Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 15, 2008
A saintly soul tells of his decades as a northern missionary
Fellow Oblates comfort Fr. Colas as he rests from his labours for his Lord and fellow man
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Recently I have had the privilege of meeting a walking legend, 96-year-old Oblate Father Jean Colas at the Oblate house in St. Albert where I'm temporarily living.
Colas is a native of France in the northern part of Brittany, where he was born on June 24, 1912. His father was a farmer who was born in the province of Normandy before moving to Brittany.
Jean Colas' father was Claude Marie Colas and his mother, Bertha Marie Bonne Tassel. Young Jean attended the minor seminary of Versailles, France, from the year 1923 to 1931. Then he took two years of philosophy, followed by studies in theology and Scripture when he was aged 33.
After that, he was called to do his two years of military service in Syria, which at that time was controlled by France. This gave him the opportunity to visit the Holy Land.
Having decided to enter the priesthood, he took his classical and philosophical studies at the Marseille seminary in southern France.
Then he joined the Oblates, making his religious vows on Dec. 8, 1937 and was ordained a priest by Bishop Cenez, omi, on Dec. 18 at la Brosse Montceux.
Young priests' journey
Soon after, he and Father Denis received their obedience for the Mackenzie Diocese in Northern Canada, and a great journey began for both young priests.
They crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Montreal on May 1, 1938. Wasting no time, they got on the train to Edmonton and then to Waterways. Then they travelled down the Athabasca River on the mission boat all the way to Fitzgerald.
From there, they travelled by truck over many portages on the way to Fort Smith where Colas with a brother as captain of the mission boat, pulled a barge loaded with provisions down the Slave River.
Unfortunately they encountered rapids and lost most of their provisions.
Fraught with trouble
Later a boat set out from Fort Providence with two mission scows with what had been salvaged. More problems awaited them at Fort Norman. One of the brothers wanted to overhaul the motor and, in the process, cracked the block. The boat was out of commission and Colas was assigned to Fort Norman. ZIn 1940, Father Colas went further north to Fort Good Hope and the next year he went still further north. There, he served the Loucheux people for more than 40 years - the people of Arctic Red River, McPherson, Aklavik, Inuvik, McPherson, Arctic Red River, and Aklavik again, as well as Tuktoyaktuk.
A gentle, loving soul
Colas gave all he had in serving the most isolated people on our continent. After all those years of sacrifice, he came to rest at the Oblates' retirement house in St. Albert where I met him. He turned out to be a gentle and loving soul.
Having given all he had, certainly this humble and holy man will receive his reward, and no doubt, what a great reward it will be.
Father Colas has not been well lately and for this reason, this morning the local Oblate community of some 15 priests at St. Albert, gathered around his bed as our superior celebrated the Sacrament of the Sick and the Eucharist, along with prayers by all present.
Being temporarily in the same house, at the same table of such a great man has been a blessing for me, for my brother Oblates and for our great staff.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.