Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 1, 2003
Oblate ministered 50 years in North
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Father Leon Mokwa, an Oblate priest who faithfully ministered in Canada's North for 50 years, died peacefully at Foyer Grandin in St. Albert Nov. 5. He was 94.
Mokwa was born in Lubichowo, Poland in 1909 and was ordained in 1935.
He came to Canada in 1936 and travelled directly to the Mackenzie Diocese, serving in Fort Resolution, Yellowknife and Fort Smith.
In 1971, he was transferred to Fond du Lac, Sask., until 1986 when he went to Sturgeon Lake, Alta. He moved to Placid Place in Edmonton in 1987 and began performing casual ministry at Holy Rosary Parish in 1992.
In 2002, he retired and moved to Foyer Grandin in St. Albert.
Father Adam Lech, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Lloydminster, met Mokwa at Holy Rosary Parish when he arrived from Poland in 1995.
He knew immediately that he wanted Mokwa to be his spiritual advisor and confessor.
"He was an absolutely humble and holy man who loved the Church and the people he worked with in the North," Lech said. "I visited him at least once a month (in Edmonton and St. Albert) and he always spoke about the people he'd met with great passion."
Mokwa loved to tell stories of when he started his ministry in the North, Lech said.
"He couldn't sleep at night because he was so cold in the tent. He was covered in the fur hides he was given. He learned the native languages and translated parts of the Scriptures and catechisms to their languages. He taught them to write their own names in their own languages."
A noted linguist, Mokwa spoke seven languages, including French, Chipewyan and Dogrib.
Every year until two years ago, Mokwa participated in the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage.
Said Lech: "He once said to me, when he received his retirement room, he asked that the television be removed because he was a religious priest. He wanted the room to be very simple. We respected him as a holy man. He always gave us good advice from the depth of his experiences.
"He was dreaming to celebrate his 70th anniversary (as a priest) in 2005, but the Lord called him back."
Barbara Kuropatwa, secretary at Holy Rosary Parish, said Mokwa was adored by everyone. He was regarded as a man of great knowledge.
"The look in his eyes was always mischievous," she said. "He always looked like he was up to something.
"He was so friendly. You could spend hours with him, listening to him talk about all of his life's experiences."
Even at 92, Mokwa wanted to be part of the parish, hearing confessions.
"He was very helpful for people to remember their sins," she said. "He would ask questions. People liked going to him."