February 11, 2011 Volume 8, Number 06
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Oblate Cross in the Artic
May the blessings of God fill your lives,, as we mark the official beginning of our Oblate missionary life. God be with all our co-workers, our Oblate associates and all our Oblate brothers who bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.
By Nestor Gregoire, OMI
Noel’s Oblate life began with the novitiate year in 1963 at St. Norbert, just south of Winnipeg. His years of study were during the period of rapid transition. He began one year of studies in Lebret, a year in Ottawa followed by the four years of theological studies at Battleford. He was ordained to the priesthood December 22, 1969, by Bishop Dumochel, OMI. He chuckles when he linked the ordaining bishop with his future ministry in the North.
All his ministry, with the exception of two years of teaching high school at Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, has been with First Nations Peoples. He began, along with four other Oblates, a two year experience of language learning and First Nations cultural studies at Toute Aides, Manitoba.
This was the beginning of working as a ministry team. Noel joined Francois Paradis, OMI, to work at Duck Bay, Manitoba. His ministry career has been varied. He returned to Toutes Aides but working with two religious sisters until 1980.
After a sabbatical focusing on ‘creation centered spirituality’ he returned to Bearns River, Manitoba. In 1985 he tried to combine a two year program of studies into a year and a half. The focus was on social justice and he was also educated by the Black, Spanish and street people of the inner city. It was in Chicago that he stopped one warm afternoon to rest on a park bench and when he opened his eyes after a brief rest, his bicycle has been stolen.
In 1987 he became a part of the Oblate mobile team, working with Jean Paul Isabelle, Greg Dunwoody and Guy Lavalle, OMI. This team would do training for pastoral leadership in the various parishes and missions of Oblate work. It was at this time that he began to study the traditional native understanding of religion. Another significant part of this work was the effort to move into healing workshops that dealt with the sexual abuse and the long term effects of alcohol addiction on the families. Noel observes that he ‘felt comfortable with these issues.’
1989 was the year that Noel moved to the Kateri Tekawitha Center in Winnipeg. This is the First Nations Church community in the city of Winnipeg. Often he would meet the people of the North. He chuckles remembering that during this time he was broken into three times in one year. After being robbed like this he commented that “I always buy second hand stuff now!” Later Dominique Kerbrat, OMI, joined him as co-pastor.
Through his struggles with his psychological health Noel has come to identify with the struggles of the First Nations’ People. “I can understand their struggle with the system and their own dysfunctionality. There is a big evolution going on here and I am starting to see the big picture. It will take time. There is no magic solution.”
In 1997 Noel moved to the Keewatin-The Pas Diocese and began a missionary experience that spanned many communities and involved much travel. He began in Lynn Lake with Brochet and Lac Brochet (two fly in communities). When Fr. Pietro Bignami, OMI, found road travel very difficult he accepted to take the two fly in places and Noel absorbed eight missions for the next eight year. These included Lynn Lake, Clarke Reserve, Nelson House, Granville Lake and South Indian Lake.
Today Noel ministers in the two parishes of Grand Rapids and Norway House, Manitoba. He will spend two Sunday’s a month in Norway House.
Noel is very much a people person. When asked what gives him energy he smiles. “It is when you see within a family that the father will go sober. It is very worthwhile to see the family have a dad that is reliable.
“And in the workshops. When you see people grow in their awareness and consciousness about the value that they have as persons. And then they are able to express it. This makes is all worthwhile.”
“I am in it for the long haul. There are no quick fixes here. When people come for marriage in the Church, they begin to see how important the marriage preparation is.
“We are all about building a spiritual community. It will take a bit of time. The pain of being missionary is that you live in two different areas and miss out in getting to know the people well.” But there is a blessing in this relocation. “This gives me time to be more contemplative and slow down. I look forward to having quiet time.”
Noel looks forward to several more years of ministry in the North. When you sit down with Noel you see clearly his love for the people and the strength that his own weaknesses have brought to his ministry. His heart is clearly rooted in the North for “I am not looking to leave the North!”
Fr. Bob Luckhart, passed away at a hospital in Sri Lanka this morning February 4th, 2011, at the age of 86. Funeral Mass will be celebrated in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Sunday, February 6th, at 3h00pm.
Scholasticate staff. He will be missed by all.
Our sincere condolences and prayers go to Fr. Bob Luckhart’s family.
An added note from Thomas M Cassidy, OMI.