Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 3, 2003
One man treks on his life path
Change remains in this missionary's work
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
If a young man were dreaming of a career that has variety, responsibility and countless challenges and adventures, he might consider becoming a missionary priest.
I began to discover that when at the end of my first year of training as an Oblate novice I was told that I was to prepare for a five-year program of studies in Rome, Italy, no less!
Later as a young priest I was assigned as director of students in a small college in Falher in northern Alberta in 1965. That first assignment had its many challenges unmatched to the many joys it brought me in dealing with young people for five years.
Then for eight years I was given the pretentious title of diocesan director of religious education for the Grouard McLennan Archdiocese in the northern part of Alberta.
The Canadian bishops in the late 1960s had introduced new catechisms, a program called the Come to the Father Series for Grades 1-9. Countless workshops and retreats with teachers were followed by retreats for junior and senior high students. During that period I also did several retreats for parishes as well as for clergy groups in Western Canada.
As other needs moved to the fore in the Grouard McLennan Archdiocese I was asked to begin a program to train First Nations people for ministry in the Church. Kisemanito (the Great Spirit) Centre was started in Grouard on Lesser Slave Lake.
Initially it was hoped to be a place to train future priests. The first year five candidates showed up and it was a start. The Sisters of Wisdom who were always a great support to us surrendered their spacious house to the candidates.
The next year several First Nations women applied for courses at the centre so with the help of generous benefactors, including the Grouard McLennan Archdiocese, religious communities and lay people, we brought in a trailer complex to accommodate the men and moved the women into the women’s' house. The complex included sleeping quarters for men, cooking and dining facilities that became a popular place for students to eat, meet and visit. A portable classroom was also purchased.
The company of Manitoba Oblate Father Gerry LeStrat, Grey Nun Sister Therese Arcand, and theologian Gerry Kelly of Ottawa made this endeavour a surprising success for several good years.
Then I was pulled out of that job -- which was hard to take -- and asked to become vicar provincial for the new Grandin Province which integrated three Oblate provinces: Mackenzie, Grouard and Alberta-Saskatchewan. So I moved to the Edmonton area with Father Vallee of Montreal who was named provincial superior. After his three-year mandate I succeeded him as provincial superior with over 150 Oblate priests and brothers to love and serve for the following six years.
After a sabbatical year in the Holy Land I was asked by my successor, Father Camille Piche, to begin one of the Oblates' earliest works: parish missions. So I went to spend time with my Oblate colleagues in Italy to learn from them a revolutionary concept of parish mission work.
Soon I found myself presiding the Eucharist, preaching, hearing confessions, visiting famillies and facilitating small faith communities in the Italilan language that I had learned during my Roman days as a seminarian.
This experience in Italy prepared me well for a new challenging task, that I shared initially with Father Camillo Prosdicimo, Brother Louis Andreas and eventually Father Al Hubenig. Many Oblates participated in these missions as well as sisters and a long list of competent and dedicated lay people. Debbie Dournbos helped us prepare missions by a series of workshops she presented to the local missionary team. A total of 60 missions were conducted in five dioceses in those years.
After years of parish mission work I began to feel that the time had come for me to move on. My provincial superior agreed that another sabbatical was in order, so on Sept. 6 I left for Europe for a few months of prayer, rest, reflection, beginning with a 750-km walk to the pilgrimage dedicated to my patron St. James the Apostle whose earthly remains are honoured in Santiago di Compostella, Spain.
This trip will take me also to Corsica as well where Oblates, including Edmonton's Father Joseph Goutier, are ministering. Then at the end of October I'll be off to Rome where the Oblates are holding an international symposium on Oblate mission work, bringing in Oblates and associates from across the world.
It's my intention that future articles in this column will eventually document some of my adventures abroad.
Who ever though missionary life could be dull?
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