Fr. Gary Lee

Fr. Gary Lee

September 14, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Father Gary Lee, pastor of St. Anthony's Parish in Drayton Valley, was well loved by everyone, especially by young people, to whom he gave many responsibilities at the altar.

Lee's plan was to get a priest from out of Drayton Valley one day. Earlier this year, he brought all the young men who serve with him to tour St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton.

So on the night of his death, young people showed up in tears at his prayer service. They brought a bottle of Lee's favourite cologne and placed it beside his portrait.

Lee, pastor in Drayton Valley for the last three years, died in the afternoon of Sept. 4 of a massive heart attack. He was just 39 years old. His body will be sent for burial to his home city of Tagum in the Philippines following funeral services in Edmonton.

Lee had been warned about his health, especially his blood pressure, but was taking care of himself. Despite a few protests he was following a strict diet and a rigorous exercise program.

"We loved him. It was so sad to see him go because he had such hopes for our parish. He was so kind to everyone, young and old," said Marie Leniuk, who runs the ministry to the sick.

"Because we were older we felt like his mother; we treated him like a son because he was so good to us all," laughed Leniuk. "When we used to go to the lodge every week for Mass he made everyone feel at home. Everybody loved him at the lodge. He lifted our spirits all the time."

St. Anthony's Parish has eucharistic adoration every Friday and Leniuk had the 2 to 3 p.m. slot.

Lee came in at 2:40 p.m., sat down in a pew and asked a girl named Cecile to call 911. "I'm having chest pains," he explained.

Cecile said she needed an address to call 911 but nobody present knew it.

"So I said 'Cecile just take him to emergency' because we are just four blocks away from the hospital," related Leniuk. "That's what she did. She said he got out of the car and started running into the hospital."

Cecile told hospital staff Lee was having chest pain. They took him immediately. It was about 2:45 when he got to the hospital. He died at 4:20 p.m.

"We are all devastated," said Leniuk. "He was so involved with the youth he had maybe 15 Mass servers.

"When he came here he said, 'I want to see a priest come from this parish so I want to get involved with youth.' And he did."

Parishioner Cecile Hilts described Lee as a holy priest. "In the way he arranged the church (for Mass) everything had to be perfect," she related. "He wanted everything perfect for Jesus."

WARM-HEARTED

Hilts said Lee had a good sense of humour and a good rapport with youth and other parishioners. "He was very warm-hearted."

"Father Gary was very involved in the parish but the liturgy was his forte," recalled Anne Murphy, chair of the parish pastoral council.

Murphy said Lee had a strong following among Filipinos as well as among the youth.

When Archbishop Richard Smith visited St. Anthony in May he was impressed with the parish and described it as a "very vibrant parish," related Murphy.

Lee came to Edmonton from the Philippines and studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary. He was ordained in 2006 and visited his home country every year.