SASKATOON — A celebration was held June 25 at St. Philip Neri Parish in Saskatoon honouring Rev. Emile April on the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
April’s ministry began at St. Philip Neri Parish after his ordination in 1967, and for the past five years parishioners have been pleased to have him back where his journey began. In the years between, April had many rich experiences serving locally and abroad.
To celebrate his golden jubilee, his 75th birthday and the eve of his retirement, he was surrounded by parishioners, brother priests, friends, and family as they “roasted and toasted” him for his many years of service.
A large part of April’s ministry was spent in Uniao dos Palmares, Brazil, where he served from 1972 to 1998 as a missionary. Sister Claire Novecosky, OSU, and Rev. Les Paquin both worked with April in Brazil, and shared memories of that time. Paquin explained in a letter that while in Brazil, April pastored a parish of 50,000 members, and how his focus was on building small Christian communities for the laity.
The task of caring for the sacramental and ministerial needs of a parish that large was no small undertaking. On weekends, Paquin wrote, it was not uncommon to have three sets of baptisms, each involving 30 - 40 children.
In conjunction with serving a parish, April was involved with a number of special projects, one of which was mobilizing a work bee to assist flood victims rebuild their homes. Through this project, April saw 250 homes constructed.
While Novecosky and April served in different parts of Brazil, the sister recounted how April would often visit “for a meal or a siesta.”
“We had good discussions,” she said, “where we, of course, always solved all the social, political and religious problems of the day.”
April denounced injustice and inequality, wrote Paquin. “He loved the poor and took a stand on their behalf and at times this made him unpopular with the rich land owners.”
While in Brazil, April was involved in supporting the rights of landless farmers who were being denied access to safe and productive work. After taking steps with local authorities to help support poor workers reclaim their land rights on one farm in particular, April found himself the target of an intended assassination. Novecosky commented that “It didn’t seem to faze him too much.”
April was unwavering in his work to defend the landless and the small farmers. As he himself went on to explain, the threats against his life did not materialize. “This was just one of the little ways in which God has protected, helped and supported me all these years and I am extremely grateful.”
In a tribute to his ministry at Holy Cross High School between 1969 - 1972, the school choir, under the direction of Leanne Hamm, performed two songs — “Take Up Your Cross” and “This is Not the End” — both of which had meaning for the students and resonated with April’s anniversary and retirement.
April also spent 10 years serving in the Humboldt deanery, where he was pastor in Watson, Englefeld, St. Gregor, Lanigan and Humbolt. Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB, offered words of congratulations and thanks: “Father Emile was deeply shaped by the Vatican II vision of the church. He led people to a renewed vision of celebrating the liturgy, of empowering the lay people and of working for social justice.”
The abbot went on to say that, “Father Emile is a pastor in the style of Pope Francis. Pope Francis has described the church as a field hospital and tells us to reach out to people on the peripheries of church and society.” He thanked April for spreading what Pope Francis calls “the joy of the Gospel.”
On his retirement, April plans to return to Brazil to visit friends and subsequently enjoy a year of rest. After that he affirms that Saskatoon will remain his home and he will be available to assist and minister when needed.
“These have been wonderful years, both in Brazil and in Canada,” said April. “I enjoyed the work that I did very much.”