CCN FILE PHOTO
Fr. Bob Bedard, founder of the companions of the Cross, died in Ottawa Oct. 6
Father Bob Bedard, the Ottawa priest who founded the Companions of the Cross more than 25 years ago, died peacefully Oct. 6 at the age of 82 after a long illness.
Bedard not only founded the charismatic order that has grown to include 40 priests, six religious sisters and hundreds of lay associates in Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax, Detroit and Houston, he was one of the leaders in the charismatic renewal movement and the popular host of the television program Food for Life for many years.
Bedard’s life was also punctuated by a dark event that traumatized his St. Pius X High School Grade 13 religion class in 1975.
Robert Poulin, a troubled student opened fire on terrified students with a shotgun, killing one and seriously injuring several others before turning the weapon on himself. Before opening fire, Poulin had raped and murdered a young woman who had befriended him.
Though Bedard seldom spoke of this life-changing incident in media interviews, it occurred only six months after he had found renewal in his prayer life through the charismatic movement.
Twenty years later, he told an Ottawa Citizen columnist that the night he came home from that horrific event, he wept.
Then his eyes fell on these words in 2 Corinthians 4: “We are afflicted in every way possible but we are not crushed; full of doubt we never despair. We are persecuted but never abandoned. We are struck down but never destroyed.”
Bedard went on to become a leader of the charismatic renewal, speaking around North America and took over Food for Life, which is still hosted by the Companions.
“We had just finished celebrating a Mass for the Dying in which he received the Sacrament of the Sick, the apostolic blessing and Viaticum,” said Father Scott McCaig, moderator of the Companions, in an email to friends and supporters Oct. 6. “He died peacefully as we sang hymns and prayed. It was truly a beautiful and holy death.”
Bedard had been confined to a nursing home for several years before his death.
“It is hard to describe our feelings at this time: relief that his suffering is finally over, joy that he fought the good fight and ran the race to the finish, and sadness at our deep loss,” McCaig said.
“But above all we give thanks and praise to God for the amazing life of Father Bob and for the privilege of knowing and loving him.”
Bedard grew up an only child who attended Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood.
Though as a boy he was fascinated by the priests at the altar and made little vestments for himself and pretended to celebrate “Mass” on top of his dresser, he drifted away from the faith until the Redemptorist priests who ran his church held a mission that laid out the Gospel.
“I decided I better do some repenting. I made a beeline for the confessional line,” he told CCN in an interview to mark his 50 years in the priesthood in 2005. “I was very determined to get cleaned up. I didn’t want to spend eternity in the wrong place. Hell.”
At the time the hockey-loving teenager thought he would become a dentist. But a few months later he heard a homily that convinced him he needed to spend the rest of his life making clear to people the reality of the Scripture verse: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own immortal soul?”
“That’s got to be the most important question in the world,” he said to himself. “I don’t think most people know that. They go on with their lives as if nothing is going to happen.”
It was then he knew he was going to become a priest.
Ordained in 1955, he worked in a downtown parish for three years before the archbishop asked him to teach at the new St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary. It was supposed to help young Catholics cultivate vocations, but Bedard found himself frustrated that most of his students would shed their Catholic faith “like a sweater” once they graduated.
Though the school grew from 35 students to a Catholic high school of almost 800, nothing he or the other priests tried seemed to work to evangelize the otherwise polite and attentive students.
In the mid-1970s, Bedard began meeting people whose lives had been turned around through their encounter with the charismatic movement.
He decided to check it out. At a Catholic church, he found the chairs arranged in concentric circles with the leaders in the centre, singing “peppy songs like Jingle Bells, not terribly profound music.”
When the music stopped and everyone began praying at once, he thought, “That’s a curious way of praying. Surely they could get together on this.”
It bothered him when people began to pray with their hands raised in the air. “Catholics don’t do that.”
When people began to pray for intentions, he was struck that some requests seemed “so small, so picayune, too small to bother God” about. One woman prayed about renting her spare room and he wondered why she wouldn’t just put an ad in the paper.
After he left, he thought “these people are crazy, the Canadian society of ding-dongs.”
But he kept meeting solid, credible people whose lives had been profoundly changed for the better so he went back. He signed up for a Life in the Spirit seminar and eventually prayed with others to receive one of the spiritual gifts. Instead of asking for one of them, he asked to be able to pray.
After being prayed for, Bedard felt disappointed because nothing dramatic happened. Instead, he went home and had a deep sleep. But he awoke the next morning with a desire to pray that he had never experienced before.
The Bible started to make sense in a new way. While praying his daily offices in the Breviary, “the words started to jump off the page to me as if somebody was passing a magnifying glass over them.”
He found new power to evangelize, and began to see his 18-year-old students transform “right before my eyes.” They formed prayer groups. People began to experience healing.
Six months after this life-changing experience with prayer, Poulin shot up his classroom. But the horror of that incident drove Bedard deeper into prayer and a life dedicated to Christ, said Father Francis Donnelly.
In 1984, Bedard was assigned to St. Mary’s Parish, which had fallen on hard times. Only about 35 to 40 parishioners regularly attended a church that could hold 500.
He realized God was asking him and the parishioners for “permission” to do what he wanted with the place. They gave permission and a year and a half later the church was so crowded “you couldn’t get in.” The parish still flourishes.
At the same time, he began to meet with four seminarians who were experiencing discouragement while studying at Saint Paul University. That prayer group eventually developed into the Companions of the Cross, founded in 1985. The Holy See officially instituted the Companions as a society of apostolic life in 2003.