Philippe Jean Yves Harlay
By Jennifer (Nimee) Harlay
Philippe Harlay was born in Antony, France, a suburb of Paris, to Jean and Micheline Harlay, on February 22, 1961. He was raised in a neighboring suburb called Bourg-la-Reine.
He began his career as site manager in construction, but his career really evolved when he took the position as City Manager of one of the most beautiful suburbs of Paris, Chevreuse.
His parents were Catholic, like so many French citizens in those days. And when he and his brother were kids, his parents would often take them on summer vacations to Greece. I suppose that is where he had his first taste of the Orthodox people.
When I first met Philippe, he was a stout atheist! But I have always been a stout Orthodox Christian, so much so that when he first mentioned marriage to me, I told him, on one condition only . . . that our children would be baptized Orthodox. He responded, “Alright, but don’t push your religion on me.”
You might ask yourself how we could pair up. There was no better teaching for me than the Scriptures, which taught me to have no fear in intertwining with those so different from me. Who are your tax collectors? Your pagans? Your centurions? And the Lord said, “Assuredly I say to you that [they] will enter the kingdom of God before you.” I was confident that while Philippe was atheist, he also was someone with a kind heart and strong good values. I knew what the Lord meant. I met Philippe while I was studying in France. You might say that it was love at first sight for both of us.
In the beginning of our marriage, I would go to church alone, of course. I would take part in the choir and other activities. The only exception when Philippe would come to church was at Pascha and that was for the simple reason that it was too late for me to drive home alone at night. Even then, he would spend most of the time in the car. But each year went by, and he would spend a few minutes longer at church. He always loved the way we shout, “Christ is Risen” with such great joy. Then he would stay long enough to hear Saint John Chrysostom’s paschal sermon, and he was moved.
In fact, his favorite phrase is “[…he that hath arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay. For the lord is gracious and receiveth the last even as the first…]
Of course, Philippe would join me at church in Spring Valley each time we came back for vacation, so that we could see all our friends and family who were at our wedding. Father Gregory Buss and his wife Katherine treated him as part of the family. In fact, Philippe often told me that Saint George church was his first parish.
One day we were driving through the Alps on the way to see his brother. We drove through this small town deep within the mountain valley. We drove past an old steel factory, and across the street from it was an old Russian Orthodox Church. My husband said to me, “I know this town! This is where a great Orthodox French Saint is from.”
I laughed a bit arrogantly and said, “What do you know of Orthodox Saints? ” And so, he began to tell the story of Saint Alexis of Ugine that he learned from a documentary one Sunday morning while I was away at church. I marveled.
We were in fact in the town of Ugine. The factory we passed was where Saint Alexis and hundreds of Russian immigrants worked. Saint Alexis worked very long hours there in very difficult conditions. He was the priest of that church, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church. Saint Alexis died from cancer. His body was covered with it. Some forty years later, his body was uncovered, and it was completely intact. According to the workers who dug him up, they were stunned by how his body was so limp and not stiff, as if he was only sleeping. Philippe was moved by this man’s life, practically of modern times. As he said, “I was touched by how hard his life was and yet he still kept to the faith.”
During that time, we met Father Jean (John), who started a small church community in his house not far from our home. Its patron saint is none other than Saint Alexis of Ugine. I was their first parishioner, and it made a great learning ground for Philippe’s spirituality to grow. It was small, intimate, and a family-like environment. After sixteen years of marriage and right before we moved back to the States in 2007, Philippe was Chrismated Orthodox by Father Jean. Father Jean gave us an icon of Saint Alexis with his relic to give to Father Gregory as a tie between our two churches.
We may not have had children, unfortunately, because it is God’s will. But today it is Philippe who is an Orthodox Christian, and the icon of Saint Alexis of Ugine with his relic hangs on the wall of Saint George Orthodox Church.
We’d love to hear from you!
If you have memories to share of St. George Church or the “neighborhood,” Spring Valley, IL., please scan & email them with a brief story, description, etc., and we’ll publish them.
Celebrating 100 Years Fundraising Campaign
Dear Family & Friends,
The objective of this initiative is to establish a foundation to financially secure the future of St. George Orthodox Church, Spring Valley, IL.
These funds will be used to restore & preserve the building’s historic integrity and to establish a legacy fund to secure the next 100 years.
We welcome you to be a part of this important milestone with your generous donation.
Nick & Anysia Medawar
100 Year Celebration Co-Chairs
MAKE YOUR LEGACY DONATION!
Make checks payable to:
St. George Orthodox Church 100 Years
Send to: St. George Orthodox Church
Attention: Anysia Medawar
211 E. Minnesota Street, P.O. Box 121, Spring Valley, IL 61362