Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 5, 2007
A priest's priest gave his life to the poor, prayer, youth
Msgr. Allen Reynolds, spent 70 years in service to God and mankind
"People must have respect for each other. That's the key."
Msgr. Allen Reynolds
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
He began his priesthood in an era when some priests lived in difficult circumstances, sleeping in church basements or the sacristy, or going deeply into debt to support their work.
Msgr. Allen Reynolds focused his attention on helping the poor and the young. It was said that his willingness to help the poor was such that the unemployed had written his name on every boxcar across Canada.
One time in Red Deer a parishioner gave him a new coat, but later that day he took it off and gave it to a needy man.
"That's the kind of guy he was," says his lifelong friend Father Don Stein of Red Deer.
"Anyone who needed help would always go to Monsignor and he could never say no. He was always available to the outcast.
"He was always attentive to the needs of the poor to the point of giving his own coat away."
Joy to the poor
Reynolds, who died Oct. 29 at age 95, dedicated his life to bringing delight to disadvantaged children, hope to the inner city poor and his priestly ministry to parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Ordained in Halifax June 24, 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, Reynolds celebrated the 70th anniversary of his ordination at St. Joseph's Basilica less than a year and a half ago.
He will be remembered for his kindness and gentleness, as well as for his deep faith.
"What a holy man!" exclaimed Margot Bilodeau, former vice chancellor and executive secretary to three archbishops.
"He was a living saint. He lived his life according to Jesus and reflected the love of God for all."
Renowned for his high energy in the past, Reynolds slowed down considerably in recent years, moving around with the help of a wheeled walker.
But he still played the piano and spent the majority of his day in prayer, attending daily Mass at Foyer Lacombe and praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
"He was a priests' priest and a man of holiness and gentleness and kindness," Stein said.
"I'll remember him especially as a man of prayer. His brother priests were very important to him and they were always made welcome at his door."
Reynolds loved children and spent 20 years promoting the Scouting movement and then helped start the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Edmonton. He worked another 40 years helping young people through that organization.
For his efforts, he was awarded the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award a few years ago. Groups like the Scouts and the Boys' and Girls' Clubs are important because they can influence children to become responsible adults, he said in a 2006 WCR interview. "They are programs of formation for young people. They are very well organized."
Reynolds' philosophy of life was simple: "People must have respect for each other. That's the key."
Born in Toronto, Reynolds was the son of a banker who moved the family around Canada until settling in Antigonish, N.S.
After ordination, he headed west to help meet the need for priests in mission territory.
In the interview, he remembered Edmonton in 1936, when rattling streetcars bustled along Jasper Avenue. They used to shake the foundation of St. Joseph's Cathedral enough to disturb Mass when the cathedral was still a lower level crypt church.
"They were noisy because of the metal tracks, I suppose," he said. "Buses finally replaced them and I remember thinking it was strangely quiet. It took a few days to get used to it."
Altogether, Reynolds spent 19 years of active ministry at the cathedral. He also served in Trochu, Camrose, Sacred Heart Parish in Red Deer and St. Edmund's, Sacred Heart and St. Anthony's parishes in Edmonton.
He also served as interim vice-chancellor of the archdiocese and a part-time teacher at St. Joseph's High School.
A holy man
"I always saw him as a holy man, very gentle and very kind," Bilodeau said.
"His homilies were always very inspiring; he was able to speak in words that people would understand Jesus' message."
Reynolds also spent a lot of time hearing Confessions and he was a much sought-after spiritual director.
At Sacred Heart Parish and then at the cathedral in his retirement, Reynolds spent a lot of his time helping the poor and listening to them, recalled Bilodeau, now a vocations counsellor.
But some abused his good disposition.
"One man he had helped all along at one time forced him to get money for him at the bank machine," Bilodeau recalled with sadness.
Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil, who will preside at the monsignor's prayer vigil at the basilica Nov. 4, met Reynolds in Edmonton in 1947, discovering the two men had travelled similar paths.
Both were from Nova Scotia and graduates of St. Francis Xavier University and Holy Heart Seminary in Halifax.
"Msgr. Reynolds is someone we have always looked to as a model," MacNeil told the WCR on the occasion of Reynolds's 70th anniversary in 2006. "He has given his life to his people and his brother priests, cementing a solidarity among them."
Stein knew Reynolds since he was a child and says the monsignor was a big influence in his own priesthood.
"As a little boy I attended his altar boy camps at Lac Ste. Anne during the war days in the early 1940s," he recalled.
"At St. Edmund's, we didn't have enough (boys) to make our own camp so we used to join up with Msgr. Reynolds and the group from the cathedral. He taught us leather and woodcrafts and he helped me catch my first fish.
"He was a scoutmaster at the cathedral so he was very good at outdoor things and crafts and things of that nature."
Reynolds was a father figure for many boys, especially for Stein.
"He was sort of my mentor and he had a lot to do with my becoming a priest."
After his own ordination, Stein was briefly assigned to St. Edmund's Parish under Reynolds and then much later he invited Reynolds to serve his early retirement years with him in Camrose.
As a junior priest, Stein didn't own a car and didn't know how to drive, so Reynolds reached into his own pocket to pay for his driving lessons through AMA.
An important change Reynolds observed during his ministry is the growth of ecumenism.
An ecumenical heart
During the 2006 interview, he said ecumenism touched close to his heart because his mother was Presbyterian, becoming Catholic after meeting his father.
"If you look back at the results of the Second Vatican Council, that made a big difference concerning ecumenism," he said.
"It's when we began to realize there were good people everywhere - not just official members of the Catholic Church. There are wonderful men and women in many ministerial associations.
"It was a great experience working with people from other denominations."
Archbishop Richard Smith will preside at Reynolds' funeral Mass at the basilica Nov. 5 at 10 a.m.