I shared parish ministry with Father Jon for six years at St. Mary’s Parish in Saskatoon. Together, we prepared children and older students for the sacraments of initiation, reconciliation, confirmation and eucharist. St. Mary’s had the honour of being one of the parishes to pilot the “New Restored Order” of these sacraments. As a catechist, Father Jon made sharing the “good news” joyful and easily understood for the children. They loved his stories and his steadfast faithfulness by being present to them, their parents and sponsors. We created a small community within our larger parish community.
After settling into his new home, I invited Father Jon to speak with the children at our “welcome celebration.” One could tell the children were drawn to him as he shared with us how he discerned through prayer, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to say “yes” to the call to come to St. Mary’s. That reflection and personal sharing told me that God had called a “diamond — albeit a bit “in the rough” — into our midst. We were indeed blessed.
We were drawn to Father Jon because of his expression of joy in serving us. This made it easy to approach him. Being an attentive listener, Father Jon was a person who walked with us and among us. He was a good shepherd caring for each one as needed.
As time went on Father Jon’s many “gifts” continued to reveal themselves. One had to listen and watch because he taught by personal example. In this sense Father Jon was a teacher and one could miss that due to his humble and honest approach and because of that approach it was easy to work with him. Additionally, Father Jon was a man of few words, and the few words that were spoken, compelled one to think, and to re-examine situations in the light of his insights.
Many parishioners and guests to our parish often remarked on the uniqueness of Father Jon’s homilies; and, like Jesus who inspired and guided his chosen, Father Jon was able to take the “good news” and relate it to life and daily living. We loved his story-telling, especially when he shared his own experiences.
In his pastoral ministry, there were always “elements” of surprise and the “unexpected,” which never allowed us to “label” him or put him in a box. I remember one day looking for Father Jon to review and prepare our next celebration for the children and there he was on the roof of the church repairing a leak. Another time I found him busy rebuilding an enclosure on the back entrance of the rectory. But it didn’t stop there. He could be found chopping and removing trees that were blocking a sidewalk, discussing with the maintenance committee what to do about the puddles of water in our basement or just “hanging out” with the “homeless” at the back of the church.
Bottom line, Father Jon would see something needing to be done and he would do it! He was a man of action.
Being a lover of silence, one felt a peace in Father Jon’s presence. He was at home and very in tune with himself so there was no doubt in my mind that he was a man of prayer. Out of this came good counsel. Many friends shared with me how his homilies, his conversations with them and his reflections at retreats helped them heal as they walked their own personal journey’s. I have often thought to myself that to touch people, like Jesus did, one must pray because “Christian discernment” and “decision-making” are not possible without prayer as their foundation and it was eminently clear that prayer was the substance of Father Jon’s work.
Pomp, formalism and parades were not his style. At times, he would be “playful” and “full of fun” and this brought out the beautiful child in him. We loved that side of him too especially when he was with the children.
In 2015, Father Jon was called to a new mission in Inuvik. While there may have been sadness in our hearts we knew that he was needed elsewhere, and God was calling him, perhaps “preparing” him, for a new mission that he had yet to reveal. That Father Jon has been missed as St. Mary’s is an understatement, but we celebrate with him as he embraces this new undertaking God has called him to.
In closing, Father Jon, please know that we will always carry within our hearts the richness that you brought to our St. Mary’s parish community. Specifically, your spirit of “wisdom” which enabled us to make good decisions; your spirit of “understanding” in helping us love one another (especially those less fortunate then ourselves); your sense of “right judgment” and “leadership” that helped us remain strong in our Catholic values and our faith, and your “spirit of courage” that helped us to remain brave when sharing the “Good News.”
You reminded us also to carry our everyday crosses proudly. Father Jon, you shared with us the “spirit of knowledge” as you taught us to love, and learn, and how to better imitate Christ. Thank you for these and for sharing your gift of “awe and wonder” and your love of God’s great creation.
Provost is catechist at St. Mary’s Parish, Saskatoon