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Posted April 13, 2015 in MH Rimouski QC, and in Memorials:
He Loved the Poor

by Jeanne Guillemette.

When a man dies, his life is revealed. Call no one blessed before his death. For by how he ends, a man is known (Sirach 11: 27b-28).

Several days after the death of Archbishop Pierre-André Fournier, I was struck by this passage from the Office of Readings in the Breviary.

Pierre-André first went to Madonna House Combermere during his seminary days in the early 1960s. He went for the summer and was thus introduced to our spirituality and way of life. He liked it and returned, once more for the summer, in 1964.

One of the stories he loved to tell was of a conversation he had at the farm with Albert Osterberger, who said to him, "In the seminary you learn about spiritual reading; here you will learn about spiritual weeding!"

Then he was ordained in 1967 and became an associate priest of Madonna House in 1975.

As a parish priest in a poor neighbourhood in Quebec City, he lived very simply and poorly; he didn’t even own a car. He used to hitchhike to Combermere for the annual associates’ meetings!

Fr. Pierre-André always had a deep love for the poor, and his rectory became a center, a true house of hospitality. A number of priests lived there—retired, student, and others—and to that rectory came a constant stream of people in need.

Said one staff worker who spent a few days visiting there, "You could feel the warmth and welcome, and you knew the poor felt at home."

In 2005, Fr. Pierre-André was made auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Québec. A number of MH people attended that ordination. And in 2008, following the Eucharistic Congress in Québec City, he was made archbishop of the diocese of Rimouski, a predominantly rural diocese a few hours northeast of Quebec City.

Family meant a lot to Bishop Pierre-André, and Madonna House was his spiritual family. He soon invited us to open a house in Rimouski, and we did.

From the start this house was blessed with frequent visits from our archbishop, especially in the evenings, when he would take a walk (doctor’s orders) and come for a cup of herb tea. It was a time for him to relax, to tease, to ask prayers, and to chat.

He was always interested in what we were doing, and he encouraged us in our growing apostolic activities. Before he left, he always made a little visit to the chapel and gave us his blessing (something he had learned from Catherine!).

As soon as the weather warmed up, the evening visits became "sunset walks," that is, walks along the St. Lawrence Promenade to watch the sun set.

It was a joyous rendezvous for his contemplative spirit but also a place to make contacts. We marvelled at how many people he knew and greeted along the way. On warm summer evenings, the walks sometimes ended at the ice cream parlour.

In spite of his busy schedule, Bishop Pierre-André celebrated Mass in our chapel once a month. He also often came to our feast day celebrations and to visit with staff who came for holidays.

His episcopal motto was "Blessed are the Poor." We often witnessed his spirit of poverty, his simplicity and humility, especially in the presence of the poor. He had learned from Catherine Doherty that "the poor are your masters".

We saw this lived out. How many times, at our monthly meetings of the Fraternité du Pain (a sharing group, especially for the poor) he could be seen taking notes for his Sunday homily. (Sometimes snippets of our conversations with him found their way into his homilies as well!)

And we would sometimes see him discreetly slip money to a poor person or a missionary.

Pope Francis had a major influence on Bishop Pierre-André. It was as if the pope confirmed his intuitions and gave him "permission" to be more daring in his pastoral approach.

His love for the priests of his diocese was deep and personal, and he often visited sick priests in the hospital.

When he came to Rimouski the bishop’s residence was a very old, very big building with only a handful of priests living there. Then a retirement home where a number of retired priests lived, closed.

"Come to my house!" said the bishop, and the number of priests there doubled—and he was much happier.

Archbishop Fournier was an intelligent man, and well aware of the many problems in his diocese.

Over the last year especially, there were several events which weighed particularly heavily on him: the debate over a possible Charter of Québec Values which could have limited the freedom of religious expression in public places (it didn’t pass), and the passing of a law permitting euthanasia in Québec, the future of a number of parishes whose numbers were dwindling, and the painful decision to close the cathedral of Rimouski at the end of November for security reasons. But he was essentially a man of hope and a builder of bridges.

By how he ends, a man is known…

I am writing this one month after the archbishop died. The testimonies we keep hearing from people continue to confirm what we knew of him.

It is not uncommon these days to hear of people asking his intercession, sensing his presence, or imitating him. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are you, Archbishop Pierre-André, for a life fully given to the very end, for living out so well the spirituality of Madonna House, and for your love.

 

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