St. Augustine Province of Africa

Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God

Bro. Hugues Assou Tatoa

hugues.pngThe story of my discipleship of our Father St John of God began when I was in my fourth year of primary school in the little village where I was born 32 years ago.

Attracted to serving at Mass, I was keen to become an Altar Server convinced that this was the best way to continue later to go to seminary in order to become a priest. At that time I did not know any priests or sisters. But before becoming an Altar Server I had to undergo catechesis and make my first communion.

I began catechesis rapidly and then made my first communion, but I did not become an altar server in the parish, but sang in the choir.

After completing my BEPC (secondary school diploma), I went to Collège Saint Albert le Grand in the diocese of Atakpamé run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, where, for the first time, I discovered Brothers dedicated to serving young people.

I became a member of the College vocations group which enabled me to discover the riches of the Religious life. I became an aspirant of the Sacred Heart Brothers, where I had the privilege of holding regular meetings with the official responsible for the pastoral care of vocations, with whom I also shared my difficulties and my aspirations. It was thanks to that Canadian Brother, a nurse, that I discovered my calling to serve my sick Brothers.

He was responsible for the College infirmary and looked after us very well when we were sick. He was so friendly and made himself available at all times whenever we needed him. That left a deep impression on me and I wanted to become like him one day, wholly devoted to the sick. Nothing interested me more than to become a man devoted to our Lord and dedicated to the world of suffering.

The day after the high school diploma results were published, attracted to the good things of this world, I decided to sign up for a university course like all my high school companions. Being attracted to the world of health care, I registered with the Medical Faculty of Lomé University, turning down the Sacred Heart Brothers’ proposal to make preparations to enter the Postulancy.

Only few months after beginning my university studies I first felt the urge to join a Congregation. It was then that I met the Brothers of Saint John of God at the Novitiate, in the person of Brother Léon M’BENGUE who was the novice master at the time who reassured me that the Order was wholly dedicated to serving the sick.

What joy I felt after that first meeting! I was delighted to have found a place where I really wished to spend the rest of my life. Without telling my parents I decided, in the depths of my heart that I would drop out of my medical studies, to join the Brothers. But my family did not oppose my decision.

In August 2004 I began my formation as an aspirant, followed by the Prepostulantancy, the Postulancy, and finally, the Novitiate in August 2006.

Today, after my studies of spirituality and my nursing studies I am joyfully exercising my apostolate at the bedside of the sick in a pavilion at  the Brother’s  hospital at Afagnan.

As the only Brother in this pavilion I am always astonished to see that the sick and their loved ones very soon remark on the fact that I am very different from the other nurses in the way I welcome them, speak to them and care for the patients. They tell me that they appreciate me because I am “gentle, patient in what I do, and above all I am willing to listen to them when they need it”.

And I have kept in my breviary the morning prayer of St Francis, and each morning I pray that the Lord will give me the strength and the wisdom to look at the world through my eyes filled with love, keeping patient, understanding and gentle, so that all who come to me will feel His presence. I have set myself the duty to go round all the pavilion at least to see the sick and above all those who are in a critical state, and the patients themselves and their loved ones thank me for doing so, even though they cannot be comforted for more than a few minutes in their pain, as their loved ones feel supported by a Religious, a man of God, confident that I am praying for them to be restored to health.

On Sundays, after Mass, I visit the patients dressed in my habit to greet the sick, and this provides the opportunity for many of them to say that they now understand why I am different and particular.

Even though I am not in charge of the service I am always surprised to see that our patients’ loved ones tend to bypass the nurses in the pavilion to come and seek me out to discuss some particular problem to which the others could find a solution perfectly well.

Today that is the most beautiful testimony of my Hospitaller vocation in the footsteps of our Father Saint John of God. I have finally realised that in order to embody the compassionate and merciful Christ for all my sick brothers and sisters, the first thing that I have to do is to pray, and then to be patient and to make myself available at all times to listen and look after the sick, always accompanying them while respecting their dignity as sons of God, loved and wanted by God as I am myself.

However, there are times when, overcome by fatigue and sometimes stress, I cannot truly give myself to, listen or reach out feelingly to my patients, but I make up for it afterwards once I have recovered my strength and the joy to work.

My joy today is to serve my sick brothers, and I pray that through the intercession of his Mother, the Ever-Virgin Mary, our Lord and will continue to strengthen me along this path leading to perfect charity.