Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 7, 2010
Teacher evolves into joyful parish priest
Reluctant to enter parish ministry, Fr. Bernie Gillience says Dominic Savio Parish was a fine experience
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Father Bernard Gilliece, a Salesian priest, has plenty of important milestones to celebrate this month.
Within days of each other, he marks his 50th year as a priest, 60th year as a Salesian and his 78th birthday. He recently announced his retirement from parish ministry, having served at St. Dominic Savio Parish since 1995.
"When he came here, he said that he had big boots to fill," said Paulette Pundyk, parish secretary for 20 years.
"Those boots have been filled beyond all expectations over the years that he's been here. He's more than filled them, doubled them, tripled them, with his love and his concern for the parish."
Pundyk described Gilliece as a wonderful priest and excellent listener who always gives back to the parish.
Living the charism of a Salesian, Gilliece has been active in the parish's four schools and enjoys visiting the youth.
"The kids see him and say 'Hi, Father Bernie!' He is also noted for his suckers. Every Sunday after Mass, the kids line up by the sacristy to get a sucker from Father Bernie," said Pundyk.
Gilliece was born to a Catholic family in Montreal on June 5, 1932, the third of six children. Graduating from Grade 8, all of the students had to write exams to gain acceptance into the elite Catholic high schools.
"During the month of July, the results were published in the Montreal Gazette with who got the highest marks and who got the scholarships," said Gilliece.
He and a friend had attained high marks, so a Salesian priest approached them and asked if they had considered becoming priests. His friend Buddy agreed to attend the Salesian junior seminary if his mother approved.
"The priest turned to me and said, 'How about you? Would you like to go too?' I didn't know. I'd never thought of it before," said Gilliece.
The priest met with Gilliece's parents and his father was opposed to sending him away at such a young age. But his mother countered that if he later "turned out in a wrong way," he might blame them for not letting him do what he wanted.
Eventually his parents let him go.
Two days before the boys were to leave for the U.S., Buddy backed out and Gilliece carried on alone.
He never regretted his choice, and said if not for his recent poor health, including an arthritic knee, he would remain active in parish ministry.
"There's the joy of growing old. There's no gold in the golden years," he laughed.
During the years leading to his ordination, he was assigned to many roles throughout Canada and the U.S.
"In our order we have a period of trial in teaching, just to see how our vocation is and whether we like it or not. So I did my three years of teaching in Jaquet River, New Brunswick. We had a boarding school and a day school there."
Later, he studied theology for four years in Aptos, Calif. There, he was ordained a priest June 4, 1960 - the eve of his 28th birthday.
He spent the next eight years serving in schools in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. Then, he came to Edmonton, working as director of studies at St. Mary's Salesian Boys School. After that, he taught at a school in suburban New York and then was high school chaplain in Montreal for six years.
"Finally I was assigned to Toronto where we founded a new high school, Don Bosco Catholic Secondary. I was principal there for 18 years," he said.
"I enjoyed Toronto, even though I didn't like being a principal. I would have rather been a teacher. The best part was working with the students. As Salesians, that's what our work is, working with the young people."
EXPANDS ST. DOMINIC SAVIO
He came to Edmonton as pastor at St. Dominic Savio Parish in August 1995. Upon his arrival, the church was small, boxlike. Under his leadership, an expansion was completed in 1997 and a basement added for social functions.
His initial belief was that the transition from working in schools to becoming a parish priest would be difficult. However, after 15 years in the parish, Gilliece has no regrets.
"It has been a fine experience, getting to know people, baptizing their children and preparing children for First Communion, Reconciliation and Confirmation," he said. "It's very friendly, with wonderful people, family-accommodating and they put up with me."
He plans to remain in Edmonton and substitute for priests who go away on vacation or who have other commitments.
Father Joseph Vadassery, currently pastor at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Devon, has been named the new pastor at St. Dominic Savio.
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