WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. Raymond Sevigny plans to move into Villa Vianney, the retirement facility for priests.
After 50 years serving the people of God, Father Raymond Sevigny is hanging up his hat. The 75-year-old pastor retires in early August and plans to move into Villa Vianney, the retirement facility for priests on the grounds of the Catholic Pastoral Centre.
"I have been a satisfied priest," he says. "God called me to serve the people and I think I've done that."
Since his ordination in 1962, Sevigny served in at least seven parishes, including twice at St. Thomas d'Aquin for a total of 23 years. About 40 of his 50 years as a priest he spent serving the spiritual needs of the francophone community but, as he points out, he didn't do it to preserve the French language or culture.
"My purpose was to bring the Gospel of Jesus to the francophone community."
Parishioners at St. Thomas marked their much-loved pastor's 50 years of priesthood with a Mass and reception June 2. Sevigny looks fit and healthy but he doesn't take much credit for it. "I have good genes," he says.
He doesn't yet have clear plans for his retirement other than reading scriptural and theological works and continuing to serve as provincial coordinator of Contemplative Outreach Canada, a spiritual network of individuals and small faith communities committed to living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel in everyday life through the practice of centering prayer.
He may also play a little golf, although by his own admission golf is not his strong suit.
His long-time friend and collaborator Yvon Mahé, who served with Sevigny in the Francophone Pastoral Association, described Sevigny as a "very discreet person, very quiet person, very prayerful person, very steady person and very faithful person"
The priest listens well and is attentive to the personal journey of others, Mahé said. "He is a gentle breeze in the way he works with the people and the Church," he continued.
"So he is a priest for the people of God and he is very faithful to the Gospel and very faithful to Vatican II. He doesn't stray away from that. He doesn't let himself be influenced easily by trendy things."
Sevigny was born and raised in St. Albert, one of nine children. His family was an ordinary Catholic family that prayed together and attended Mass regularly.
He became an altar boy as a child and served Mass until high school. "As a matter of fact I served Mass for Archbishop MacDonald just a few weeks before he had his stroke."
In Grade 7 a priest came to Sevigny's class and said it was time they knew what they would do for the rest of their lives. He advised the students to say three Hail Marys and ask the Lord to help them discover their vocation.
"So I did that and when I was in high school I sort of thought I wanted to be a priest."
However, he resisted and went off to work after high school graduation.
"I took a job in the fall of 1955 and in the spring of 1956 I was coming home on the bus from Edmonton to St. Albert and I had a strong inner experience. It was an experience that really, really frightened me."
Discreet and private as he is, Sevigny declined to share further details of that experience. However, following the experience he immediately went to see his parish priest, who arranged for him to see Archbishop MacDonald. Following the meeting, Sevigny was accepted into St. Joseph's Seminary. "Deep within myself, I knew God was calling me to this," he said.
His first year at the seminary was in Edmonton at the old seminary next to St. Joachim Church.
He was ordained by Archbishop Anthony Jordan June 2, 1962 and was assigned to the French Parish Immaculee Conception. For the first two years he celebrated the Tridentine Mass in Latin with his back to the congregation, something he would rather not see again.
When he was transferred to Camrose in 1964, the changes to the liturgy brought about by the Second Vatican Council were in full swing and the Latin Mass was being replaced.
"We started with the vernacular and the altar was facing the people."
Sevigny embraced Vatican II and the renewal it brought. He created parish pastoral councils and invited people to get involved in all aspects of Church life. "A lot of my ministry has been an attempt to implement the Vatican council," he says.
Following two years in Camrose, he went to Edmonton's St. Andrew's Parish for a year, served at St. Thomas d'Aquin for the first time from 1967 to 1973 and returned to Immaculee Conception, where he stayed for 11 years.
From 1985 to 1990 Sevigny served at St. Anne's French Parish and then went to St. Angela's, where he stayed until 1994. He served a year in Beaumont and returned to the 400-family St. Thomas d'Aquin Parish in 1995.
"I have been a satisfied priest, despite the challenges," he smiled. "It's really the people that make the difference."
The most satisfying part of being a priest is working with parishioners, and financial and pastoral councils. "I'm really amazed at the generosity of the volunteers because the parish could not exist without them."