Russell, Father Robert Louis, S.S.
Editor’s Note: This brief article will not do justice to Fr. Lou Russell’s willingness to be an instrument of the Lord in Merida, and throughout Mexico.
On June 16, 2010, Fr. Robert Louis (Lou) Russell died at 3:00 p.m. after celebrating Mass with Fr. Melchor, his associate. On June 17, 2010, Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzaran, of the Archdiocese of Merida, presided at a Mass of Resurrection for Lou after which he will be buried in Merida, Mexico.
On August 30, 1929, Robert Louis (Lou) Russell was born in Wyandotte, Michigan to Carl and Lulu Louise Thimmes Russell. He grew up with his sister Pearl and brother Carl. Their mother died in 1940.
After completing his elementary and high school education in Wyandotte, in 1951 Lou received a B.A. in philosophy from Sacred Heart Seminary. For his theologate, Lou attended St. John’s Seminary, Plymouth, Michigan from 1951-1955 and was ordained on June 4, 1955 for the Archdiocese of Detroit. Lou continued graduate studies culminating with an S.T.L. in 1961 from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
Lou’s interest in seminary formation led him to join the Society of St. Sulpice, Province of the United States, in 1959. His first two assignments were St. Joseph’s College in Mountain View, California and St. Charles College in Catonsville, Maryland.
On the birthday of the Blessed Mother, September 8, 1961, Lou Russell arrived in Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. This would begin a life-long ministry to the Lord through the intercession of His Blessed Mother to the people of Merida, the Republic of Mexico and California!
Lou began teaching sacred scripture in the Seminario Conciliar, Merida. He was named chaplain and builder of Holy Family Church also in Merida. Beginning in 1964 and continuing until his death, Lou spread the word and work of the Lord through the “Apostolic Bible College” (A.B.C.) which he established and nourished. In April 2010, A.B.C. had more than 42 missions, 53 groups, 9 bible courses with over 2,000 participants in area-sponsor A.B.C. classes which spread to the Mayan, then over the Mexican Republic and into southern California.
His prayerfulness, love of the Lord and charisma drew many people to identify with the aims, ideals and spirituality of the A.B.C. Apostolic lay groups began to form. Initially, 33 (notice the number) young men began living and working together under Lou’s guidance. Women also came to advance of the evangelical work of the community under the guidance of Lou Russell. They prayed, studied and spread the word of the Lord through example and A.B.C. In 1980 the Archbishop of Merida gave written approbation for a nucleus of men, and a growing contingent of women missionaries, to formally live as a community of religious men or women known as the Community of the Mother of God. Today, three groups comprise the Community of the Missioners of the Mother of God: religious men, religious women (sisters) and lay disciples. Although the men’s community remains small, the women’s community, known as the Missioners of the Mother of God, has more than 50 members.
In the Cathedral in Merida on May 13, 2010, there was a celebration of the approval of the sister’s constitutions by the Holy See. Even though Lou suffered a stroke several years ago which left him partially paralyzed and in declining health, he attended the ceremony in his wheel chair.
Tom Ulshafer visited Lou in April 2010. He writes about his visit and Lou’s apostolic spirit in the summer 2010 UPDATE.
Please remember Lou, his religious and natural families in your Mass.
Since the time lapse between Fr. Russell’s death and burial was only 24 hours, it was impossible for a representative from the U.S. Province to attend. Therefore, this Letter of Compassion and Sympathy was read to those attending Lou’s funeral by Mother General Irma Pat Pena.
Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America
June 17, 2010
To the Most Reverend Archbishop of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, Archbishop Carlos Belaunzaran,
To the Mother General, Mother Irma Pat Pena,
To Father Jose Melchor, Superior of the Missioners de la Madre de Dias,
To Mrs. Maria Eugenia Puig Juanes and to all the members of the staff on the Apostolic Bible Colleges,
To all our dear brothers and sisters in the same faith and Ecclesial communion:
With my deep respect and love in Jesus Christ, our Lord:
We received the news of the death of our dear Father Lou Russell Thimmes, S.S. Although we all knew he was very sick, his death caused in all of us a deep impression and moved us to do a heartfelt and sincere prayer for this beloved brother priest.
This is our faith and our hope: that the sisters and brothers, Missioners de la Madre de Dias, already have their founder in heaven, and from the intimate communion with God, Fr. Russell will continue protecting, interceding and giving spiritual support to his daughters and sons, to the big family he founded here.
We are deeply saddened because none of the Sulpician Fathers are able to be present at the funeral Mass, in Merida, given the distances and how quickly things happened. However, I have to tell you that we all are spiritually present with you all, because we are united by strong bonds.
From Rome, Italy, please receive my greetings and also the fraternal greetings from all the Sulpician Fathers of the U.S. Province. We all remember Fr. Russell with love and appreciation for the deeds God wanted to do through him.
May God always be blessed and loved.
May his very blessed Mother be always honored and venerated.
Fr. Thomas Ulshafer
Society of St. Sulpice, U.S. Province