Farewell to St. Thomas Aquinas

Sunday, November 20, Giséle Labonté said goodbye to the parishioners of St-Thomas Aquinas, a French-speaking parish south of Edmonton, Canada. Here is the text of her testimony.

Happy feast of Christ the King, dear sisters and brothers of St. Thomas Aquinas.   I thank Father Jean Claude who is giving me a few minutes to say goodbye. He also asked me to tell you about my involvement in the parish over the years. I am about to leave the parish of St-Thomas. On Wednesday, this week, I am moving to the Centre de la Providence, where eight of my sisters, Daughters of Jesus, are already living.

 Birth of the parish

Saying goodbye to St-Thomas Parish affects me deeply. I became a member of this parish in 1958. At the time I was a novice in formation to become a Daughter of Jesus. We were living then on the land where this church stands as well as the St-Thomas Health Center.

My companions and I were asked to come and sing at the first Mass which marked the opening of the new St-Thomas Aquinas parish. This Mass took place in the chapel of the St John College, presided over by Fr. Arthur Lacerte, dean of the St-Jean college, who then became parish priest, while waiting for a permanent priest to be appointed.

As a member with a new mission

After my noviciate, I went to Three Rivers, Quebec, for a year at Normal School to prepare for teaching. On my return, my Provincial asked me to take the second year students of French immersion:  a new program that had started the previous year in connection with the St- Thomas Aquinas School. However, these first immersion classes were housed on the grounds of the Daughters of Jesus: the kindergarten, with S. M. Arthur in the basement of our Maison St-Joseph, and the first and second graders, with Sister Marie Christine and myself,  in two classes attached to a small red brick house, at the corner of our property.

This is where the new parish priest, Fr. Denis Hébert, lived. So, during five years of teaching second graders I got to know almost all the young families of the area. When the parish acquired the presbytery which was located on the grounds of the college, Fr. Hébert left the red house and Sister Arthur moved there with her kindergarten class. In 1970 when she fell ill, I took this class for the remainder of the school year.

Bond between the Daughters of Jesus and the St. Thomas Parish

Since I was part of the fj Board of Directors, I was involved with the parish when we sold half of our property for the construction of this church and a few years later the other half for the construction of the St. Thomas Health Center. The parish, with no parish hall during these first years, often used our gymnasium, at Maison St. Joseph. In the following years I worked in several parishes in Alberta and also in Montana, U.S.A.   Whenever I returned to Edmonton, I was always happy to attend Mass with the parishioners of St. Thomas.

Novelty

In 2014, when I moved back to Edmonton, the parish seemed to have taken on a new look for me. Many of the parishioners I had known in the 60s and 70s had now returned to the Father. I was indeed happy to see so many parishioners of African descent, very involved. To them I say a special thank you: you are bringing new life to our parish.

Goodbye

As I say goodbye to you all, I ask you to pray for me. Going to the Centre de la Providence, I am entering the last phase of my life.  I think the most important, because  it will help me to prepare for the great encounter with the One to whom I have dedicated my life. I have never seen His face. I must be ready for the wedding feast. Thank you very much.

Gisèle Labonté.fj.

Edmonton, Canada

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