Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 25, 2002
Duhaime used hockey to spread the faith
Native people held Oblate in high esteem
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
He was a skillful hockey player, but when his moment came, he turned down stardom in the National Hockey League for a chance to serve God as a priest.
Oblate Father Antonio Duhaime will be remembered as a gifted sportsman and enthusiastic organizer and storyteller.
Some 300 friends and acquaintances, many of them native people, filled St. Albert Church for his funeral Mass March 16. A priest for 61 years, Duhaime died March 13. He was 88.
Duhaime was born in North Battleford, Sask., in 1914.
Although given the chance to join the Chicago Blackhawks, Duhaime chose the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, making his perpetual vows in Italy in 1935. After completing studies in Rome and Ottawa, he was ordained to the priesthood in Battleford on June 13, 1941.
He taught for about a year at Juniorate St. Jean and in 1942, became pastor at Cardston, where he encouraged native youngsters in athletics. He coached the St. Mary's Warriors, the school's basketball team, travelling with them to the U.S. and overseas.
He also coached hockey on the nearby reserve. The team had a makeshift rink outside and they would play daily, but never accomplished much.
When Father came to the reserve, he suspended all games until the boys received some training. "He trained them for two weeks and when they finished, they became unbeatable," recalled Chief Martin Eaglechild.
As a priest, Duhaime touched native people deeply with his simplicity, generosity and his "happiness," Eaglechild said.
"He acted like a happy man in paradise, visiting the people on horseback." The horse and the saddle had been given to the priest by Eaglechild's father.
From 1954 to 1958, Duhaime served as director of the Oblates' Star of the North Retreat and Renewal Centre and was chaplain of the Misericordia Hospital from 1958 to 1962.
For the next 17 years, Duhaime served as director and principal of two Indian residential schools, St. Michael's in Duck Lake, Sask., from 1962 to 1969 and St. Mary's in Cardston from 1969 to 1979.
For his contribution to native life and culture and his 13 years at St. Mary's, Duhaime was inducted into the KAINAI Chieftainship in the early 1988s. The chieftainship was established in the early 1900s by the Blood Tribe at Standoff to honour those who help preserve Blood culture.
Inductees are given a new Indian name. Duhaime's new name was Pita Siksenum, which means Chief Black Eagle.
Oblate Father Georges Roussel, a friend of Duhaime's since 1927, described the priest as "intelligent, affable and sharp.
"He would tease others as much as they teased him. And he was always sharp and witty. He could hold his own."
What was most remarkable about Duhaime is that he used his gifts as a sportsman to attract people to God, Roussel said.
In his later years, Duhaime lived in St. Albert promoting the sainthood of Bishop Vital Grandin and Brother Anthony Kowalczyk.
His health failing, Duhaime was admitted to Placid Place, the Oblates' retirement home, were he remained until his death.
Father Thomas Bilodeau, who presided at Duhaime's funeral Mass, said Duhaime taught him Latin at College St. Jean.
"He was a great man, but teaching was not his vocation," he laughed. "It was too easy to get him to switch to hockey."