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Posted April 17, 2012 in Memorials:
A Faithful Servant

by the editor.

Paul, the second of five children, grew up in Toronto. His father had a horse-drawn taxi business; his best customer was the bishop of the diocese.

Then came the stock market crash of 1929, and the taxi business was lost. Paul was seven years old.

His father, forever the optimist, thought that horses would bring him luck. So he became a gambler at the horse races. But he was never very lucky, and the family became very poor.

Paul didn’t like school at all, and as soon as he turned 16, the age when he could legally drop out, he did. He got a job at a large bread bakery.

At the age of 18, in 1940, he joined the Canadian army.

When he was asked many years later why he had enlisted, he said, "I had no job, no money, no future. Anything to get out."

Paul was sent overseas and saw action, especially in Italy.

In 1943, his brother Joe, who was also in the military, was shot down and killed in a flying mission over Belgium.

While in action, Paul had four stints in the hospital—three for disease and one for a leg-thigh wound that became infected.

The wound was not healing well and was too far into his thigh for amputation. What saved his life was a brand new drug: penicillin.

When Paul returned to Canada, he traveled to northern Alberta to work in administration in a mining company. He liked the North and enjoyed the work there. He thought of going back to school to further his career but decided against it.

In 1956, after a conversion experience, he started searching for his mission, his calling. That calling turned out to be Madonna House.

by Mark Schlingerman

In the Madonna House files are something called "staff worker data forms" on which are listed what we used to call "obediences." In preparation for saying "a few words" about Paul, I looked at his form.

Today we use the word, "assignments," but "obedience" is the right word for how Paul took on his assignments.

Right after First Promises in 1959, Paul went to his first "obedience," Maryhouse in the Yukon. From there he soon went across town to work at the student hostel we ran for a couple of years.

This was a uniquely challenging apostolic work, and a test of obedience for most of the staff, Paul included.

In 1963, after we turned over the hostel to a religious congregation, Paul went to Marian Centre Edmonton, a larger Madonna House community and a soup kitchen for the transient men of the city. There he served the poor, directly and personally.

In 1968 he went to our house in Aquia, Virginia, an apostolate to families. A couple years later he returned to Edmonton and shortly after that to Combermere to work in the men’s office.

In 1974, he returned to the Yukon to assist in another kind of hostel, a hostel for single transient men.

This was a very difficult assignment for the many laymen who did this work, alone, over the years.

Paul went back to Combermere in 1976. There he was assigned to St. Raphael’s handicraft department, to repair furniture.

This is where I first met Paul.

I pause here to comment on his apostolic journey. There is greatness in it.

I would say that Paul’s background—the poverty in his family, a modest education for an active mind, four years of hard soldiering in World War II when he was still a very young man; then, after the war, work in the northern mines and in warehouses—somehow left Paul not fully at ease with the "Brothers Christopher," that is, the men who came to the soup kitchens and hostels that we ran.

Why not at ease? Maybe because he shared some traits with them.

These would be men in need, men a little bit short on confidence, some with lifelong addictions, uncomfortable with the fast-paced aggressive culture around them, men of peace when all around them there was shouting.

Paul was not unlike these men he served. And served. And served. There is blessedness in perseverance, surely.

To resume his journey: back in St. Raphael’s with the furniture. Paul found himself in an altogether new obedience: that of a craftsman.

Here are a few lines he wrote at that time: They give an insight into Paul—his wit, self-deprecation, optimism and confidence in going forward in obedience.

His watchword was: "Just do it. God will make up what is lacking."

He wrote: "I have recently embarked on a new career. Three weeks ago I was transferred to the handicraft workshop to begin learning how to refinish furniture. The method used to learn this craft is in the Madonna House tradition: do it.

"The idea of me taking on this project I found quite funny. Old fumble-fingers himself. I have in the past religiously avoided involvement with any endeavor requiring manual skill.

"After three weeks of scraping, scouring, sanding, staining, and such, my manual ineptitude has not changed. However, I have discerned another trait: a need to be meticulous.

"A sort of latent perfectionism which, while it may exacerbate the tension, anxiety, and lack of confidence with which I approach such labors, could eventually prove to be a beneficial trait in the mastering of this novel employment."

This is pure Paul.

In 1981, Paul returned to Marian Centre Edmonton. A few years later, I became director of that house. That’s when I saw that Paul, who was obviously ill at ease with the Brothers Christopher, was at heart and by the grace of God, a Brother Christopher himself.

Before and after the noon meal, Paul answered the doors. He was a doorkeeper, and we are learning, in the lives of St. André Besette (Brother André) and others, that God has a special regard for doorkeepers.

Sometimes they are brusque and unsentimental, as Paul could be. But the poor man at the door knew that with Paul, this was just a front, that it guarded a heart that was open and receiving. Paul was held in deep affection by so many Brothers Christopher.

Later, when we began to receive a smaller number of women separately, Paul served these ladies with gentility and gentle humor, and they knew they were safe with him.

Paul returned to Combermere in 2005, and after a few years he settled in Our Lady of the Visitation, our place in St. Mary’s where the elderly are able to receive needed care.

This was his last "obedience" before entering eternity. There may he know the eternal joy of the good and faithful servant.

 

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