Brother Theophane Ke, a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers who was born in Vietnam and a retired professor at Saint Mary's College, died on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2003 at the Vietnamese Brothers community in San Jose. A teacher for more than sixty years, he died at the age of 89.
He was born in Phu-Luong on March 20, 1914 in northern Vietnam. He entered the novitiate in March 1930, just days before his sixteenth birthday. From 1934 to 1958, he taught in Namdinh, Hue, Hanoi, Saigon, and Dalat.
After pursuing theological studies in Rome in 1958-61, Brother Theophane returned to Vietnam, where he was both a teacher and sub-director of the novitiate and a professor at the University of Dalat until the collapse of the government of South Vietnam in 1975. In March of that year, Brother Theophane and several Brothers began a journey, by motorcycle and boat, from Dalat in the North to Saigon in the South as they fled from the advancing North Vietnamese troops. At the end of April, he and the brothers sailed to sea, first in a small launch then a junk, until they were picked up by a U.S. war ship off the coast on May 2.
Within days, Brother Theophane and several other Brothers were flown to the United States, landing on May 15, the feast day of Saint John Baptist de La Salle.
In June 1975, Brother Theophane wrote of his experiences:
"We began a new life in this new social environment. We must and we will adapt ourselves to the uses and customs of the American people. Above all we must quickly open our ears to listen to English and understand those who are speaking to us.
"But in these first days of our arrival in Glencoe, a deep solitude to us, we felt a light and vague homesickness.
"The America Brothers in Glencoe took good care of us. All of us are in good health; we are well fed and lodged.
"Brother John Johnston, Visitor, has organized a fine staff for our instruction and formation during the summer.
"What may we do to repay all this kindness? We have no money, no assetsâ€¦We have only our life...the remaining years of our life. That is a fund we can invest in the District of St. Louis or in other Districts of the USA...We hope in future to cooperate with our American Christian Brothers in their apostolate and their school activities.
"It is thus that we would express our gratitude and pay our debt to the American people who received us and gave us a place under their sky of liberty."
In 1976, Brother Theophane came to Saint Mary's College, where he worked as assistant librarian and a professor, teaching classical languages. Although he retired in 1987, he continued to tutor a few students in Latin.
Brother Theophane also was a great lover of poetry, music, and art. He played guitar, violin and piano. He would sometimes take his electric keyboard into the campus cafeteria and play music for the students. Brother Theophane, who composed poetry, once wrote, "Music is the sound of my soul/Music is the harmony of my heart."
"We couldn't sing or play enough music for him," said Brother Donald Mansir, FSC. "I think his religious and spiritual life is rooted in that."
Brother Craig J. Franz, FSC, president of Saint Mary's College, noted his gentleness, generosity, and dedication to prayer. "Brother Theophane was a quiet, steady, presence whose absence will be felt greatly. His regular devotion to morning prayer, the rosary, evening prayer and mass was an inspiration to us all. He spent great periods of time in the chapel, sometimes praying for individual students, but often praying for the College at-large. He would frequently remember the students in our morning prayer petitions."
At the funeral Mass held at the Saint Mary's College Chapel, Brother Kenneth Cardwell, FSC, who gave a eulogy, said that it would be easy to say that Brother Theophane, who had fled his homeland to live the remainder of his life in a foreign country, had upon his death passed on to his true home. But Brother Kenneth advised against it.
"It would be easy but false," he explained, "because the Christian is not a castaway in this world, exiled from heaven. And it would be inappropriate because Theophane, in his life among strangers in this strange land chose not to be an exile. And he showed us, even those who were born here, what it means to be at home. He was at home with his religion, with his brothers, with his students; he was at home with his friends, with himself and with God."
-- by Joseph Wakelee-Lynch