Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 17, 2006
Holy man of the North
A devout Oblate missionary, Fr. Jean Denis served the NWT for 55 years
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"He was a holy man, always ready to serve the people even if that caused him some inconvenience."
- Fr. André Brault
"He became a missionary in 1938 and never looked back," Piche said. "He carried on - his strong faith always guiding him."
During his years in the North, Denis witnessed tremendous modernization and growth of the settlements.
However, traditional values and Mass celebrations remained simple and unaltered.
"When I first arrived in Deline (Fort Franklin), there were maybe 300 people. There might have been 700 when I left," he recalled in a late 2003 WCR interview.
"Practically everybody came to celebrate Christmas. The Mass and all of the songs were the same.
"We would sing the songs in the Rabbitskin dialect. I remember the small children being clothed in rabbit parkas."
Raymond Taniton, who was grand chief of Deline from 1991 to 1995, said the priest was highly respected in the North because he took the time to know the people.
"Father Denis lifted up our spirits," he said.
When Denis left the North in 1995 to retire at Foyer Lacombe, the native people gave him a new set of drums as a sign of appreciation and would visit him often, bringing him all types of gifts.
"He was very beloved, very appreciated," Piche said. "They loved him because he spoke their language, he shared their lives, he baptized their babies, he taught them catechism, prepared them for Confirmation, blessed their weddings and buried their dead.
"He was there always for them."
In late 1998, after five years of retirement, Denis volunteered to return to the North when he learned there would not be a priest present for Christmas.
He celebrated Christmas services at Norman Wells and Tulita that year.
"He was a holy man, always ready to serve the people even if that caused him some inconvenience," noted Father André Brault, a northern missionary living at Foyer Lacombe since his retirement two years ago.
"As a priest, he lived fully the rule of the Oblates."
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