Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 15, 2007
Dogrib take their priest home
Revered Oblate priest is buried at Wha Ti Mission
Fr. Jean Amourous
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
For almost 40 years, Father Jean Amourous ministered with a kind heart in the Northwest Territories. He brought the Gospel to the Dogrib people in several missions, including Rae and Wha Ti, near Great Slave Lake.
The Oblate missionary was so beloved by the Dogrib that in 1996, they dedicated their rugged annual canoe trip and portage along their ancestral trails in his honour. A film was made to document the voyage.
Died at 81
Amourous will be remembered for his outgoing personality and devotion to the Scriptures. Following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's disease, he died Dec. 18 in St. Albert. He was 81.
Oblate Father Camille Piche met Amourous in Rae, some 100 km northwest of Yellowknife. Piche was stationed in Rae from 1964 to 1966.
"He was jovial and extremely well liked. He knew and spoke their language very well," said Piche.
The Oblates have been serving in the North since 1858. Their motto is to evangelize the poor - something Amourous did with all his heart, Piche said.
Amourous began his religious studies in France, in 1946. On Feb. 24, 1951, he was ordained by the archbishop of Avignon. Later that year, he was sent to Northern Canada. He served his entire ministry in that region.
He was never afraid to show his human frailties. It was something that endeared him to the people even more, Piche said.
"He adapted pretty well, but at times he got into trouble. Maybe his dog team would run away from him. The people were able to help him and take care of him," Piche said with a chuckle.
Amourous once showed Piche how to start a small outboard motor, but he could not get it going. He suggested Piche give it a try.
Of course, Piche started it immediately.
"I noticed he wasn't pulling hard enough to get good compression, so I yanked it."
A gifted linguist and musician, Amourous quickly learned the Dene dialect and Dogrib drum music. As a young missionary, he undertook the canoe trip with a small group of youth and elders. The trip contains more than 90 portages. The purpose is to learn the local topography, but also to learn respect, teamwork and spirituality.
He translated numerous sacred texts into Dene, making the Gospel easily available to the Dogrib people.
"He absolutely was a holy man," Piche said. "He had a beautiful soul. When visiting the hospital at Fort Smith, he spoke Dogrib with the children. He brought them dry meat. He was a good counsellor and advisor - truly a good Oblate."
Amourous was an adored shepherd because he served with love, continually honouring the rich Dogrib traditions. He was highly respected by the area's elders who play a recording of Silent Night made when Amourous sang, in Dene, during a Christmas Mass, every December.
He enjoyed travelling to the various communities by dogsled or by boat.
Amourous retired in 1990, moving to Foyer Grandin. Until about three years ago, he was brought to the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage. He sat in his wheelchair and was greeted by dozens of Dogrib who make the journey every year.
"They think so highly of him that whenever they came to the city, I don't know how many families and groups visited him. Even near the end when he was unable to communicate, they stayed and prayed," Piche said.
"At Lac Ste. Anne, there were long line-ups just to shake his hand. It was very touching."
Following a Mass of the Resurrection in St. Albert, a Mass of Christian Burial and internment was celebrated at the Wha Ti Mission Cemetery where Amourous was laid to rest.
"The fact that the people wanted him to be buried in their midst is a high honour," Piche said. "I think he left an outstanding legacy and presence."