PHOTO | EDMONTON CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
Msgr. Felix Otterson loved talking with students who attended the school that bears his name.
Msgr. Felix Otterson, a pillar of Catholic education who touched thousands of young people through decades as a teacher and school administrator, died Sept. 9. He was 89.
"He was just a wonderful teacher. He was so anxious to get the boys and girls through school," said school trustee John Acheson. Acheson was an altar boy for Otterson shortly after the priest's ordination in 1948, was a student of his at St. Mary's High School and was at his bedside shortly before his death.
When Otterson celebrated his 85th birthday and 60th anniversary of ordination four years ago, more than 600 people, including some who came from far afield, bought tickets for the celebration at the Italian Cultural Centre, Acheson said.
"That was just a manifestation of the love so many people had for him."
Otterson made an effort to stay in touch with numerous people over the years and many stayed in touch with him, he said.
"I love teaching. I love young people. Though I get along well with people of all ages, I've always enjoyed being with teenagers," he told the WCR in a 1998 interview. "It is really interesting to follow the careers of people one has taught."
At Monsignor Fee Otterson Elementary/Junior High School, "People are feeling really saddened today," principal Marie Whelan said Sept. 10.
"It really is an honour and a privilege to be in a school named after someone of the stature of Msgr. Fee Otterson," Whelan said.
In the two years since the school opened, Otterson was a frequent visitor who met with the students, told them about his life, answered questions and told them about the otters, the school mascot, she said. "He was the heart and spirit of the school."
Above all, Otterson emphasized loving one another, she said.
Msgr. Felix Otterson (1998)
"He spoke to the staff about the importance of loving one another and he told the staff that love should be at the centre of everything they do."
Born in Edmonton, June 25, 1923, Felix Otterson and his three younger sisters were raised in the St. Joseph Cathedral Parish, attending Grandin School and St. Joseph's High School. As a young boy, he knew he wanted to be a priest.
"I felt God calling me to be a priest. I was impressed with the priests I knew and I wanted to be like them," he said in another interview.
He was ordained Feb. 8, 1948, completing his bachelor of arts degree while in the seminary and earning a teaching certificate a year after ordination.
After spending two years at parishes in Clandonald, Leduc and Millet, Otterson was set free to do the work he really desired – teaching. He spent 36 years teaching at various Edmonton schools and was principal at St. Joseph's and St. Mary's high schools. Most of his career - 23 years - was spent as a teacher at his beloved Austin O'Brien High School.
Acheson said although Otterson was a principal, he hated administering discipline. On one occasion, he said, Otterson "bawled us out. You could see that he just hated doing that."
But the principal attended every game the school's sports teams played. When the football team scored a touchdown, Acheson said Otterson was there with a box of chocolates for the team.
Years later, as an employee of Edmonton Catholic Schools, Acheson worked alongside Otterson. "He was a great mentor to so many of us." The priest went on a trip to Germany with several of the district staff, he said.
Otterson also served as chaplain at St. Joseph's University College, the Newman Club of the U of A and taught Latin at St. Joseph Seminary.
The Alberta bishops made him their representative to the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association and he chaired the archdiocesan Council of Priests. In 1991, Pope John Paul II named him a monsignor, an honorary title for distinguished priests.
Archbishop emeritus Joseph MacNeil said that when Otterson retired from the school district in 1985, he named him associate pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish. When the pastor, Msgr. Bert O'Brien retired in 1990, Otterson took his place for the next eight years.
MacNeil said he and Otterson went on several road trips together in their retirement. They went to the Peace River Country, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and into the United States, visiting friends, seeing the countryside, swapping stories and "just enjoying ourselves."
Otterson went to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ont., almost every year and enjoyed attending dinner theatre at the Mayfield Inn, he said.
MacNeil said he asked the pope to appoint Otterson a monsignor. Over the years, many priests had taught in the Catholic school system.
"Fee was one of the last and one of the best known. I understood it as a way of recognizing the service that a good number of our priests gave to the school system."
MacNeil said he will miss his "very, very good friend."
"He was a wonderful priest. He was very proud to be an Edmontonian, proud to be a member of this diocese."
A funeral Mass for Otterson will be held Thursday, Sept. 13, 11 a.m., at St. Joseph's Basilica.