Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 7, 2000
From St. Paul to Louisiana
Footloose Albertan searched far and wide becoming a priest in the deep South
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Father Marc Noel is an example of an answered prayer.
He was a typical young man battling teen angst. He was resentful and lost. He denied the existence of God and frolicked in the pool of drugs and alcohol.
"My grandmother was a strong woman of faith and she was praying for me," said Noel, 32.
It's with prayer that Noel said he was able to hear God's call. And it's with prayer that others will do the same.
"I think with vocation, one of the things I've heard where people have had success is when they have adorations and prayer for vocations," Noel said. "God does hear your prayers."
Noel's vocation was not a short trip down a yellow brick road. Spiritually and physically, the path to the Alexandria Diocese in Louisiana, where he is associate pastor at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church, took him through miles of paved and unpaved streets.
After graduating from high school in St. Paul, Alta., Noel registered at the Alberta College of Arts in Calgary. There he made new friends and, through hearing their testimonies, Noel underwent a conversion himself.
"I wasn't looking for God, but God was looking for me."
He was inspired by the writings of St. Francis of Assisi and felt a "calling to be poor and work with the poor."
He hitchhiked to New Mexico and spent a year at the Lord's Ranch and its mission in Mexico.
People he met through his missionary work would comment on Noel becoming a priest. By the end of that year, "I surrendered to God," Noel said.
He came back to his hometown and went to see Bishop Raymond Roy. He was sent to St. Boniface College in Winnipeg to study theology. Although he had given himself to the Lord, he still had doubts of what God wanted from him.
"I was a typical Generation Xer, can't settle down and make a commitment."
His adventurous streak took him on a tour of Canada, then a road trip to Miami where he hopped a plane to Haiti. He spent three months working at an orphanage run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.
He found himself running from the inevitable.
"I was saying 'No way God, you don't want me. You have the wrong guy.'"
At the same time, he remembered reading about Bishop Sam Jacobs in Louisiana, who was involved with the charismatic movement. On his way back from Haiti, Noel visited Jacobs. As luck would have it, the bishop had recently received a grant for a youth evangelization team and invited Noel to get involved.
After a year in the land of cajun and creole, Noel's indecisiveness now focused not on whether to enter the seminary, but on whether to become a diocesan or missionary priest.
He travelled to Colombia and worked with youth.
"These kids in Colombia were very holistic, very strong in their faith," Noel said. "It made me think about the youth I had worked with in Louisiana. They didn't have this same (spirituality).
"At two of the dioceses in Colombia, there are 700 seminarians. And we have a problem finding a few. We aren't reaching out to our youth and evangelizing them."
He returned to Louisiana to finish his studies and was ordained for the Alexandria Diocese in 1998.
Like the vocations lull in Canada, Noel said the problem is present in many dioceses, even his own. There has been a slight rise in the numbers in Alexandria, but nothing to rave about. Presently, the diocese has 14 seminarians.
When Noel finally acknowledged his calling, it never occurred to him to return to Alberta and work in his hometown.
"This is where my vocation flourished," Noel said of Louisiana. "I guess because of my journeys being so footloose and fancy free, when I left (Alberta) I didn't have any roots left there."
Although the charismatic movement attracted Noel to the priesthood, "as a priest, my ministry is to everyone."
The bulk of that ministry he focuses on youth.
"It's not about preaching a new Gospel, but preaching the Gospel in a new and dynamic way," Noel said of the evangelization that needs to occur to draw people back to the pews.
Noel also celebrates weekly Mass for the youth of his parish. "It's a lot of fun for the youth, it's something the kids can relate to."
Had he not made that six-day trip to New Mexico when he was 19, had he not been stung by the travel bug and stayed away from Haiti and Louisiana, would Noel have heard the call?
"It's a mystery," he said. "Why I'm here now I attribute to God's plan. It's hard to say what would have happened if I had stayed in St. Paul. This was God's call.
"I love being a priest, I wouldn't trade it for a million dollars."