Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 21, 2005
Can it really be? Forty years a priest!
Priestly vocation has taken me far and wide
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
The other day as I pressed the insert icon on my computer, the date Dec. 16, 2004 appeared. It seemed a vaguely familiar date. What was it? And then it became clear: 40 years before, on Dec. 16. 1964 I was ordained a priest.
I began to rationalize: it can't be! Forty years of priesthood was for old priests, that's not me. I'm still young, only 67! Then I began to think back to that day and what happened. I was in my fifth year of seminary training in Rome. I was then a member of the Oblate International Scholasticate (seminary) and was studying at the Jesuit Gregorian University.
In July 1965 I flew home to northern Alberta where I began my ministry. I've enjoyed immensely these 40 years of ministry and the variety of challenges put to me. First, I was director of students at the small college the Oblates were running in Falher in northern Alberta.
'Blessed are the poor . . .'
Then I was given the job of diocesan director of religious education for the Grouard-McLennan Archdiocese for several years.
I also ended up doing parish retreats on the theme of the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" which somehow led to requests for a number of priest retreats in Western Canada. This was truly an expression of humility on the part of these priests who listened to my jabber with respect and attention, even taking notes. I never thanked them for putting up with me but I guess it's never too late.
Later I was given my first assignment as a parish priest. I was sent to Grouard, a four-hour drive north of Edmonton. One of my responsibilities was to train First Nations people for ministry. Father Gerry LeStrat from Manitoba joined me in that venture and soon we were running Kisemanito Centre, an eight-month-a-year program for 40 indigenous people who came from all over Canada - from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island, from the Blood Nation, south of Calgary, to the Dogrib people of the Northwest Territories.
Thank God we had Gerry Kelly of Ottawa on our side. Gerry, a graduate of Ottawa University with a master's degree in theology, did most of the teaching. He also became a gentle friend and big brother that the students and priests couldn't help but love. It was a program that years later the Catholic Bible School people in Radway and Hinton modelled their program on, so they told me.
Then one day I received a call from The newly named provincial superior of the Grandin Oblate Province, Father Felix Vallee, who asked me to come to Edmonton and be the vicar provincial. To leave the people of Grouard and area as well as the centre was painful. I went for a long walk and I shed a few tears. These had been the best years of my life.
Thus I was thrust into the administration of Grandin Province for nine years. After a sabbatical year I was invited by the new provincial superior, Father Camille Piche, to do parish missions. This a ministry that is still going on, praise God! It was a rewarding eight years.
After eight years of parish mission work I felt I needed a change. Thus I contacted my good friend Father LeStrat, now superior of the Guatemala Oblate Delegation, who immediately invited me to come and help out in Guatemala. And that is where I am writing this article.
I'm most grateful to God for his call to life, in the family that I was raised in, the seventh of 14 children. I'm also most thankful for the vocation I've received from God to be a missionary priest.
The greatest gift of all is the people that God gives to the priest to love as one loves his family, to work with them and to receive blessings from them. People are such a blessing to the priest who is called to truly be "Father."
The greatest gift of all is the people that God gives to the priest to love as one loves his family
Celibacy a blessing
The vow of celibacy is not the burden that it might seem to be. Rather it is a blessing that allows the priest to be father to a multitude of people. One's parishioners are foremost one's family to love, to care for, to teach to, to guide, to work and journey with and occasionally to correct and also be corrected by them.
One great reward of being a priest is to be a life-giver - one who can forgive a person's failures and sins, one who can bring about God's healing to people, one who can weep with the grieving and share their sorrow, one who mercifully can also receive from the people life, friendship, care and forgiveness for his failures.
The help, the love and support of countless people who understand the priest's limitations and who support him in his ministry and are present in his hour of need also bless the priest.
I give thanks to God for the call I've received, the rich life I've enjoyed, the family I was given, the challenges I have yet to face and the work that I'm called to do in this beautiful and warm country in Central America.
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