German policeman who knew the city and he gave them clear instructions and we arrived safe and sound at the Internment camp of St. Denis. I was duly signed over to the authorities and the "angels" went their way. I met the new Komandante of the camp, his name was Gilles, and he knew my story and felt it was his duty to warn me to behave a little better in HIS camp. I was released on the other side of the barbed wire and welcomed like a homecoming hero. I weighed 55 kgs. My black beard had grown and I was pale from being inside so I suppose I did look like something of a prophet in the Bible.

The date was May 22, 1942, it was a Friday. The whole feeling was exhilarating. Here I was once again with friends, the people I had yearned for these past three months and now missed my cell and the intimacy of being "alone." I remember the meal I shared with my own carree, a group of four who shared a table, rations. And these, Tom Dooley, Tom O"Donnell and Phil Carles had saved up some special provisions for this special day. I can remember a can of peas which tasted wonderful but which went through me (my stomach was unaccustomed to such rich food). After eating I smoked two cigarettes; secretly I had decided not to smoke for a time, but on the insistence of my friends I did smoke. The whole events of the day, the excitement, the good food, the cigarettes put me on a high and I spent the whole night awake, getting up with great pleasure the following day for my first "Mass. " It was mother's birthday, May 23 .

What was happening on the outside? My letter did reach Fr. Provincial of the White Fathers. He went to see Fr. Stock, the German national who was instrumental in having my name struck off the list that first time. Stock explained that his possibilities of help were limited but gave advice. The Provincial went to the Swiss authorities who were legally the protectors of the British. He also went to the archbishop of Paris. Germaine Crussard, my marraine, also got into the act. She who did not believe began to pray and every time she saw a priest or nun in the streets would ask them to help by prayer. She also went to see every possible contact she had and could dream of.

Unaware of all this I was almost happy in cellule 59. I was with God, I had moments of closeness with God, I had moments of depression and dryness in prayer but overall I could see the route that the Lord was leading me. I thought of myself as being guided by God, as Ignatius had been guided in his retreat at Manresa. In my closeness to God or was it in my hunger, I became aware of what was happening around me. I "knew" when something was due to happen; I "knew" beforehand that this or that would not happen. I looked upon myself as some kind of a clairvoyant, guided by God. For instance I knew the date we would go home. I had the date right but I was two years premature. Everything seemed to "pan out" according to "our" plan (I mean God and me). There was the blessing of the Trinity . . . three of this and six of that . . . always a multiple of three. I received holy communion six times from Fr. Stock but he never mentioned what he had done or what was happening on the outside. I "knew" that the pregnancy was reaching its final stage; I went into deep depression, I gobbled up what little reserve of food I had, a couple of bread sticks I think, and when I was really down, my favourite sergeant, an Austrian, came to the door . . . "Wiseman, good news, telephone Kommandatur, you are pardoned by the Chancellor of the Reich, Hitler . . . " to which I replied, "When do I get out of here?"

A new life began for me, I was no longer under the sentence of death but physically I was still in the same cellule and I was impatient. Another four days and the sergeant came again with a paper and basically gave me the same message, to which I replied, " . . . Hitler, when do I get out of here?" . . . "Take it easy. Another four days."

It was May 22, it was the vigil of the Pentecost. My time was up. I had started my retreat with Ash Wednesday and it was reasonable to end with Pentecost, and the outflowing of the Holy Spirit. I was born again, I was spirit filled, I was charismatic before I knew of the word or the movement of the 1960s.


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