Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 28, 2005
Oblate feeds 'Christ in need' in the inner city
Priest celebrates his 90th birthday feeding Edmonton's hungry
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
He is a true Christian," says Harry Grey of the frail priest running the soup kitchen at the Bissell Centre. "Who else in his condition would do this? He is a great guy, very positive."
Grey, 20, was referring to Father Yvon Levaque, a retired Oblate who spends every Friday morning at the inner-city Bissell Centre serving hot meals to the poor.
Despite being hooked up to an oxygen tank, Levaque was on his feet serving hot meals for close to an hour March 18, the day of his 90th birthday.
Around 200 men and women in the line-up for the meal sang Happy Birthday for him and most signed his birthday card. Levaque thanked them for the card and then led them in prayer.
"I feel good helping others," the Oblate said in an interview. "Helping people is what keeps me alive." But there is a deeper reason. "The Scriptures say you have to feed the poor."
The priest's birthday cake was later served as part of a meal that included hot stew, hot dogs, oranges and juice. Levaque, who spent $200 on the meal, also handed out chocolate bars to mark his birthday.
A hungry Christ
"I see the figure of Christ in each one of them," Levaque said. "I see a hungry Christ; I see a Christ in need."
"Lots of people here are homeless; if Father didn't offer this meal, many of us wouldn't know where to turn," said Grey, a regular at the soup kitchen. "He is a very good inspiration."
After the meal, the Oblate sat behind the main counter to distribute small crosses to those who wanted one. He ran out of crosses in a minute. He is also known to offer a prayer to anyone in need or to provide words of comfort or advice.
An assortment of volunteers from St. Albert and the Bissell Centre also work in the soup kitchen.
"I think he is great; in spite of his health he comes here every Friday to give these people a hot meal," said Bissell Centre volunteer Rachel Kennedy, who has been working along with Levaque for the past five years. "He is working for the Lord among his brothers and sisters."
Levaque was outfitted with an oxygen tank a year ago because of various medical problems, including severe asthma.
Born in St. Eugene, Ont., Levaque joined the Oblates after reading books on the order's missions in the North. He believes his call from God came through reading those books. "I wanted to go and evangelize the Indians."
He was ordained in the University of Ottawa chapel June 24, 1940 and his first mission was to Fort Nelson, B.C., more than 1,500 kms from Fort Vermilion. "It took me 15 days to reach Fort Nelson by dog team," he recalled. "After three days you knew everything about a dog - from nose to tail."
Levaque spent 10 years in Fort Nelson, before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force as a chaplain during the Korean War. He was stationed in Tacoma, Wash., and flew regularly to Korea and Japan to serve the troops as a priest.
That tour of duty over, he served as principal of an Indian school in Lower Post, B.C., and a school in Cardston, Alta., before going to Ottawa to head a commission that oversaw Oblate schools and missions across the country. He stayed in that position until the Oblates dissolved the commission in 1975.
On Oct. 28, 1987, then Gov. Gen. Jeanne Sauve presented Levaque with the Order of Canada in recognition of his work in "Indian communities in the Canadian North with dedication for more than 40 years."
Levaque did parish work in the Ottawa region until his official retirement in 1988, when he returned to Edmonton and began running the Bissell Centre soup kitchen.
Levaque runs the soup kitchen every Friday from 10 until noon and serves at least 10 gallons of stew. Cooks at St. Albert's Foyer Lacombe, the local retirement home for the Oblates, prepare the food.
Levaque raises money from different sources, including his own, to buy the food and drink. He gets nothing from the government for the soup kitchen. "Alberta doesn't take care of its poor," he says. "They spend millions in celebrations, but you can't get a cent from them for the poor."
Asked if he will ever retire, Levaque says he might once he finds someone who is "organized, dedicated and responsible" to take the operation over.
"I can't just leave. For some people it's the only solid meal they have all week."
Levaque says those who want to donate to his cause can contact him at Foyer Lacombe, Room 306, 1 St. Vital Ave. St. Albert, AB. T8N 1K1. His phone number is 418-6862. He can also be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letter to the Editor - 05/02/05
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