Psalms and New Testament in Innu
language off the press
BETSIAMITES, NORTHERN QUEBEC-Oblate Father Joseph Pirson was translating
the texts of the different Masses in his little mission parish in
the Diocese of Baie-Comeau in Northern Quebec when an idea dawned
on him: "I realized that it would be good to have all the psalms
translated in Innu language."
His work, started 20 years ago, has since been expanded to include
the New Testament. The work of two decades has recently been published
in two volumes: Aiamieu-Nikamun Mashinaikan, a translation of the
Book of Psalms, and Sheshust-Kanisht: Inniun Uttaimun, a translation
of the New Testament.
Fr. Pirson envisioned the book to be read at home by the native
"The Montagnais Indians do not have a lot of materials published
in their language."
Two Montagnais women, Mrs. Celine Bellefleur and Mrs. Philomena
Gregoire from Sept-îles, Quebec, did most of the work, says
Fr. Pirson. "They were perfect translators. They know their
own language very well as well as French."
The first book on the New Testament is the most important, says
Fr. Pirson, and required more collaboration from the Innu community.
Fr. Pirson was born on April 20, 1924, in the town of Corbion sur
Semois in Belgium. He took his first vows as an Oblate Missionary
of Mary Immaculate on September 8, 1943, and served as a priest
with the Diocese of Namur, also in Belgium.
He came to Canada in early 1949, and was assigned to Richmond Gulf,
a mission on the East Coast of Hudson Bay for two years. Then his
bishop, Bishop Lionel Scheffer of Labrador City-Schefferville in
Newfoundland and Labrador, sent him to Davis Inlet on the Labrador
coast to learn a native language-Montagnais-with another Oblate,
Father Joseph Cyr.
"The next year," he says, "the bishop sent me to
Northwest River also on Labrador coast, to establish a mission among
the native people there, and where I stayed 20 years."
In 1972, he went back to Davis Inlet for two years.
In 1974, he left the Labrador coast to minister in the North Shore
of St. Lawrence River, in a community called Sept-îles, or
Seven Islands. After a year, he went to Betsiamites, a Montagnais
community in Northern Quebec. He served for 30 years in these two
missions, and went for brief stints to La Romaine (another native
village), St. Augustine, and Mont Joli.
Working in Bestsiamites , a community of 3,000 people, had been
"a very pleasant experience," he recollects. "Sometimes
it was hard, but most of the time it was a happy time."
In all, Fr. Pirson has served the missions for 55 years. He says
he would recommend others to do the same ministry. "More than
ever, the people need to receive the good news of Jesus Christ.
I was happy to be close to the people and to their life, and to
fulfil my missionary vocation." Since his retirement in 2002,
Fr. Pirson has been living in Betsiamites, Northern Quebec.
(Funding from Catholic Missions In Canada (www.cmic.info)
helped Oblate Father Joseph Pirson in coordinating the translation
of these two books for the Montagnais people.)
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