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"Une Génération Spontanée"
Father Clement Desrochers, o.m.i.: Animateur

Henriette Kelker
Research Associate
Provincial Museum of Alberta

After eighty-five years of settlement, the presence of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate has become part of the Peace River region's identity. As men of action, they have been central to the opening of the land, the shaping of the communities and the spiritual nurturing and education of the people. While the chronicles of the local communities have been written,1  who the Missionary Oblates are who have served the Peace Region, and why they are particularly able to serve these northern communities has not been documented.

In our research and collections project we are exploring various aspects of the Oblate experience, cultural memory and living tradition, and we are establishing a body of primary source materials. Part of the Oblate collection, which reflects Church and community life in the Peace River country, is housed in the Girouxville Museum. Fr. Clement Desrochers, an Oblate Missionary priest in the Peace River District for more than fifty years, was responsible for the creation of that museum. While I examine the founding of the Girouxville Museum, I also wish to describe Fr. Desrochers' work and his relationship with the people ofGirouxville as a window on the journey of the people in this Francophone community. I will not give a full biographical overview of Fr. Desrochers, for that can be found in Mes Mémoires, his autobiography.2  However, I will explore a few aspects of his life in order to sketch the environment where Fr. Desrochers received his earliest nurture. I will also describe some of the work which has been the hallmark of Fr. Desrochers' ministry. What interests me in particular is the way in which Fr. Desrochers' gifts matched the community's needs in those years right after the Great Depression when the Peace Country was part of Canada's newly opened land. Girouxville was a young town, Fr. Desrochers was a young priest, and like most of the settlers in the area, he had grown up in Quebec.

Of the twelve children born to Olivine Bernard Desrochers, six lived. Clement, born in 1910, was the only boy, growing up amidst three older and two younger sisters. When he was ten his father, Pierre Navigius Desrochers, died, leaving Clement as the only "man" on the family farm in St. Michel, Quebec. He had a weak heart, later diagnosed as a malfunctioning valve, but this did not prevent him from being an avid outdoorsman. Because Clement had a keen mind his mother chose to sell the farm so he could study rather than carry on the farm work. She herself was not strong and had received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick3  five or six times. Fr. Desrochers describes her in his memoirs as a woman of great courage and great faith, as "having touched the hem of the vestment of the divine healer."4  Through stories and songs the family's Acadian roots were kept alive.5  Fr. Desrochers recalls an epic poem recited often by his mother, which was written for the 102nd birthday of his paternal grandfather. It recounts the 1755 flight from Acadia and the establishment of the village of St. Michel, Quebec.6  Thus the past was a vivid and important part of family life.

Clement Desrochers attended St. Anne's Apostolic College in Sillery, Quebec, where he soon chose Mgr. Ferdinand Vandry as his spiritual director. A retired prelate, Mgr. Vandry was humble, gentle and pious.He instilled in his pupil a great devotion to the Virgin Mary. Clement subsequently devoted himself to Mary through "Saint Esclavage" (Holy Slavery) according to the teaching of Grignion de Montfort.7  At age seventeen, Clement watched his cousin drown while he himself barely made it to shore. Given such history it is perhaps no surprise that Clement Desrochers came to a strong conviction that he lived by the grace of the protection of the Virgin, that his life had a purpose - though he did not clearly see where this would lead - and that his task was to respond to God's call and dedicate his life to the Virgin Mary. Three of his sisters also chose the religious life. His sister Angèle, her husband Henri Monfette, and their children later joined him in the Peace Country.

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