Fr. Ubald Duchesneau, OMI
ST. ALBERT - A beloved theology teacher, Oblate Father Ubald Duchesneau spent a great part of his life teaching that God is love and only love.
His teaching stirred controversy in the beginning because the prevalent thought was that God was a vengeful God that would throw some people into hell.
But Duchesneau persisted with his theology of love, teaching hundreds of people in remote communities well past his retirement age.
He changed many lives and today he is remembered as a courageous theologian, an integral priest and a man who lived his life as Jesus would.
Duchesneau, a priest for 61 years, died Aug. 28 at Sturgeon Hospital in St. Albert. He was 87.
Karen Jandrey, who graduated three years ago from Duchesneau's three-year weekend biblical theology program, says the priest changed her life.
"(His theology) was pretty freeing and liberating," she said Sept. 3 from her home in Legal.
"I took his course because my image of God wasn't very healthy because as a kid I was taught the Baltimore Catechism, which was focused on sin and therefore not too many people were going to go to heaven."
But when Jandrey took Duchesneau's course her life changed.
"I'm so free now of all that and I'm a free thinker now too," she said.
"I will remember Father as a man who was passionate about spreading the true Good News about how God loves us intensely and that we don't need to be afraid of God because God is love."
Born the second of seven children in St. Paul, Duchesneau joined the Oblates in 1942 and was ordained a priest in Edmonton in 1949.
He studied in Edmonton, Ottawa, Belgium and Paris and has taught for most of his life.
He taught philosophy for 12 years at College St. Jean, now Faculté St. Jean of the University of Alberta, and was senior teacher at the Hobbema reserve before he went to teach religion at St. Albert High for another 12 years.
A member of the Oblates Scripture Program since 1992, Duchesneau travelled to different parts of Alberta teaching the Bible to people who wanted to learn without pursuing a degree.
In an interview 15 months ago, Duchesneau credited his grandmother with encouraging him to become a priest. She told the young lad that God wanted priests and taught him that God was a fantastic God, full of love for him.
But that good image of God would later suffer at school and at church where Duchesneau was taught that God would throw some people into hell.
At College St. Jean, two saintly Oblates helped Duchesneau recover the beautiful image of God taught by his grandmother. Then he dedicated his life to teaching others about it.
In the June 2009 interview, Duchesneau said some things have changed for the better in the Church.
"What has changed and is still changing is the perspective from which we studied the mystery of salvation," he said. "Sixty years ago we lived our Christian faith from the perspective of sin: God sent Christ to pay for our sins, few went to heaven, God was a punishing God.
"Result? Most Christians had a great fear of God."
Today it is getting to be different, he continued. "We are called to Christian faith from the perspective that God is love (and as a result) more people start to trust and hope in God. More people are rejoicing being Christians."
Oblate Father Mike Dechant, a member of the Oblate Youth Ministry Program, has known Duchesneau for 20 years.
In the 1970s Duchesneau did youth ministry and was very successful at it, Dechant said. He used to animate a large theatre group that would put on musicals and was involved in liturgy. His biggest production was Jesus Christ Superstar, which he took throughout the province.
But his real passion was the Bible. "He was a man who lived his priesthood with passion; he had a strong focus on the Scriptures," Dechant said.
"He lived the Scriptures. His whole spirit of ministry flowed out of that Scripture line that (says) God is love. He believed that if we as a people lived that dictum, we would transform the world."
Duchesneau would teach people the Scriptures in such a way they would be encouraged to take a leadership role, according to Dechant.
"So he was very much about encouraging people to take their place in the Christian community - not to be spectators but full participants."
Henry Henault, Duchesneau's friend and collaborator in St. Albert for the past eight years, said the priest lived what he preached.
"He was a very loving person," he said.
"He focused on God as a God of compassion and love and that's the way he treated people. He treated people with the compassion that Jesus would have if he had been on earth right now."
Duchesneau's funeral Mass was held at St. Albert Church Sept. 6. He was buried at the Oblate Cemetery in St. Albert the following day.