Fr Larry Patin, shortly before his illness
Redemptorist Father Lawrence Patin, director of the Fr Ray Foundation, which is supported in the UK by the Thai Children's Trust, died on Friday at the Redemptorist Nursing Home, in Liguori, Missouri. He had been ill for more than a year with an inoperable brain tumour.
Fr Larry dedicated his life to caring for the poor, sick and disabled, and especially children, in Thailand.
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 1 October 1937, he was one of seven children: brothers Leo, Andy, Gene, Gerry, and John Spielmaker, whom his parents Andrew and Regina Patin took in and raised, and youngest sister Regina. Larry's parents were Redemptorist Oblates.
Larry joined the Redemptorist Seminary in Kirkwood, Missouri in 1951. In an interview in February 2009, he talked about the train journey to Kirkwood. "At each station we would pick up one or two boys heading to Kirkwood. As we came closer to Chicago you could hear the accents change and city voices sounding tougher."
Fr Larry left for Thailand in June 1965 where he was to meet his lifelong friend Fr Mike Shea who arrived in February 1966.
They were stationed together in 1967, when the Communist insurgency was heating up and the Indochina war was consuming lives and land in Southeast Asia. The new arrivals were given a crash course in the Thai language. Fr Mike recalled: "Larry was the best student ever to graduate from the Baptist Thai Language School, and was the most fluent of all the foreign missionaries in Thailand."
He said: "Larry was first stationed in Bahn Dung, about 80 kilometres west of Bishop Duhart’s grubby little hovel in Udonthani. Our first Vice Provincial was Fr Wil Lowery, now is his 80s but to this day still working with Lao refugees throughout the Midwest and south of the USA."
Fr Mike said: "Bahn Dung looked like a frontier town in the old days of the West. It was made up of old wooden houses, dusty streets, dirty stores and a police station. There, Bishop Duhart told Larry to find funds and build a church. Brother Cornelius was there to do the building. Larry loved the northeast, with its utterly poor but simple and friendly folk."
There were few professional doctors or nurses in the areas where the missionaries worked, so, with the aid of an Army medical handbook, both Fr Larry, Fr Mike and their colleagues doled out medications, gave injections, set broken bones and even performed minor surgical operations in the course of their work.
Just as the church in Bahn Dung was finished, Fr Larry was sent to the minor seminary at Sriracha on the Gulf of Thailand. This transfer nearly broke his heart, Fr Mike said, but he obeyed orders. In 1974, he was transferred to the leper colonies around Khon Kaen, back in the northeast. He worked hard to get medicine in from Holland and elsewhere, and did much to improve the lives of people recovering from leprosy.
Around 1980, he was transferred to a parish just outside of Bangkok. In 1984, he returned to Nongkhai as Novice Master and Pastor. For six years, Larry taught and gave spiritual direction to the novices. Fr Mike said: "He showed himself as a real leader and motivator of young men."
"Larry later wound up in Bangkok at the bustling Holy Redeemer Parish, as Pastor and Superior. He was happy living on the banks of the Mekong River in Viengkhuk. He did not want the job in Bangkok, but took it in obedience."
After nearly three years in Bangkok, Larry returned to serve in the Honpisai area along the Mekong River, and then on to the Thabo area, where he worked in the Nam Som mountains in a desperately poor village where Fr Mike was based. In their free time Fr Mike said they used to keep fit by lifting weights and enjoying a beer. Fr Larry enjoyed the simple life of upcountry Thailand, but was soon called once again to take on more responsible posts.
After the death of Fr Ray Brennan, founder of the Redemptorist Centre in Pattaya, the local dioceses took over a number of those projects. Fr Larry moved to Pattaya and, with his team, began setting up new homes for orphaned children, now known as the Father Ray Village. He also supervised the development of new drop in centres for street children, and a school for young people with disabilities in Pattaya and Nongkhai - said to be the best in Thailand.
Fr Mike said: "Larry was everywhere; after a morning of prayer and a trip to the gym to pump iron, Larry was off. He absolutely loved the kids and his work."
In December, 2009 Larry was in Nongkhai directing the building of a new centre when he suffered a seizure and it was found that he had a brain tumour. He was flown back to the US for treatment at the Redemptorist Nursing Home, in Liguori, Missouri, but his condition was inoperable. Sadly Fr Larry lost all memory of his life in Thailand in those last months, although he was still still able to speak in Thai.
Fr Mike Shea, has been invited by the family to preach at Fr Larry's funeral. The date of the funeral and further tributes will be published on ICN as soon as we have them.
Andrew Scadding director of the Thai Children's Trust said: "Fr Larry's goodness and sincerity were a wonderful example of how a proper Christian can put tough theory into gentle practice. For all his gentleness he was effective in his work for Thai people, for the people of Isaan, and latterly, especially, for the children in the care of the Father Ray Foundation. We will miss him."
See also: www.thaichildrenstrust.org.uk