Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 21, 2005
Priestly call 'a mysterious thing'
Gauthier says he's sustained by his parishioners in an exciting ministry
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Father Clement Gauthier, the outspoken pastor of Assumption Parish, has been a priest for 42 years but still can't decipher the mystery of his priesthood.
When he was eight years old he declared he was going to be a priest and then became one in 1963. Just like that.
But Gauthier, 67, guesses his decision must have some connection with the culture and the environment he grew up in. "I was raised in a small French Canadian community where everybody went to Church," he said of his native Bonnyville. "And in those times being French was the same thing as being a Catholic. I was steeped in that culture."
There were other influences, like the movie he saw as a teenager where Christians died for their faith and the fact he had an uncle who was a priest. He also studied in a college run by the Jesuits in St. Boniface, Man.
"It's a mysterious thing," Gauthier said of his priesthood. "Why do people become nurses or doctors? The priesthood is as much a service profession as those two are."
And as Gauthier pointed out, becoming a priest in the 1950s was a big deal because clergymen enjoyed great authority and prestige in the community.
After graduating from college in St. Boniface in 1957, Gauthier, then 19, went straight into the seminary. He was ordained along with 12 others in 1963.
"It was the end of the first session of the Second Vatican Council. We were ushering in a new era and that was probably the best time in the history of the Church to be ordained. It was really exciting to come out and to know that we were opening some new frontiers."
But it also proved difficult as many decided to leave. "In the late '60s and early '70s a great number of my colleagues decided to leave the active ministry," recalled Gauthier. "Over 30 left (the priesthood) in the Archdiocese of Edmonton alone."
From that moment on the number of priests has steadily gone down "and we have a very, very heavy workload."
There used to be 12 priests serving six parishes in the city's south side. "Now we have three priests for the same area," Gauthier noted. "Numbers have been reduced so drastically that is hard to believe. And the population has increased."
In these circumstances a priest has to do what he can. "What I find hard is I can't do half of what I should be doing or would like to do so I just don't worry about it. I'm 67 years old and I just do what I can and what I can't do, I don't do."
Gauthier was brought up at the time of Pope Pius XII "and that was a triumphalist Church," he said. "So you had a great prestige in the Church and in the world."
"We had the Church moving in those years. We had priests and sisters galore and all of a sudden the bubble burst and all of that went away. And so it was a very challenging time to be a priest. Now all the sisters' convents, all the Church institutions are empty; the sisters are getting old, there are no replacements."
There are 30 seminarians at St. Joseph's Seminary today and that's a big deal, he said. "In 1959 we started the year with 112 seminarians."
Despite the challenges, Gauthier said his ministry is "very exciting," noting most of his inspiration and energy comes from his parishioners.
"What keeps me and any other priest going is my parishioners," he said. "It's really a strong support. They encourage you and sustain you. As they say, a third of the people think you are a superb guy, a third really don't care and a third don't even know who you are. That's how it goes."
Since his ordination Gauthier has served in many communities, including Vermilion, Wetaskiwin, Rocky Mountain House, Hinton and Edmonton. He has been serving the 700-family Assumption Parish for the past four years.
If the Church wants to attract more people into the priesthood, it has to change its antiquated model, the veteran pastor said.
New model of Church
"I think we have to change the model of the Church; we are no longer the triumphalist Church. We have to go to another model of the Church like the servant Church, the prophetic Church. We have to look at new models of priesthood. The model of the 1950s is no longer an appealing model today to young people."
What needs to be done? "I don't know what we have to do. I think we have to sit together and really think about that and then make some proposals about that." But, as Gauthier pointed out, "nobody has ever asked me what we are going to do in my 42 years of priesthood."
He noted the archdiocese went through the restructuring of parishes "but that wasn't really in-depth; that was just closing churches and patching holes. That was just to meet an immediate need but the situation is getting steadily, progressively dreary as we go along and so we have to do something."
Making celibacy optional and ordaining married men would be good steps in the right direction, he said. "Being a married priest I think could be an option. Somebody that goes into the seminary should perhaps have the option of getting married before ordination or not, just like the Ukrainian priests."
"Some people perhaps want to stay celibate but those who want to marry should be allowed to marry. I think they would be a lot happier. We don't live in the 1950s anymore. We live in the 21st century; let's get on with it."
"What keeps me and any other priest going is my parishioners."
- Fr. Clem Gauthier
Letter to the Editor - 03/21/05
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