Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 29, 2007
New Archbishop looks to the spiritual core
Pettipas has the heart of a pastor
By BILL GLEN
"I think the age of 10 is ideal - the age when children know a lot. They are intrigued by life, beginning to acquire a certain wisdom."
- Archbishop Gerard Pettipas
"Archbishop Guimond has always been a very gentle, pastoral man. That came through in his leadership as bishop," Pettipas said.
"Given the breadth of this diocese, there are some real challenges. He always struck a good pose as a loving father."
Born in Halifax Sept. 6, 1950, Pettipas is one of four children of a military family who lived on several bases of the Royal Canadian Air Force. His father was an administrator in the accounts department.
While stationed in Portage La Prairie, the then 13-year-old Pettipas was inspired to examine religious life by a diocesan priest. The family returned to Halifax, where Pettipas began writing to religious orders to see what they had to offer.
"I've often thought that what has inspired me to stay (a Redemptorist) is probably different than what inspired me to go in the first place. I was 15 years old and what does a 15-year-old know about charism? Very little," Pettipas said.
The future archbishop as a young boy
"When I was at that age, I somehow felt I wanted to be a religious. In some ways, I was surer of that than being a priest. I felt very fond of religious life; the vowed life; community."
"I had been writing to all kinds of religious orders, receiving their brochures. I received all kinds of mail. When I got the response from the Redemptorists, the vocations director had noticed that I lived on the same street as a man who had been in the seminary with him," he said.
"He figured that was the connection with the Redemptorists. But I didn't know who he was talking about. I wrote back saying if he lived down the street, I hadn't met him yet."
Two Redemptorist missionaries came to Halifax in 1965 and preached a mission at Pettipas' home parish. It was a time when the Second Vatican Council was coming to an end and the Church was alive with a spirit of renewal.
A few months later, the Redemptorist vocations director was in Halifax and he called Pettipas to arrange a meeting with the teenager.
Over a cup of coffee, he asked Pettipas what he thought about attending St. Mary's minor seminary in Brockville, Ont.
I think (the church) needs people of strong faith for its foundation.
The priest left behind an application form. He suggested Pettipas might want to discuss the matter with his pastor, a diocesan priest. The lad obeyed and was pretty much read the riot act about the Redemptorists.
"He told me, 'They'll brainwash you. If you join them, they will make you miserable.' I thought the stories would never be that bad.
"The next morning (Easter Sunday) I was serving high Mass and one of the curates, on loan from Antigonish, was presiding. He came up to me after Mass and said the Redemptorists are not like I'd been told. All (the pastor) wanted was for me to become a diocesan priest in Halifax," he said.
Pettipas talked to his parents that summer. He told them that if he didn't go to Brockville in the fall, he would never know. And if he went and it didn't work, he could always come home. So he went.
"I was impressed by the Redemptorists' preaching. I suppose as I came to know the order more, I have been most drawn to their strong community life and prayer. We seek out the abandoned - those who are not being reached by the Church and try to include them."
Pettipas admitted that by becoming an archbishop, he must distance himself from the Redemptorist community life he enjoyed for many years.
"I find the thought of not living in the community and sharing your life was probably the hardest thing to get used to. Our provincial (superior) keeps assuring me that just as St. Alphonsus - our founder - became a bishop and was sent to a poor and rural diocese, I am as much a missionary in being bishop of Grouard-McLennan as I was living in our community.
"That's some consolation. Still at the heart is the Eucharist."
Although he never met him, Pettipas' great-uncle was Bishop Edward Jennings. Originally from Saint John, N.B., Jennings was a priest of the Edmonton Archdiocese from his ordination in 1925 until his appointment in 1941 as auxiliary bishop of Vancouver.
Father Pettipas celebrates Mass after his ordination in 1977.
Jennings was assistant pastor (1925-27) and rector (1937-41) of St. Joseph's Cathedral. He also served as secretary to Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary (1927-34) and as archdiocesan chancellor (1934-41).
In 1946, he became the first bishop of Kamloops and, in 1952, the first bishop of Fort William, Ont. (today's Thunder Bay). He retired in 1969 and died in 1980.
Pettipas grew up hearing his mother tell stories about "Uncle Ned, the bishop." Jennings' sister was a religious with the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception, based in Saint John.
"Our family wasn't super Catholic, or anything. We didn't gather every evening and say the rosary. There was an ordinary Catholicity to our home. It never struck me as odd to have a bishop in the family. We always had a high regard for clergy," he said.
Living on a military base restricted access to the Church. A priest usually came to celebrate Sunday Mass on base. The Pettipas family always attended.
The Sisters of Charity of Halifax came on site Wednesday afternoons after school to teach catechism to the children.
After finishing his bachelor of arts at the University of Windsor in 1972, Pettipas studied theology in Montreal for a year and then went to Toronto for his novitiate. He received his master of divinity degree from the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto and his master's degree in spirituality and counselling from St. Joseph's College in West Hartford, Conn.
He professed his religious vows in 1973 and was ordained a priest May 7, 1977 in Toronto by Bishop Thomas Fulton. Following his ordination, Pettipas served as associate pastor at St. Teresa Parish in St. John's, Nfld.
He was then vocation director and part of the Redemptorist parish mission team in Ontario. From 1990 to 1992, he was rector and director of Holy Redeemer College Retreat Centre in Windsor, Ont., after which he worked in youth ministry from 1992 to 1995.
Pettipas has served as vicar of the Edmonton-Toronto Province of the Redemptorists for three terms and has been a member of the order's extraordinary provincial council multiple times.
Pettipas believes there is a spiritual core in everyone. In young people, the sense of the spirit is very strong, he says.
"I think the age of 10 is ideal - the age when children know a lot. They are intrigued by life, beginning to acquire a certain wisdom. They reflect on things that have begun to make sense. They can get almost fixated and become experts on things like dinosaurs, or trains," he said.
"They have a certain self-confidence where they don't mind introducing themselves to strangers. They can be very delightful.
"As they age, I don't think they lose their spiritual paths. But things happen to them. They can get distracted for a time. It's like the spiritual is overshadowed.
Gerard Pettipas, then 22, is greeted by well-wishers after making his first vows as a Redemptorist in 1973.
"It's bad when they become obsessed with self. Parents become concerned when it affects their spiritual lives. They can have a great fear and I really feel for them."
Faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ are the two most important aspects of drawing people to the Church or to religious life, he said.
"The most we can do is help people get in touch with Christ and if there is any lasting effect to any of it, they discover that Christ is real. Then they can question whether anything else in their lives is more worthy than the Lord. It's what draws them to religious life. They learn it is more real than anything else."
He said it's unfortunate that movies, posters and the propaganda around the military often glorify war in order to get people to sign up.
"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is glorious or glamorous about war. It isn't bad to be in the military, but the whole idea of fighting is not the right way to resolve the conflicts we are facing in the world," he said.
"I feel differently about Iraq that I do Afghanistan. I'm glad we are not in Iraq. We entered into Afghanistan with a lot of good faith. I think our soldiers are there in good faith. It is always regrettable to experience the casualties we and the Afghanis are facing.
"I wish the world was different than it is, but I do recognize there are some conflicts around the globe where force seems to be the only way, right now, that the world seems to know what to do."
And about President George W. Bush's recent announcement that the United States will send more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq?
"He just doesn't get it. I think the majority of the American people are saying they want to get out of there. Bush has said their strategy is to get out of there. And then he says they will send more troops and spend more money. It just isn't right."
The Church's greatest need today is to maintain its greatest strength - the faith of the people, Pettipas said.
"I feel a need to get out to see places and meet people."
- Archbishop Gerard Pettipas
"If there is anything that is a threat to the Church, it is that faith is weakened, or threatened. I think it needs people of strong faith for its foundation.
"Some people say we need vocations, and we do. I have little doubt that at the grassroots level, if there are people of faith, the vocations will be there. They will come from those kinds of homes. But there is the weakening of family life and a secularized society compared to, say, my own childhood, that is a threat."
Pettipas is passionate about celebrating the sacraments and preaching when he feels he has something to say. He loves seeing people enjoying life.
"It strikes me sometimes at Sunday Mass during Communion. I can almost be brought to tears when people come up. I tell myself that I know these people - I have experienced some of the pain and some of the joy. I love it."
Pettipas is reluctant to talk about his strengths as a priest and what gifts he will bring as archbishop. But others are not so reluctant.
Father Mike Brehl has known Pettipas for more than 30 years. He said the appointment of his old friend as archbishop was a terrific choice.
"I think that on a human level, Gerry feels that the enormous task of becoming archbishop is bigger than he is. I think that is true of anybody," said Brehl, provincial superior of the Redemptorists' Edmonton-Toronto province.
"Yet, he will approach it with confidence because he knows God would not call him there if God was not also going to supply the grace he needs to carry out what is required. I have absolutely no doubt he is the right person for this."
Pettipas enjoys a deep prayer life, contemplating on the sacraments and the Eucharist. He prefers Morning Prayer and meditation when there are few distractions. He attempts to celebrate Mass daily and tries to maintain a regular schedule for Reconciliation.
"Anybody who comes to Confession is coming to humility because basically they are saying what's there," he said.
There was a feeling among many parishioners in Grande Prairie that once the new church was completed, their beloved priest would be called back East.
Paulette Patterson serves on the building and fundraising committees.
"He was second in charge for the Redemptorists for Canada, so he may have moved to Toronto," said Patterson, a retired realtor.
"Having him become our archbishop with him moving to McLennan is easier to take. At least we'll have him close by.
"We can travel to McLennan or he can travel to Grande Prairie. We're very happy to have him close to home."
One of his first orders of business will be to ordain Deacon Joseph Jacobson to the priesthood Feb. 2 in McLennan. He will also have to appoint a pastor for the parish he left behind in Grande Prairie.
Jacobson is the former bishop of the Alberta Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
"The most we can do is help people get in touch with Christ."
"I find it awesome that it is him and the whole thing about him being a bishop," Pettipas said. "Within a week or two of me being ordained a bishop, I will ordain him.
"In a sense it is somewhat humbling with his role in the Lutheran Church. He exercised leadership that I exercise in this archdiocese."
Pettipas anticipates he will then spend time travelling around the archdiocese. He would like to drop in on a community unannounced to witness the spontaneity, but will respect others' wishes if they would prefer to know that he is coming.
"I feel a need to get out to see places and meet people. Not having a bishop in place for a while, some administrative duties need to be taken care of.
"We are not in great financial shape so we will have to look at how we will address some of the changes we must do to turn that around. We cannot continue the way we have been operating. We would be bankrupt in no time."
While he was pastor in Grande Prairie, several men approached Pettipas inquiring about a permanent diaconate program. At the time, he said it was up to the next archbishop. Now he says it's a possibility.
His operational style is not to work alone. Pettipas plans on sharing governance with others.
"I don't think I have all of the gifts and wisdom necessary to run the archdiocese," he said. "I want to have a number of councils and committees in place to further the communication within the archdiocese."
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