Façade of St. Joseph church, John d’Or Prairie, Northern Alberta.
In our Fall 2011 issue of Catholic Missions In Canada magazine, we told you about the St. Joseph Award co-recipients for last year, Sister Bernadette Gautreau and Sister Jeannette Berger, of the Sisters of Sainte-Chrétienne. They had served for five decades in the region of Northern Alberta, mostly at John d’Or Prairie, and then last August 2011, they made their final departure from the mission, which they had served so caringly, and whose people had been very fond of them.
During my recent visit to the same place during Holy Week and Easter of this year, it was a real pleasure to see that the good work that these Sisters had been doing was continuing.
Father George Okoye, S.M.M.M., new pastor of St. Joseph mission at John d’Or Prairie, in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, Northern Alberta.
At present, Father George Okoye, S.M.M.M., is the new pastor. A priest from the African nation of Lesotho, he is a member of the missionary congregation of the Sons of Mary our Mother of Mercy. He had been appointed to the related mission of Fox Lake by Archbishop Gérard Pettipas, C.Ss.R,, which is a fly-in location for most of the year, and “drivable” when the great Peace River is frozen.
Also in this mission cluster is the village of Garden River, which is within the boundaries of Wood Buffalo National Park.
Father George is an enthusiastic and capable priest, taking the people’s concerns to heart, and planning ahead with the families to prepare children for Sacraments, and parents for Baptism of children, and young couples for marriage. He is also constantly on the go to see to the spiritual needs of the parishioners, especially the elders of the communities.
Father George keeps a constant communication open with the chief and other members of the band, which covers all the three territories of the mission. Chief Gerry Finucane lives in Fox Lake, but assists Father George in many ways in his ministry, and serves as a faithful witness to the Catholic faith among the Natives.
In spite of a Holy Thursday snowfall that surprised everyone, and kept sending snow until Good Friday afternoon, Father George managed to go out to his missions over forest roads, while I celebrated at John d’Or Prairie.
There are several priests of Father George’s congregation serving in the Grouard-McLennan archdiocese and elsewhere. We assure them of our prayerful good wishes, and the eternal reward of true missionary witnesses to the Faith.