Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 6, 2005
A servant of God moves on
Marguerite Bilodeau retires after serving three archbishops of Edmonton
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Marguerite Bilodeau is retiring after more than three decades of service to three archbishops of Edmonton.
Bilodeau, a lay religious and canon lawyer who has served as executive secretary to Archbishops Anthony Jordan, Joseph MacNeil and Thomas Collins as well as vice-chancellor and co-chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese, will retire at the end of June.
Rita Strauss, executive secretary of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, will replace her and assume the title of executive secretary to the archbishop.
"Thirty two years is enough," Bilodeau said. "It's time to move on. I have done the best job I could, so I am at peace with my decision."
Her retirement plans include visiting family and friends in her native Quebec and to continue helping young people in the Edmonton Archdiocese discern their vocations. "I feel this is what God is calling me to do at this time."
A member of the secular institute of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate since age 18, Bilodeau came to Edmonton in 1969 and began working at the chancery office as replacement secretary for Archbishop Jordan in July 1973.
Over the next three decades, she served with dedication and love, making the chancery a friendly place of service to the people of God.
Her good nature has touched countless people over the years. She loves people and people love her back.
Some 150 people, including bishops, priests, religious sisters and archdiocesan employees, showed up for an open house held in her honour at the Catholic Pastoral Centre May 25. They all stood in line for their chance to shake Bilodeau's hand, give her a hug and express their gratitude.
She welcomed everyone as she always does - with a bright, radiant smile.
Speakers at the open house spoke of a familiar Bilodeau: competent, friendly, caring - someone who has brought Christ's presence to many.
Collins thanked Bilodeau for her "loving presence" and her "extraordinary service" over the past 32 years.
"Your life and example, Margot, are treasured by us all," he said. "As a bishop, I appreciate very much the loving guidance and the profound apostolic wisdom that Margot shows so abundantly everywhere."
Bilodeau has touched the lives of countless people in the Edmonton Archdiocese in her years of "utterly devoted service," the archbishop said in an interview. She embodies the Christian saying that God is first, my neighbour is second and I am third, according to Collins. "That spirit of self-sacrifice just totally marks the life of Margot Bilodeau.
At the open house, Collins presented Bilodeau with a year's worth of tickets to the opera and an icon of the Virgin Mary.
Representatives of the Council of Priests, the Council of Women Religious and St. Joseph's Basilica, Bilodeau's parish since 1973, also paid tribute to Bilodeau at the open house.
"Margot brought knowledge and competence to the job," said MacNeil, who hired Bilodeau fulltime in 1973. "She's got a cheerful and pleasant disposition, enormous patience, a caring spirit, a listening heart and a genuine respect for every person she meets."
In an interview, MacNeil said Bilodeau was "far better" than a secretary. "She is the kind of a person who could be a CEO. She has those kinds of abilities and talents.
"You know how friendly she is, how kind she is, how caring she is, but she is just as competent as a secretary. She made my work much, much easier because she was so dependable and so loyal and so discreet."
Bilodeau handles dozens of phone calls each day and, when the archbishop isn't available, she answers people's questions as best as possible.
Sometimes people call to protest, to insult or to denounce, but Bilodeau never loses her cool, treating people with respect, courtesy and hospitality, MacNeil observed. "She has a wonderful ability to deal with people. I think sometimes people are glad the bishop is not available because that way they get a chance to talk to Margot."
Former chancellor Father Mike McCaffery said Bilodeau earned his admiration through her unparalleled dedication and commitment to the Church. "That always seems to be number one in her concerns," he said.
"And she is very effective in the role of vice-chancellor. You can trust her with any information. I trusted her highly and so did the bishops she worked for. And she was very supportive of me; she probably knew more canon law than I did."
Josee Marr, who has worked closely with Bilodeau at the chancery office for the past 15 years, described Bilodeau as a person who inspires. "I have learned a great deal about service, about patience and going the extra mile from Margot."
A native of Sherbrooke, Que., Bilodeau joined the secular institute of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at age 18 after working as a secretary in a lawyer's office in Sherbrooke. Institute members make promises of poverty, chastity and obedience, but otherwise remain in the world, living as single lay people and each continuing their trade or profession.
Before coming to Edmonton in 1969, she worked in Rome as a secretary for the Congregation for Religious. Originally she wanted to work in a tavern in order to reach out to patrons who might need spiritual assistance. But as she put it, the Lord had different plans.
In mid-1973 Jordan was desperately looking for someone to replace his own secretary, Andr‚e Nollet, who was ill. He needed someone for only a couple of months. Everyone suggested Bilodeau; after all, she had been a secretary at the Vatican.
She left after two months only to be recalled by MacNeil, who appointed Bilodeau permanently in September 1973. "He said there was enough work for two secretaries," Bilodeau recalled.
In a 2003 interview marking her 30th anniversary at the chancery office, Bilodeau said she has stayed for so long not for lack of opportunities. "I like the work," she said. "I felt that this is where the Lord wanted me to be."
Since her appointment, Bilodeau has been doing "a bit of everything," from answering calls to the archbishop and writing letters to making appointments and helping organize events. The archbishop's office gets an average of 50 calls a day, most of which require action. When Bilodeau can't find a solution, she refers the callers to "whoever can respond to the caller's questions."
"I do a lot of referrals," she explained. "We get a lot of calls regarding the faith, even from people from other churches."
Sometimes Bilodeau can be found working in her office to 7 p.m. or later. "I like to finish what I start," she said. "I want to start the next day with a clean slate. My father taught me not to leave for tomorrow what I can do today."
Her dedication and competence has often led to additional responsibilities. In 1977 Bilodeau was appointed vice-chancellor and served in that position until 1998, when she became co-chancellor. This means she shares the duties of running the chancery office with chancellor Father Greg Bittman.
One highlight of her career was the preparation and visit of Pope John Paul to Edmonton. "That (preparation) lasted for more than a year and was very, very exciting."
There have been challenges too. "I think the thing that I found the most difficult was the time when Archbishop MacNeil recommended Catholic Social Services withdraw from the United Way (because United Way was funding Planned Parenthood)," she recalled. "That I found very difficult because I got phone calls of people who were just so upset and frustrated with the archbishop's decision."
For the past 30 years Bilodeau has been heavily involved in promoting religious vocations. From the early 1970s until 2001, she represented the archdiocese on the Alberta Vocation Directors committee and is now an active member of the Edmonton Vocation Directors committee.
In the midst of it all, Bilodeau completed her licentiate in canon law through correspondence.
Bilodeau always finds time for prayer, which she does in the course of her duties or while taking her lunch hour walk on the Pastoral Centre grounds. "Our spirituality calls us to be spiritual all the time, even when we are waiting for our turn at the photocopier," she once said.