He was born in 1931 in Danby, Quebec, and raised on the Southern Shore of the St. Lawrence outside of Montreal. He began his Oblate life with his novitiate year in 1948.
Immediately after his first vows he was sent to Pointe Bleu in Northern Quebec. He spent his first four years working on the farm that we ran in conjunction with the residential school. In 1953 he was missioned to Wabasca, Alberta, where he was in charge of the farm and maintenance of the residential school for the next sixteen years. There were no roads and the nearest community was Slave Lake which was ninety miles away.
His second obedience was to Fort Vermillion from 1969-1974. By this time our Oblates had moved off the farm. In the Fort the maintenance work included the hospital, the school, the rectory and the church. In 1975 he felt the call to priesthood, and entered seminary, and was ordained a priest in 1980. When questioned about his Oblate vocation, Robert carefully outlines his convictions. “I felt a need to bring the message to the people and be a witness to Christ. I am working for the Church and I still am part of that.” Then he adds with conviction, “It was my vocation.” When he began studying he was challenged by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, to whether he had considered priesthood. “I had forgotten about it. The brotherhood appealed to me and I was happy being a brother. He encouraged me.” This encouragement proved to be significant in Robert’s journey. “I needed some experience so I went to Wabasca for eighteen months and worked with the priest there. It became clear. The Church needs some priests.”
He served the parishes of Gift Lake, (four years), High Level (five years), Fort Vermillion (five years), then down to Valleyview and back to High Level (ten years). By this time the town had doubled in population. A new church was built in High Level during this period. By 2008 he moved to St. Albert for semi-retirement: “I did not become a priest for myself. I went back and two years later I was ordained.” That was thirty years ago!
When he reviewed his many years as an Oblate, he adds, “I like the challenge and I do rise to the challenge. There has been a lot of change through all these years. I have been working with nature and people and you are very conscious of the changes. You have to deal with that in the parish.”
This interview came to an end with laughter over the |Oblate history and the many characters that make up the Oblate community. “I am happy as an Oblate and I thank God for my vocation,” he added with enthusiasm.
By Nestor Gregoire, OMI