By Kim Ae-ran
Prof. Benedict Lee Hak-geun, the first priest born in Youngsan in Wonju, died at the age of 85 on March 28. He was ordained a priest in 1965 with the ordination scriptures: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
When I first came to Wonju in the middle of last year, our Pauline community visited the branch church called “Wolsong” which was founded in 1956. The Wolsong branch church is a small Catholic community in the village where Fr. Benoît had resided since 2008, two years after his retirement in 2006.
When he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination in 2015, he greeted people with a happy and peaceful heart filled with gratitude.
In commemoration of his birthday, he expressed his most sincere impressions as follows: “Even though I am not good enough to do anything good, the Lord has called me to be a priest. I am always grateful to the grace of the Lord for allowing me to live as a priest until now.”
During his seminary life, he was so docile, caring, and relaxed that his co-workers called him “Potato Rock.” The late Bishop Ji Hak-soon (1921-1993), the first diocesan bishop of Wonju, once praised him saying that “Father Benedict comforted anyone and he made no harsh expression” .
As usual, Fr. Benoît always welcomed us with a warm smile and kindness. Being our confessor before, he kept saying “to be joyful” before anything else; “Be joyful” and “be grateful” were his lifelong slogans.
He was transferred to the Wolsong community after the first fall. When he fell for the second time during mass, he wished to go to heaven, but advanced technology saved his life thanks to an artificial pacemaker.
When our television in the community was not working well, he even bought us a new one. When we visited him for a special day, he liked to have lunch together with those who came to mass. One day he made us a sandwich full of lettuce. He was such a friendly, kind and simple priest.
Pr. Benoît was so friendly, generous, humble and open-minded that he enjoyed getting to know a lot of people around. Simple and cheerful as a neighborhood resident, he really enjoyed being with others. Accompaniment, generous welcome and friendliness are the watchwords that can describe his personality.
Over time, you could also feel that he was gradually losing his power. However, despite his poor health, he liked to drive alone to the Pauline Bookstore at the Catholic Center right in front of the Wondong Cathedral founded in 1896.
He was a happy and cheerful person who knew how to be with others, how to talk freely with others, how to spend time with others, how to help others, how to give of himself and how to enjoy life.
Respecting Fr. Thomas Choi Yang-up the most, he always advised junior priests to be God’s “errand man”. “The Mass and the sacraments are possible for priests because the Lord leads us and because the Holy Spirit gives us strength. Therefore, a priest must show God through his actions, reveal the warmth of God’s heart and learn to forgive and love.”
The author is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul (fsp.pauline.or.kr.) living and giving the Good News to the world through social communication.
By Kim Ae-ran