Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Remarkable Oblate Missionary Priest

A Few Good Men and Women too

What does God want? For a few Good Men and Women to take up his call to Love One Another as He through the work of His Son Jesus Christ, showed us how. Sadly, many of those called have fallen far short of the goal, and have done serious damage to those entrusted to them. We have too many examples of priests as sinners, as though we aren't all sinners, where the young have been sexually molested. What a tragedy, but it is not the whole story of the lives of priests. We too quickly draw to judgment about priests in general because of the failings of a few among them.

But, one of the many good ones is Fr. Jules Dion, a priest for over 50 years, who since the commencement of his priesthood has ministered to the native Canadians of the northern reaches of Quebec. But, we now can read the story of his dedication and joy in a book entitled "Jules Dion: 50 Years Below Zero.

I have reproduced the article in Catholic Missions in Canada below, which comes from their web site here:

What are you supposed to do when the government gives you a bathtub and you live in a place where there is no running water?

This is one of the challenges that Father Jules Dion, O.M.I., had to face in his long and faithful ministry to the Inuit of Nunavik, northern Québec, as told in a new biography, Jules Dion: Fifty Years Below Zero.

After more than two years of research and writing, author Raymonde Haché, herself a lay missionary in the North, has given us a lively account of the life of the Oblate priest who came from Belgium in the 1950s with a commitment to serve the native people of the North of Canada.

The book gives us quite a story, for Fr. Dion arrived shortly after he was ordained in 1954 and served continuously for more than half a century, and indeed is still a very active missionary in Kangirsujuaq on the Ungava Peninsula, looking out over the Hudson Strait.

As for that bathtub? Well, we are told how the federal government started sending houses,prefabricated, in 1955. The people simply decided to use the bathtubs as pantries, to store seal meat and other products from hunting and fishing.

The priest also discovered that the houses were supplied with wood stoves. But what good is that when there is no wood above the tree line, as in most of those missions? "They burned all they could find: alder branches, beluga fat, seal blubber or coal thrown aside by the Hudson Bay Company store," the author tells us. Later they converted the stoves so they could burn oil.

We have been told by other writers on the history of missions that the missionary priests and sisters usually had to spend 75 to 90 per cent of their time and effort at staying alive-tending and building dwellings in harsh conditions, finding food as the natives themselves have to, by hunting and fishing, travelling long distances to get to their stations, and learning and mastering difficult languages to communicate with the people.

Fr. Dion had all these rigorous activities, peripheral to his sacred tasks as a priest, and in addition, we read about how he also had to teach himself to become a proficient cook, a plumber, an electrician, a snowmobile repairman, igloo-builder, and even a doctor, in the absence of any health care workers.

Throughout the book, the author lets us know how Fr. Dion grew in his own priestly spirituality and in prayer. During his time in Quartaq and then in Kangirsujuaq, he came to know and love the people and keep them foremost in his concerns and in his heart.

In many very dramatic episodes, Fr. Dion's learning experiences are depicted, such as the time he was once lost in fog on sea ice, or when he went crashing and sinking into a deadly crevasse. There were occasions when he saw men freeze to death. More than once, he ventured out to dig holes in sea ice to gather mussels for food. The experience of living with the Inuit was to him a blessing.

Raymonde Haché has given us a rich illustration of a dedicated Oblate priest bringing the message and graces of God to a beautiful people under the harshest and most merciless climatic conditions. We are in her debt for this valuable work.

Copies of the book, Jules Dion: Fifty Years below Zero, may be acquired by contacting the author herself. You may write to her at: Raymonde Haché, P.O. Box 60, KUUJJUAQ, Québec J0M 1C0, or call: 1-819-964-2860, or e-mail:

You won't find this book at Chapters or Coles or wherever. It is currently only available from the author. Maybe someone like Justin Press will pick it up, and get this marvelous story out into a broader base where more people can be inspired by the life of this humble man.

1 comment:

Joshua S. said...

Canadians would do well to learn more about their own country. Pierre Berton was not the only Canadian person to live and write about the development and people of Canada's North. There are many inspiring personal histories of faith and sacrifice by brave men and women who sought to bring the Word of God to the furthest reaches of the Dominion. These good people were not cultural imperialists, but men and women of faith who were genuine in their Christian belief and efforts to help others.