ESTEVAN, Sask. — It began in 1980 when parish priest Rev. J.R. Prince of St. John the Baptist Church in Estevan asked Doug Third to conduct a prayer service for a funeral vigil.
“He gave me a book and said go at it,” said Third in a telephone interview.
This January he conducted his last service. “I couldn’t stand for a half-hour anymore, so I told them I had to stop.” By “them” Third meant not only his local parish, but the funeral homes in Estevan and surrounding communities in southeast Saskatchewan that were the benefactors of his commitment.
“I’m old and know a lot of people” was the explanation the 89-year-old gave as the reason for his longevity as a lay minister. Over 38 years he has officiated at more than 1,100 services and funerals. As well as the book Prince first gave him, Third has collected many other materials to use in his ministry. He didn’t confine his ministry to Catholics, but served people of all faiths — whoever asked him.
A recognition ceremony was held for Third on Feb. 25 at St. John the Baptist Church. Archbishop Donald Bolen was present to give a special blessing to Third and his wife, Alice. Bolen, who had served as associate pastor at he Estevan parish for a time, thanked Third for his service.
“I remember even then how grateful people were to have you preside at services for their loved ones,” he said. “You brought your many gifts to the task at hand, and made those services meaningful and hope-filled for the grieving families and friends.”
The archbishop presented Third with a letter of commendation in which he congratulated Third for so generously sharing his talents and his time.
Newly installed St. John the Baptist pastor Rev. Sathiadis Antony also wrote to Third: “You are obviously a person of great empathy, with an ability to give great comfort and encouragement to people in times of pain and loss.” He presented Third with a letter of commendation.
Dustin Hall of Hall Funeral Service said one of Third’s trademarks was to work a special story into the service. “Doug’s ability to personalize each service to suit the deceased person made him the perfect choice for so many families.”
Third said the accolades were very nice, but he was uncomfortable with all the attention.
As well as letters of commendation from the archbishop and Antony, parishioners were given an opportunity to express their appreciation of Third’s years of service. Envelopes addressed to Estevan’s St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation were distributed and parishioners were asked to donate to the foundation in Third’s name.
While in Estevan, Bolen blessed the newly constructed office space attached to St. John the Baptist Church. The parish offices had previously been in the former St. John’s Community Centre. The centre was sold in 2017 and the developer plans to construct a seniors’ living facility on the site.