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Three Northern missionaries receive 2011 St. Joseph’s Award May 5 at Tastes of Heaven gala

June 17, 2011

TORONTO—Three missionaries serving in the Canadian North received the 2011 St. Joseph’s Award at Catholic Missions In Canada’s Tastes of Heaven Gala May 5.

Established in 1990 by Catholic Missions In Canada, the St. Joseph’s Award recognizes and honours missionaries whose dedication as a light for the world and salt of the earth serve as role models for today’s society.

This year’s St. Joseph’s Award recipients were Sisters of Sainte-Chretienne Bernadette Gautreau and Jeannette Berger, from the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, Northern Alberta, and Oblate Father Joseph Baril from the Diocese of Amos, Quebec.

Sisters to the Cree

The two Sisters of Sainte-Chretienne of Quebec went to the Far North and ministered among the Cree on the Little Red River reserve in Northern Alberta.

They spent 50 years of ministry in Fox Lake and John d’Or Prairie, two communities of the Little Red River Cree Nation engaged in ministry among our First Nations.

Sister Bernadette Gautreau, S.S.Ch.

As a postulant at the convent, Sister Bernadette Gautreau, S.S.Ch., dreamed of becoming a missionary. In 1962, although not professed and with little teacher training, she was asked to teach at Fox Lake mission in Northern Alberta.

According to her bishop, Archbishop Gérard Pettipas, C.Ss.R., Sister Bernadette “abandoned her fears to God, ‘to see the wonders He will do in [my] life.’”

Her first teaching assignment in 1962 was 23 children in Grades 1 and 2 in a two-room log schoolhouse. In 1964, she had 25 students in Grades 3 and 4. In 1965, she moved to John D’Or Prairie Reserve as a teacher, and in 1966, she had 17 children in six grades.

Sr. Bernadette took teacher training courses in the summer, became vice-principal and then principal, and worked as pastoral minister on weekends

A “strong believer in catechesis,” Sister Bernadette developed her own resources for her students.

After taking a course in Native Studies at University of Alberta, she helped develop the Integrated Curriculum (ICAN ) which was later adapted for the Northland School Division serving 25 remote schools. The ICAN program was specifically developed for native students in Cree/English focusing on the experience of the Cree people.

Since 1982, Sister Bernadette has stewarded the enculturation of native traditions in worship as pastoral minister at St. Joseph parish, where she gradually initiated the religious beliefs, rites and rituals of the Little Red River Cree people into worship at the “tepee church,” which was built under her leadership.

Sister Jeannette Berger, S.S.Ch.

Sister Jeannette Berger, S.S.Ch., came to the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan in 1957, on the invitation of Bishop Henri Routhier, O.M.I.

Sister Jeannette Berger was one of the two teaching Sisters who made the tedious trip by train, car, and finally, float plane, to land on the Peace River.

Since there would not be enough children of school age for two classes and only one teacher would be needed, Sister Jeannette was arbitrarily given the job of “superior” of the little group and “cook” for the Oblate priest, two Oblate Brothers, and all the men who were working on the construction of the buildings at the time.

With few commodities and only wild meats to serve, Sister Jeannette—teacher-become-superior, become-cook, become-nurse's helper—spent her first three years of missionary life bouncing from one task to another, with very little resources to work with. Finally, in 1960, as the school enrollment grew, Sister Jeannette was able to do what she had thought she was being sent to do: i.e., teach.

From 1960 to 1972, Sister Jeannette taught Grade 1 at the Little Flower Day School in Fox Lake. In 1973, she transferred to the Little Red River Cree reserve of John D'Or Prairie across the Peace River and, over the years, taught Grades 2 and 3, Special Education, Resource Room, and Home Economics. In 1986, she left teaching to join fellow Sister Bernadette Gautreau in pastoral ministry.

From 1987 to the present, Sister Jeannette has served in St. Joseph's parish by being involved in: preparations to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist with children, bringing Holy Communion to the elderly, ill and shut-ins, and providing a listening ear to those who need compassionate counsel and advice.

Aside from serving on the Church Committee and Ministry Team, Sister Jeannette is in charge of caring for the sacristy, the altar linens, and church decorations. As well, she provides meals and hospitality to the many people who visit.

Sister Jeannette has served in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan under five bishops. At age 87, she has given the very best years of her life to the Church and to the people of Little Red River Cree.

Father Joseph Baril, O.M.I.

At 89, Oblate Father Joseph Baril has been a missionary for more 57 years, working in the Vicariate Apostolic of James Bay (now Moosonee diocese) for 23 years, and the Diocese of Labrador-Schefferville (now Corner Brook Labrador) for 17 years, and now, in the Diocese of Amos (Kuujjuarapik, Inukjuak, Puvirnituk, Akulivik, and Salluit) for many years.

He has shown himself easily capable of adopting his pastoral presence to the different sites of his ministry. Numerous trips over the years have made him known in every store, health clinic, school, airport, among other places.

Each of the communities he has served appreciates his contributions to the spiritual life of the settlements and missions through his pastoral presence and his spirituality.

In his 2004 autobiography, My Aurora Borealis: A Traveling Missionary for a Church built of Living Stones, Father Joe recounted how, at a young age, he was fascinated by the North. This yearning led him to his priestly vocation and to joining the missionary order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to work among the First Nations of Canada.

Father Joe began his northern missionary work in 1952. For 25 years, he lived among the Cree of James Bay of Northern Ontario, and within the next 25 years served among the Inuit of Northern Quebec, where he learned how the tundra Inuit lived for the past 5,000 years. He also ministered to the white population by helping set up health care, education programs, and local services.

Since 1976, he has served to serve as travelling priest to isolated villages of Northern Québec, a ministry he still does to the present, although he has “officially” retired in 2009.

As a true pilgrim of the North, he says he has secured “a pension plan for eternity.”

St. Joseph’s Award Sculpture
A replica of the sculpture of St. Joseph cast in bronze was given to each award recipient. It was designed by internationally acclaimed Inuk sculptor David Ruben Piqtoukun of Paulatuk, Northwest Territories.

For more information on the St. Joseph’s Award recipients, please call Patria Rivera, director of publications and communications, Catholic Missions In Canada at 416-934-3424 Ext. 226, or email

For more information contact:
Patria Rivera
Director of Publications and Communications
Catholic Missions In Canada
Phone: 416-934-3424

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