Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 7, 2008
Otterson always wanted to be a priest
After 60 years, he looks back on life as educator and pastor
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"I've had a very full life with some ups and downs but mostly ups."
On June 20 his former students, colleagues, parishioners and family will show Otterson their appreciation by marking his 60th anniversary of priesthood and his 85th birthday with a dinner at the Italian Cultural Centre, 14230-133 Ave.
While teaching at St. Joseph and St. Mary's high schools from 1949 until 1961, Otterson moonlighted as assistant pastor at St. Anthony's Parish.
Then, while teaching at Austin O'Brien from 1963 to 1985, he assisted at Assumption, St. James and St. Michael-Resurrection parishes. In 1962-63 Otterson also served as chaplain of St. Joseph's University College, the Newman Club at the University of Alberta and taught Latin at St. Joseph Seminary.
During his career Otterson also served as the Alberta bishops' representative in the Alberta Catholic Schools Trustees' Association (1988-98) and chair of the archdiocesan Council of Priests. Pope John Paul II named him a monsignor in 1991.
Otterson retired from Edmonton Catholic Schools in 1985 and from 1986 to 1990 he served as associate pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish. He was named fulltime pastor of St. John in 1990 and remained in that position until his retirement from ministry in 1998. Otterson, however, continues to say Mass on a regular basis for the Sisters of Providence.
Born in Edmonton June 25, 1923, Otterson knew as a young boy he wanted to be a priest. He and his three younger sisters were brought up at the cathedral parish where the lad was an altar server and met many "wonderful" priests.
"I was brought up in a family of prayer," he recalled. "My parents were people of prayer."
Otterson attended Grandin School and then St. Joseph's High School where he met and befriended more priests, who encouraged him to consider the priesthood. He entered the seminary after graduation but, as he put it, he didn't see any visions or hear any voices calling him to the priesthood. His call was deep within him since he was a young boy.
"It's like some kids want to be a fireman or a policeman," he explained. "I felt God calling me to be a priest. I was impressed with the priests I knew and I wanted to be like them."
"I am not going to rule by force."
Otterson completed his bachelor of arts at the University of Alberta while at the seminary and received his teaching degree in 1949, a year after his ordination. "I am very happy the archbishop allowed me to become a teacher," he said. "I love teenagers, I love people and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to teach."
While teachers were generally hard on students at the time Otterson decided early in his career to be kind and compassionate to them.
"I am not going to rule by force," he thought. Why? Because the model of Christ he knew was that of a kind and compassionate teacher - "a man of the people who loved his people."
His approach worked. Today Otterson remains popular among his former students. He is regularly invited for dinners, celebrations and sleepovers. "I'm very lucky," he said.
During the interview he pulled out a number of letters and cards, including one from a woman thanking him for having taught her how to be successful as a human being.
He also pulled out a 2006 University of Lethbridge student magazine featuring an interview with Prof. Kas Mazurek, a former student of Otterson at Austin O'Brien.
"One of my teachers was Father Felix Otterson. A remarkable man," Mazurek told the magazine. "He stands out for me and my high school friends because of his academic and personal qualities. As a teacher he was incredibly competent and well rounded. Complementing his professional competence was his genuinely human character. It was obvious he deeply cared about his students and wanted us to succeed to the best of our abilities."
Tickets for Otterson's anniversary celebration are $50 each and can be obtained from John Acheson at 434-5754 or Horace Chyzowski at 465-0552.
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