A (partial) overview of the life of Raymond de Jaegher

Raymond de Jaegher (1905-1980) was born in Courtrai on 13 September 1905. His brother Francis was born two years later and died in Liège in 1986. The family spent the First World War in England and then subsequently went to live in Verviers. Raymond received his secondary education at the Jesuit College of St. Francis Xavier in Verviers, where he studied Greek and Latin.
He entered into contact with the curate of his parish (Ste Julienne), André Boland, a dynamic priest who in 1922 was asked by Father Lebbe to welcome Chinese students. Raymond and other young people enthusiastically embarked on helping these Chinese students. Abbé Boland wrote of this initiative in his book Mes petits enragés, in which he also described Raymond’s commitment in the service of one of the first Chinese bishops.
In 1927 the young man from Verviers decided to follow Father Lebbe by joining the Society of Auxiliaries of the Missions. in fact at that date the Society had not yet come into being, but Lebbe and Boland had agreed to found it following Pius XI’s ordination of the first six Chinese bishops on 28 October 1926, of whom Monsignor Souen was one.
Raymond began by entering the seminary in Louvain (the Leo XIII seminary, intended for Belgian seminarians pursuing university studies), first as a lay student and then as a seminarian preparing to join Monsignor Souen, the prefect and subsequently vicar apostolic of Ankwo, which lies to the south of Peking. He used to talk with great enthusiasm of China and Father Lebbe to his fellow seminarians and at meetings of the younger members of Catholic Action. On 4 December 1930 he left for China, although he was still only a sub-deacon. He was ordained as a priest the following year by Monsignor Souen.
Raymond kept up a regular correspondence with some of his former friends from the Leo XIII seminary while working in Ankwo initially as the bishop’s secretary, and then as a teacher (he quickly mastered Chinese), preacher, builder and almoner. He became aware of the fact that the Church would have to tread a clear path between the opposing fascist and communist schools of thought then exercising the minds of China’s elite.
In the context of the Sino-Japanese war, which was declared in July 1937, Father Lebbe undertook with a certain number of his Little Brothers of St John the Baptist, to assist the Chinese army’s health service. In 1938 Raymond was appointed interim superior of the newly-founded order of the Little Brothers of St John the Baptist and its sister order, the Little Sisters of St Therese of the Child Jesus. In February 1940, he went to see Father Lebbe at the front (in Lin-hsien), mainly in order to ask him to draw up the Constitution for the Little Brothers’ order. Between them, they spent ten days in drawing up this document, after which they separated, both with a presentiment that they would not meet again. Vincent Lebbe was to die on 24 June 1940.
Following the civil authorities’ departure from the Ankwo district, Raymond became de facto head of the district. However, from 1940 on, the rural areas of the Ankwo region fell into the hands of the communists, who were fighting the occupying Japanese forces. Missionary work became dangerous, and in March 1943 Raymond was arrested by the occupying army on the score of being a foreign national from an enemy country. He was sent to the Weihsien internment camp in the province of Shandong, where he found among the 1700 prisoners six priests from the Society of Auxiliaries of the Missions. One of these, Emmanuel Hanquet, describes in his Memoirs the measures employed by Raymond to smuggle letters out of the camp. Raymond himself described these secret operations in great detail in his book The Enemy Within.
After being liberated in August 1945 he settled in Peking, where his bishop asked him to help welcome the refugees flooding into the city. On 17 December he was received by the President, General Chang Kai-shek, with whom he wished to collaborate in the spirit of Father Lebbe. The generalissimo urged him to help work for the country’s recovery, an essential condition if communism was not to gain still further ground. However the mission to mediate between the nationalists and the communists led by General Marshall, the American general, was unsuccessful, and was abandoned early in 1947. The civil war had to be accepted as the state of affairs.
From then on Raymond devoted his energies to organizing conferences and giving lectures in various towns and cities throughout the country in order to encourage resistance against the communists, whose deeds he had observed at first hand and whose atrocities he had suffered since the beginning of the war. However, the Red Army now occupied virtually the whole of the country, and Raymond was warned by a friend from Shanghai that as a Belgian priest, his name was on a list of people to be eliminated without further delay drawn up by the communists. Accordingly Raymond left China for good at the beginning of 1949. Thereafter he devoted himself to alleviating the situation of those living in refugee camps outside China, and subsequently went on to organize an Anti-communist League in the USA, where he finally went to live. He died there in 1980.

Here we come to the end of the reliable data in my possession concerning the life and activities of Raymond de Jaegher. There is undoubtedly still a great deal that remains to be discovered about his life.
I found such information as I have managed to collect in the Lebbe Archives, and in the following three published works:
J. Leclercq, Vie du Père Lebbe (Life of Father Lebbe) (1955),
A. Boland, Mes petits enragés. (circa 1930);
R. de Jaegher and Irene Corbally Kuhn: The Enemy Within (1952?), later published in French as Tempête sur la Chine, Paris, 1953.