Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 8, 2003
God made my dreams come true
European travel plans realized in unexpected way
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
More than 40 years ago, during my last year in a bachelor of arts program at College St-Jean in Edmonton, I was dreaming with some of my friends about going to Europe. We wanted to see with our own eyes the monuments and cities we had read about - the beauty of ancient cultures, rich museums filled with history and art.
For long years we had studied the classics, foreign cultures and languages, dabbled a little in Italian and German history, along with French and English epics - just enough to have us salivating.
The idea was to work six months or more, save our money, then fly overseas and experience the old continent in all its glory.
As the end of the school year approached, reality stepped in. We needed to bring wisdom into the picture and for me part of that was the Spirit stirring a call to the priesthood in my soul.
Could I put that off indefinitely? No, I decided. I've got to do what I've got to do. With a heavy heart, I drafted a letter to the Oblate provincial, Father Lavigne in Falher, asking if he might consider me as a candidate for the order.
Not long after that, I received my answer, as well as my marching orders. I was leaving home - not for Europe, but for St. Norbert, Man., where the Oblates ran a novitiate. There young men, through prayer, study, a bit of sports and lots of manual labour, prepared for vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Seven of us left from Edmonton's downtown train station. A great many people were there to see us off: family, friends, even a few girlfriends. As the train started its slow movement, we waved handkerchiefs with one hand while uncorking a bottle with the other. The trip turned out to be a very enjoyable celebration. Our patient co-travellers never suggested that we tone it down.
When the train pulled in to the Winnipeg station the next morning we were bleary-eyed and in need of strong coffee. Instead of letting the novitiate know we had arrived, we decided to have some fun visiting Winnipeg, going to the zoo and a movie. In the late afternoon, we treated ourselves with a last good meal with all the drinks that Paul, who was a connoisseur of wines, ordered on our behalf.
Eventually one of us phoned and told the novitiate that all seven of us were at the train station. Would they pick us up? Within the hour, the Oblate van showed up and we packed our meagre gear and our unsteady selves into the seats and bade goodbye to the world.
Father Raymond Beauregard, the novice master, was a good no-nonsense man who guided us as a real master should. We prayed a lot and took in a daily conference about topics concerning religious life and the Oblate congregation.
We were over 30 novices. That number decreased by a few during the year as some of us discerned that this was not what they were called to do.
The head stuff took place in the morning. In the afternoon we had work duties like cleaning the house and yard, harvesting the garden in the fall and planting it in the spring.
Toward the end of our novitiate the novice master called me into his office. He told me he had received a letter from my provincial superior in Falher advising me that I was to go to Rome for my training for the priesthood.
I could not believe my ears. After seeing my dream of visiting Europe for a few weeks cancelled because of a call to the priesthood, I now had to adjust to the idea of spending not a few weeks in Europe but a few years.
Five wonderful years lay ahead of me. I lived with a community of 100 Oblate seminarians from 25 countries during the years of the Second Vatican Council where I saw a veritable revolution in the Church unfold before my eyes.
I attended the Jesuit-run Gregorian University, the oldest Catholic university in Rome. We were taught in Latin only, a language that fortunately I had studied in college. With my Oblate colleagues I prayed beside the body of Pope John XXIII the night before his funeral. I also witnessed the whiff of white smoke emanating from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announcing the election of Pope Paul VI.
Many times I gave thanks to a wonderful God who saw me put aside a dream of visiting Europe for a few weeks and spoiled me with a rare gift. Our loving God has ways of throwing good things our way, blessing us and spoiling us like the best of parents can.
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