|St. Joachim, December 9, 1910, Memories:|
|Contact:Michel Lopez |
Thus I decided to go to Battleford. No one objected. The Cree were all satisfied with my promise to return in spring and join them on the open prairie.
The question of finding an appropriate guide was discussed widely in the camp. One of the best Indians (Moustatak) volunteered to accompany me and the transaction was quickly concluded. We left Mount Oeill on the 26th of November with my wagon and luggage as well as his wagon and a few provisions. Another good Indian (Pieshiwa Kawidjiwikut ) followed us. We arrived on the third of December in Battleford at the home of Mr. Forget, the secretary of the Lieutenant Governor.
Madame Forget welcomed us and gave us what we needed a hearty dinner for me and my men. One our bellies were filled we had the honor to greet Mr. Forget and I was quite overjoyed to see Father Andre, a fellow father from Finistere.
Mr. and Mrs. Forget were the most perfect and friendly hosts. Father Andre already had a room and shelter at the home of Mr. Forget.
As the land registrar was lodged near he home of Mr. Forget we set out to call on him after our supper. This Mr. Scott insisted that I take a room at his house. I accepted this offer and this is where I spent the winter of 1877-1878.
So here I was in Battleford with Father Andre who had arrived a few days before me at the request of Monsignor. Actually he thought that I might have a hard time of it adjusting to this new place and expressed to Father Andre that he should make a visit. This is what explains the presence of Father Andre upon my arrival in Battleford.
This devoted missionary was not content by just paying his respects and fulfilling his duties to Catholic government representatives. He also visited the Metis and Indians who were in this place.
I also accompanied him on these calls and initiated the services that I was to continue throughout the whole winter. This was a good precautionary measure as Father Andre could see that my presence in Battleford fulfilled the wished of the Monsignor and he hastened to return to his own mission of St. Laurent of the fourth of January.
Who was there in Battleford at this time? There was Lieutenant Governor Laird and his family as well as judge Richardson and his family. Mr. M.P. Scott, the registrar, and Mr. Forget, the secretary of the governor. Also the Mounted Police, some Metis families and twenty Cree lodges. There was also an Anglican minister the Reverend McKay.
Before starting my ministry at Battleford I decided that it was necessary for me to visit dear Father Fafard whom I had left behind at Fort Pitt around the last half of the month of August while he was building his residence. What a joy it would be to see each other again! To tell each other our adventures! What a consolation it was for me to find there a fine house thirty feet long and seventeen feet wide. In one corner of the house was a kitchen with the refectory and the bedroom of our old Mechel and his wife Rose. The chapel was located in the other corner, separated by cotton drapes. Next to this wonderful chapel the Father and Brother spread their covers at night and slept quite contentedly due to the strains of the day. Yes, they had certainly worked hard these two brave oblates and had built such a beautiful house! In the morning the blankets were carefully folded and placed on the beams of the house and the space was made clear.
At Fort Pitt there was on Catholic family and within a four or five mile radius there were also a few other as well as the Metis who were overjoyed to have a priest so close to their camp. Quite often Indians would come by the mission and heard the good news of the Gospel. The reservations had not yet been created.
But I could not forget Battleford and I had to relinquish the comforts of communal life and return to my mission. I had arrived at Fort Pitt on the 14th of December and continued on to Battleford on the 17th, arriving on the 20th.
It was time to come back! The Christmas season was upon us and our faithful Catholics were expecting midnight mass. But what to do? How could we all come together? We looked and found an old hangar (?) just what we needed to represent the stable at Bethlehem.
Soon our Metis came and filled our improvised church which had been cleaned and decorated with more or less colorful paint and we solemnly sang the mass together. A few took communion and we were all filled with great joy.
It was in this very abandoned hangar that I said services on Sunday during the entire winter of 1877-1878. During the week I said mass at the home of Mr. Scott and sometimes at Mr.Forget's.
From the 15th of August until the 26th of November I baptized forty-nine, consecrated five marriages and received two denouncements.
What shall I do in Battleford? Deus seit. This was my daily schedule during the entire winter; after having made my morning prayers, said the mass and prayers again, I took breakfast and began making my rounds to the Indians where I instructed three or four children and few old people. Farther away there was also a blind man and in another lodge a sick man covered from head to toe with ecouelles (tumors?), in addition to an infirm woman and her mother who were both Protestants but intended to convert to Catholicism. I often visited these two infidels and attempted to do everything charitable that was within my power. This was not exactly a most pleasant charity call as more often than not I left the lodge with lice clinging to my habit. There were many things sabotaging my mission, firstly the indignity of it all, and secondly the zeal with the Anglican minister John McKay dealt with the Indians whom he had had contact before us and for whom he had promised he would pray. In addition there was much apathy and indifference to religion among the Cree.
In spite of all these obstacles, God had pit upon me and granted me the consolation of baptizing fifteen, as many children as adults, and receiving two denouncements.
In the spring I had the opportunity to see the Fathers at Carlton and go to confession. It was a voyage of eighty leagues. This was very practical: one has the time to reflect upon himself and to prepare for contrition, to even begin penance upon returning to shelter.
On my return to Battleford, a good number of Indians had left for the plains and I began to put my things in order so that I could go to Fort Pitt. I was most anxious to know how Father Fafard had spent the winter.
On the 23 rd of April, 1878 I left Battleford with a porter who carried my trunk an around midday I met up with Father Fafard who had wanted to see me too. This dear Father retraced his footsteps and on the 25th, around two o'clock we were at St. Francois Regis. What happiness to spend some time together. With what interest did I listen to the details of his works and apostolic missions among the Cree!
After having accomplished the physical work, he attempted to ignite the fire of divinity around him. He held catechism classes once, sometimes twice a day at the mission and sometimes at the Fort as well. During the course of the winter he visited Turtle Lake, Lake La Peche, Frog Lake, and Lake Original (?) . He would have made other journeys if he had had dogs and a sled at his disposal. He was only able to travel with the help of our valiant citizen Mr. McKay and did not venture farther than the places where the Hudson Bay Company had material interest . How I admired the devotion of my dear companion! How I thanked God for making the acquaintance of such a missionary ! Thanks to his zeal, our young mission was spreading out in all directions due to his magnanimous presence and influence on the camps so that within a radius of more than one-hundred miles the people had heard of the Kingdom of God.
Since the 9th of April Father Fafard had a companion, the good Father Bourgine. This dear Father was affixed with the terrible disease of epilepsy and could no longer travel, but he could speak the Cree language due to his enthusiasm in teaching the Indians. Father Fafard and I were able to leave without worry about this being a detriment to the mission. By paternal dispensation I had the honor to assist at the perpetual vows of our new companion on the 28th of June, 1878 on the Feast of the Scared Heart of Jesus.
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