WCR FILE PHOTO
Bishop Luc Bouchard, head of the St. Paul Diocese for the past 10 years is moving to Quebec.
Bishop Luc Bouchard gave new life to the Diocese of St. Paul, calling his decade of service there as a time of grace, challenges and of making lifelong friends.
The announcement Feb. 2 that Pope Benedict has appointed him bishop of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, came as a surprise even to him.
"A move from the pope is always surprising, but life is full of surprises," said Bouchard. "When God is the one who surprises us, it's always to bring us new challenges in life.
"At the same time, we can count on his grace because he doesn't ask us to do something without giving us his help."
Born in Cornwall, Ont., Bouchard, 62, was ordained to the priesthood in 1976. He studied Scripture in Rome and Jerusalem, and then served in parishes in the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall.
He was rector of St. Joseph Seminary upon his appointment to St. Paul in November 2001. He replaced Archbishop Thomas Collins in St. Paul.
"Of course, this is a new challenge because Three Rivers is a bigger diocese. It has more than 150 priests, 67 parishes and missions, and a great number of religious," said Bouchard.
"It has the Basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Cap right smack in the middle. It's a very venerable and honourable diocese in that sense."
The St. Paul Diocese has 53 parishes and 39 priests, including 21 who are in active ministry.
Bouchard succeeds Bishop Martin Veillette, 75, who is retiring.
Bouchard's father came from La Trappe, Quebec, close to the U.S. border, while his mother was from Alfred, Ont. His mother turns 94 in February.
The announcement that Bouchard is leaving St. Paul surprised Father Paulson Kannanaikal, a Carmelite of Mary Immaculate, pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Whitecourt.
"Bishop Luc is a very hard-working man. He was coordinating all of the activities of the diocese pretty much, and he was reaching out to the parishes," said Kannanaikal.
The diocese covers northeastern Alberta and includes communities such as Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Fort McMurray, Lac La Biche and Morinville.
Kannanaikal said Bouchard established programs aimed at keeping the priests throughout the diocese close.
"All of his homilies are based upon the Scriptures, and he touched the hearts of the people," said Kannanaikal.
Father Gerard Gauthier was the pastor in Whitecourt before being transferred to St. Paul's Cathedral Feb. 1.
Of Bouchard, he said, "He is very pastoral, certainly learned, and my biggest impression of him is that he did a lot of pastoral work."
When Bouchard visited Fort McMurray for the first time, the people asked him what his plans were for the area.
Gauthier said rather than interfering or imposing his own way of thinking, Bouchard told the parishioners they already had their own plans. He told them that he would not meddle.
Bouchard said, "My basic accomplishment would be that I was given the grace to preach the Gospel and be a witness of the Gospel.
"That was done practically in many ways. One of the ways, which is very consoling to me, is giving the retired priests a retirement home."
His pastoral letters are among his major accomplishments. He wrote to reinstitute the permanent diaconate, the Christian order of initiation, and adult faith formation.
Bouchard was bishop during the closure of John Paul II Bible School.
Garnering the greatest attention was his pastoral letter, The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands.
In the 2009 letter, he challenged the moral legitimacy of oilsands production. He wrote at length on destruction of the boreal forest eco-system, potential damage to the Athabasca watershed, the release of greenhouse gases, heavy consumption of natural gas and the creation of toxic tailings ponds.
His critical points were directed at oil company executives, government leaders in Edmonton and Ottawa, and to the general public whose excessive consumerist lifestyle drives the demand for oil.
"Even my letter about the tarsands was a way of preaching the Gospel or shedding Gospel light on the situation, which is particular to the Diocese of St. Paul," said Bouchard.
No date has been set for his installation in Trois-Rivieres.