Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 2, 2005
Northern servant dies at 92
French-born Oblate gave his life to God and the Arctic
By CAMILLE PICHE, omi
Special to the WCR
Brother Auguste Josset, a passionate servant of the Lord and his northern peoples, died March 31 at age 92.
Born in Rennes, France, Josset lost his father at war and was raised by his grandmother. He served in the French Infantry for 18 months then joined the French Marines taking an apprenticeship as electrician.
On a trip to Syria, he travelled to Jerusalem and wrote "It is impossible to tell you the powerful emotions I felt on Calvary. I again offered myself to Jesus and took the vow to serve him all my life (June 13, 1935)."
Visiting Vancouver that year, he met Gabriel Breynat, Bishop of Mackenzie, who asked him to work for the northern missions.
"I am not cut out to be a religious," Josset replied. "I'd like to have a wife and children."
But he consulted a priest and was told: "It is God's will: Go."
So in December, Josset entered as postulant at Berder. "It is most difficult, but I enjoy here an interior peace I have never known before. I have only one desire: To go to the Far North and devote myself to the rugged life of an Oblate brother."
He made his first vows on June 24, 1937 and was assigned to the Mackenzie Diocese. Not far enough north for Josset, he wrote his bishop: "My great desire is to be sent to the most difficult, the most isolated mission."
So in 1938, he was sent to Aklavik where he remained till 1954, serving also the mission of Tuktoyaktuk and acting as engineer on the mission boat, Notre Dame de Lourdes. After a stint in Fort Rae from 1955 to 1965, he served Fort Norman and Fort Franklin, then lived in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, all the while serving the Arctic region from 1965 to 1990.
His novitiate in Lebret, Sask., in 1945 was his only time out of the North and he couldn't wait to get back. "I am in exile here and miss the North terribly. Put a wild bird in a cage and it will finish by dying of sadness."
Basically an electrician, he was also a mechanic, boiler man, plumber, boat engineer, woodcutter (cutting firewood for the hospital and school in Aklavik) hunter, fisherman (putting up 10,000 fish a year), carpenter, painter, roofer, maintenance man (school, church and mission), cook, undertaker (digging graves in the permafrost). He worked relentlessly.
Hard on himself, his health suffered and he wrote in 1971: "It is 16 years since I last took a holiday. During the last 10 years, I worked feverishly and now my health is in shambles, my nerves are shot and I cannot focus with one eye. On top of that, I can't sleep. Each one has his cross to carry."
Yet he had a terrific sense of humour. "I find that life is an incredible comedy. I have the impression of being in a circus and often want to laugh."
But the cold took its toll as he wrote: "Here at Cambridge Bay with the northwest wind, we froze in our hut all day. The weather is minus 40. It's like our spiritual life: At times it's cold, at times it's less cold - rarely warm."
The cold he suffered would eventually cause him crippling arthritis.
Leaving Yellowknife in 1995, Josset retired at Placid Place in Edmonton. On Sept 1, 2002, he moved to Foyer Lacombe in St. Albert where he died.
Josset is buried in the Oblate cemetery in St. Albert.
It's (The Arctic Weather) like our spiritual life: At times it's cold, at times it's less cold - rarely warm."
- Br. Auguste Josset
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