Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 30, 2005
Priests united in friendship for 50 years
Quartet to celebrate anniversary June 6
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Leaving St. Andrew School and Grade 9 behind some 60 years ago, a young John Hesse was given a copy of the New Testament by the principal who had written inside that she hoped one day to hear him teach and explain the contents of the book.
The fact that someone he respected so highly thought he could accomplish that task meant a lot to the son of a carpenter.
"When I entered St. Joseph High School, we filled out a form stating what we would like to be. I wrote down 'priest,'" said Hesse, pastor of Holy Family Parish in St. Albert.
"During high school, I sort of forgot about writing it until I was reminded by St. Joe's principal when we were graduating who said if I still thought of it, I might go to the seminary."
Hesse admitted he had some reservations, partly because his father wanted him working by his side. He even skipped on his first appointment at the old downtown seminary by St. Joachim Church.
Visit from the bishop
But when Archbishop J.H. MacDonald paid him a visit at home and after his father drove him to the seminary, saying if others could do it, he certainly could, Hesse walked inside encouraged to succeed. And that he did.
The Edmonton Archdiocese will celebrate a milestone June 6 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Joseph's Basilica when Hesse, along with classmates Msgr. Frank Patsula and Fathers Duncan MacDonnell and Lucien Morissette, are honoured on their 50th anniversary of priestly ordination.
The evening Mass and reception will also remember the life of the recently deceased Msgr. Don MacDonald, another graduate of the class of 1955. The class' motto was Cor Unum et Anima Una (Of One Heart and One Mind) because the men remained close friends.
"I enjoyed those days," Hesse recalled. "The seminary was 60 men all going in the same direction training for the priesthood. It was over before I realized it. It went quickly."
Patsula accompanied Hesse right from high school. He thought about entering the seminary while only an altar boy because he was impressed with the priests. He wanted to be just like them.
"It was a blessing we got along so well together and kept in contact. We supported each other for 50 years," Patsula said.
The only constant is change and Patsula remembers being told in the seminary that many aspects of the Church would remain the same. Mass would always be spoken in Latin, he heard. Ten years later came the Second Vatican Council.
"In truth, I think those changes were for the better. For myself, I was blessed when Archbishop (Anthony) Jordan asked me to teach canon law at the seminary. I was named a pastor but the archbishop changed his mind," Patsula said.
"I always wonder how I would have done as a parish priest because it is a difficult life. But I found fulfillment teaching at the seminary and working on the marriage tribunal."
Patsula is grateful the archdiocese will acknowledge MacDonald, the former vicar general who died Jan. 10.
"He was a great man; a prince of a priest. He was generous with his time and faithful to his commitment," Patsula said. "He might not have been the best golfer, but we all struggle with that."
MacDonnell was 25 when he entered the seminary. It took four or five years to make up his mind. He had a lot of experience as a Second World War veteran. He also taught school for a year. MacDonnell struggled until he said, "God, your will, not mine."
"When I got out here from Nova Scotia, the fellowship with the priests and the seminarians was wonderful. The old seminary was small, overcrowded and cold in the winter, but it was good. It kept us together," said MacDonnell, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels in Fort Saskatchewan.
"In those days, life in the seminary was not like it is today. We weren't allowed out except for a half-day a week if we had a doctor's appointment or if we had an emergency, and someone always came with us. We had to wear our black clothes.
"But rules were rules. It meant a lot as far as discipline is concerned. Those were the times and we didn't question it."
MacDonnell agrees that Vatican II was an enormous change for the Church.
"It was a wonderful and exciting time. We looked forward to a new opening. As Pope John XXIII said, 'Open the windows. Let in some fresh air.' I think it was also for the people of God. The priests were no longer the only cog in the wheel. Unfortunately, it hasn't followed as much as we might have expected. I think we still have a long way to go," he said.
As for the biggest change in himself? "I think I've put on weight."
Upon his ordination, Morissette was assigned to his home parish in Morinville, then part of the Edmonton Archdiocese. In 1980, he received his appointment to St. Gabriel's in Athabasca in the St. Paul Diocese where he has served out his ministry.
He is looking forward to seeing his friends again.
"We used to meet every year, without fail. We were a close group at the seminary and it continued throughout the years," he said.
And did Hesse's junior high principal ever hear him preach? Yes many years later. Sister Monica Nearing was invited back from her Montreal retirement home in 1971 to attend Mass when Hesse was pastor of St. Andrew's.
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