by PETER GRACE
The coffin made by Pa Yvan Sergy told much about the man and priest at his requiem Mass in Hamilton on May 29. Swiss-born Pa Yvan Daniel Alain Sergy died on May 25, aged 59, after succumbing to motor neuron disease. He was the eldest son of Helene and the late Pierre-Daniel Sergy.
The simple, colourful box Pa Yvan made for his burial told of his creativity — but especially of his focus on Christ crucified and risen, and his love for the cross.
Chief celebrant and homilist, Bishop Stephen Lowe of Hamilton, told mourners how Pa Yvan came to New Zealand as a fit, active, young priest from Switzerland.
“And he came with a bit of a flourish, in particular when he would toss the Swiss flag in the sky.” Flag throwing (or twirling) is a traditional sport in Switzerland.
That flag, at the centre, has the white cross of Switzerland. “He was born under the cross,” said Bishop Lowe.
Pa Yvan was also captivated by the Southern Cross, and it featured on his stole on his coffin.
He first came to this country as a seminarian in 1987, on pastoral placement. The following year he was ordained a priest in Switzerland. Thirteen years later he was invited to be a Fidei Donum, or “Gift of Faith” priest — a priest of the universal mission of the Church.
Pa Yvan came to minister in Hamilton diocese, the bishop said; first in the cathedral, then in Tauranga, and two stints totalling 10 years in Gisborne. He also had several spells as a chaplain in Antarctica.
In 2015, he left Gisborne to serve in the Marquesas Islands. According to Gilles Boureau, from New Caledonia, he returned to Hamilton diocese in 2017 so he could receive specialist treatment unavailable in the Marquesas.
Pa Yvan was, Bishop Lowe said, much loved and active in his New Zealand ministry, as he was in the Marquesas Islands.
The bishop said he reflected with Pa a few days earlier about how his coming to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of New Zealand’s first Catholic priests and missionaries, who came with Bishop Pompallier.
Those missionaries were called into the Polynesian islands, and although not the Marquesas Group where Pa Yvan spent three years, they were part of the French Polynesian group — so there was a connection with Pa Yvan.
One of those missionaries is the patron of Hamilton diocese, St Peter Chanel, who was described as a man of great heart. “That is a description of Pa Yvan, a man of great heart, a man of energy and enthusiasm and unshakeable faith,” Bishop Lowe said.
Pa Yvan’s fascination with the cross began at his ordination, when he took as his priestly motto the Seven Last Words of Christ. “Trust in Christ the crucified cross, was the heart of Yvan’s calls to priesthood, his seminary life and his life as a priest.”
Bishop Lowe read a message from the bishop of Taiohae o Tefenuaenata (which includes the Marquesas Islands) expressing his regret at being unable to get to the funeral, but noting his parish secretary, Marie-Claire Tamarii, was representing the Marquesas church.
The Mass was live-streamed to Switzerland for the consolation of Pa Yvan’s family.
Pa Yvan was incardinated into Hamilton diocese on January 1 this year, Bishop Lowe said. Before the Mass ended, he asked mourners to look up to the risen Christ as they departed.
“It’s to that Christ Yvan always looked, crucified and risen . . . and the one who commends us to eternal life. Please pray for Yvan that The Lord will give him the fullness of eternal life and peace.”
After the Mass, the interment took place at the priests’ cemetery at Ohaupo.