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

Henriette Kelker
Research Associate
Provincial Museum of Alberta

Page 4

For Carmen Ewing,20 current curator of the Girouxville Museum, Fr. Desrochers has been the family priest for as long as she can remember. He married her parents, baptized and married Carmen, and baptized her children. When her brother died, their first call was to Fr. Desrochers, even though he was not their parish priest. He represents for Carmen the centre of Church life through which authority and tradition are established. He may have been strict and strong willed at times, but he is first and foremost remembered as a humble man who would never put his own interest forward, a community man who had a magnetic attraction for people and a man whose enthusiasm and entertaining presentation was irresistible. Fr. Desrochers had a talent for marshalling donations and he knew well how to use this gift. His appeals were compelling and people responded generously. There also was a measure of humility in his requests. He often acted the clown and spiced his conversations with self-deprecating humour. He speaks in his memoirs of "going to visit my trap line" (visiting people in Girouxville). He used the French word razzia to describe his collecting at the Marian sites in France, and he referred to the moment when he received permission to find the missing relics with the words, "the hunting season was open." This particular style of writing and use of imagery needs to be seen in the context of northern Alberta rural life.

Relics from Notre Dame du Lais inside the Girouxville Museum.Relics from Notre Dame du Lais inside the Girouxville Museum.

In 1959, after much correspondence and personal visiting, Fr. Desrochers convinced his sister Angèle that the Peace Country would offer a family with five boys a better future than did Quebec.21 Thus Angèle and Henri Monfette, at that time already in their 50s, made the trek to northern Alberta with their seven children. For Fr. Desrochers the arrival of the Monfettes meant the tangible presence of his personal family. Though he never lacked places to go for a warm fire, a meal or a glass of wine, having his own relatives present was an added blessing. Whereas most of the people in St. Isidore, where the Monfettes settled, came from Jacques Lake, Quebec, the Desrochers family as well as the Monfettes came from Lotbinière and shared a common Acadian ancestry. A number of artifacts in the Girouxville Museum reflect this heritage. His family also added a different appreciation of his personality. It is no surprise that the same powers of persuasion, for which Fr. Desrochers is respected in the community, were experienced by his family as well and resulted in substantial donations of time and support.

Whereas Fr. Desrochers may have been an organiser and builder attending to many issues at once, Jacques Carbonneau seemed to be able to take storms and whirlwinds in his stride, attending to the work on the pilgrimage grounds and in the Museum, and doing the navigating during their many trips into the country. Jacques worked with Fr. Desrochers for thirty years, and served for many years as the Museum's curator. Often their trips led into unfamiliar territory, as they visited outlying missions or remote parishioners. Jacques shared Fr. Desrochers' love for the religious artifacts in the Museum. Fr. Desrochers often had dinner with friends or family, and he would, as a matter of course, bring whoever was accompanying him. Thus Jacques became a regular member of the Monfette household, where he shared many a New Years' party. He continues this relationship now that both he and Fr. Desrocher's nephew Alain Monfette and his wife Gaetane live in Falher.

As I worked with the Oblate collection in the Girouxville Museum I could not fail to come to know - and to befriend - the person behind the work. I have become acquainted with his ambitions, his love for the collection and the community it represents, and his respect for the land. Fr. Desrochers has become even more familiar as I have talked with some of the many people whose lives he has touched through personal encounter, through his leadership in the community, and through the legacy of the institutions which he helped create. Viewed from these perspectives there emerges a man who was dedicated to what he did, and called for a similar dedication from those he worked with; a warm-hearted man of action with a keen interest in the lives of those around him; and a man who left an indelible impression on all whom he met. Fr. Desrochers was constantly finding new and better ways to organise the community and to engage the lives of his parishioners. He was a builder of institutions - a hockey rink for the school boys, a boarding school for French and religious education, a grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary, a museum. Building together was his characteristic way of relating to the people in his community and of bringing people in the community together. In a newly settled part of the province, shortly after the Depression, this proved to be a fruitful approach.

Fr. Desrochers' gifts have been cultivated and brought to fruition during his formation and life as a member of the Missionary Oblate congregation. In a newly settled land, dreams are easily forgotten when isolation becomes a burden, and ideals are quickly tempered by the struggle to clear and cultivate the land. Yet all who came to the Peace Country came with hopes and dreams. Through a combination of faith, practical insight and infectious energy, Fr. Desrochers was able to rekindle the dreams which were not far under the surface. Building offers hope and tangible proof that one believes life to be worth while and worthy of some effort. This was the kind of inspiration which people in the 1940s needed. Fr. Desrochers offered them the leaven in the loaf.22

Today the people in Girouxville look to each other for leadership. The advice of the parish priest is not often sought in school board and village council decisions. Yet many of the people chosen as leaders have themselves grown up under the leadership of the Oblate priests, the men of action who helped build the communities of the North. Fr. Desrochers showed the value of working together on community projects, of a compassionate interest in farm and family life, and of the importance of the cultural memory and living tradition of the community. Fr. Desrochers says at the end of his memoirs: "No doubt my material achievements will one day be destroyed or wiped out by a natural disaster. I pray that the spiritual and Marian beacon of the pilgrimage will endure till the end of time. Like the lighthouses at Leclercville, on the high cliffs along the St. Lawrence River, which guide the sailors during storms or thick fog, so I hope that the modest sanctuary at Girouxville continues to send out its light beams to guide its sons and daughters in the Peace Country."

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