PHOTO | SANDRA BRENNEIS
Fr. Paul Terrio holds Chad Brenneis following the baby's Baptism in August 1996.
St. Paul's Bishop-elect Paul Terrio left a good impression in the parishes and missions he served. Parishioners at both St. Peter's Parish in Villeneuve and Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain affectionately describe Terrio as a warm, fatherly and caring priest who went out of his way to make people welcome.
"He was a man who cared," said Sandra Brenneis of St. Peter's, where Terrio served from 1995 to 2002.
"He was the very best spiritual leader because he cared so deeply about everybody and their community and about always making us feel welcome," she said.
"He really encouraged us to be active in living our faith. He empowered us to be really active Christians but he didn't do it in a way that was about judgment; it was about recognizing all of our strengths and just really praising us and encouraging us to do more."
Brenneis was the director of Mary's Veil, a play she created through the encouragement of Terrio.
"I had written a couple of songs and Father Paul said, 'You know Sandra, you should write a musical and we will (use it to) fundraise to build this assisted living facility.'
"It was just an idea but then he didn't let go of the idea. He continued to encourage me in a way that made me believe that I could do it."
Despite her lack of musical or theatrical background, Brenneis wrote Mary's Veil in 2001. The drama played successfully for five or six seasons at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert. Since then, Brenneis has written two more plays.
"To me, he is the ultimate definition of a good shepherd," said June Victoor, who followed Terrio from St. Peter's to Holy Trinity in 2002. "If anyone from his parish or even his former parishioners needed help or the sacraments, he'd be there for them. He was always on call."
Victoor said Terrio is good with people and has a "fantastic" memory for names. "When he knows your name he is not likely to forget it."
The 70-year-old woman also praised Terrio for initiating so many good programs at Holy Trinity in the 10 years he was there. "He hired a couple to deal with marriage and family and he had things for children and things for teens. So he is a good leader, good at organizing things and getting the right people to do the right jobs."
Victoor said she followed Terrio to Holy Trinity because he was counselling her and offered to continue the treatment in his new parish.
"He was great; he was the reason I became a pastoral assistant (during his tenure)," said Perry Kieftenbeld, pastoral assistant at St. Peter's and missions.
"We very much enjoyed having him around here," Kieftenbeld continued. "He got people involved like myself in my job and because of his demeanour he himself was involved with things. So he not only got people involved but he was involved in our lives as well."
As pastor of St. Peter's, Terrio was also responsible for the missions of Calahoo, Mearns and Riviere Qui Barre.
Kieftenbeld, who lives in Riviere Qui Barre, said the words that best describe Terrio are real and relevant.
"He was open and honest and compassionate," she said. "He understood things that are going on in the world today that might be going on in your family. I mean, if you were having problems with your kids, he got that."
Terrio was also a good homilist. "His homilies had a way of bringing the message of the Gospel and making it very real to the people he was preaching to," Kieftenbeld recalled.
Brenneis agrees. "He was a very good homilist. He knows our religion and our faith and so he could always teach us," she said. "He would come to Mass on Sunday and he would always understand your life. He always made the Gospel really relevant to our lives and he could do that because he knew us."
Terrio is also known for his listening skills. "You could tell him what you thought and he would listen to your point of view," Kieftenbeld recalled. "Even if he wasn't agreeing with what you were saying, you felt you could speak your mind and your truth with him and he would take (your opinion) and consider it."
Kieftenbeld and her family hiked and camped with Terrio and shared good times together. "He is very easy to be around as a person as well as a priest and made people feel comfortable. Either way, he has a good way of explaining God to you and talking to you about how God fits into your life."
Brenneis said Terrio had a way with people. "If he came for dinner or if you saw him at a community event, he always acknowledged who you were, what your life was about; he just cared about you," she said.
On a personal level, if you ever came to Terrio with a concern or a deep issue around your spirituality, he could help you discern, Brenneis said. "I think that's a huge strength of his. He was a great counsellor, not because he would tell you what to do, but he helped you to discern."
Brenneis and her family developed a special friendship with Terrio, who on Thanksgiving weekend, Oct. 6, came to Villeneuve to celebrate the marriage of Brenneis' daughter Kessia and her husband Matt.
"I think he'll be one of those priests that we talk about for years and years as really bringing about some very beautiful times in our parish."
Anne Gauthier, pastoral assistant at Holy Trinity, said Terrio had a real love and understanding for the people. "He was really understanding of where people were coming from but not afraid to challenge them at the same time. He had that great balance that you want to see in a pastor."
WCR FILE PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Fr. Paul Terrio (right) lights the paschal candle, assisted by Deacon Pat Hessel, at the 2010 Easter Vigil at Holy Trinity Church.
Like others at the parish, Gauthier points to Terrio's ability to remember names.
"Everyone felt so welcomed because he had names to go with the faces so people always felt welcome coming to Holy Trinity," she said. "Just before leaving at the end of Mass he would shake everybody's hand trying to put those faces and names together. That was really touching for the parishioners."
Terrio was an excellent administrator, Gauthier said. In his plans, youth and family came first. That's why he had a youth coordinator and a marriage and family coordinator on staff. "The best legacy he's left us is the programs that we have in place now for youth and for children and for families."
Terrio preached good homilies, noted Gauthier. "He is obviously very theological and so people were constantly learning. He knew a lot about the saints and so he would often work in an example of a saint or a saint that was being celebrated on that day."
When he was named bishop, Gauthier wasn't surprised because the parish staff had been teasing him about that for a long time. "All I can think is of St. Paul. They are going to have a great administrator who is going to do great things for their diocese. It's definitely St. Paul's gain."
Former youth coordinator Mike Landry, who was hired by Terrio and served for six years under him, is deeply impressed by the new bishop.
"What I'm left with is very much a sense he was a father in every sense of the world," he said. "He was the one who made it possible for me to stay in this ministry for as long as I did. He had a sense of the pulse of where young people were really struggling or hurting and he really cared for them but he also cared for me personally."
Landry, who is now chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, said despite how busy he was, Terrio always made time to be around and to be involved and to support his ministry.
"I would say without hesitation that everything I accomplished as youth minister is due to his support and his leadership as our pastor. He had a deep love for young people. He really cares about their needs or where their hearts are at, about the places they are struggling."
Terrio also had "a deep love and a deep appreciation for music and he tried to foster that in our parish," Landry said. "He was a real gift to the parish."
Paul Quist, who with his wife Carol runs the family ministry at Holy Trinity, described Terrio as a pastor who has a deep love for the Eucharist and a reverence for the liturgy.
"He is a great administrator and he is also kind of wise in the ways of the Church," Quist said. "He knows how to handle a crisis when it arises without getting ruffled. I don't think he's ever lost his peace."
Quist said when he and Carol joined the staff at Holy Trinity, Terrio made them feel welcome. "He appreciated our ministry and he was very respectful of the contributions the laity made to the work being done at Holy Trinity."
Creating his position as marriage and family coordinator "was kind of a bold move on his part," Quist said. "I think we are the only couple doing marriage and family ministry that I know of in Western Canada."
He also noted that Terrio partnered the parish with the Catholic school division and initiated a program to help combat pornography in the schools. "He sees a need and then finds the people who can help him address that need."
During weekday Masses Terrio would preach off the cuff but he always had a good structure and always had something new to say, Quist observed. "I enjoyed hearing him preach."
Quist had two reactions when he heard of Terrio's appointment. "I was happy for the Church in St. Paul and I was sad that we are losing him here. I think he is going to be a marvellous bishop."
Deacon Patrick Hessel said in many ways Terrio acted like a father to his parishioners.
"He loved the parishioners; they were his family," he observed. "He nurtured them and provided a safe environment for them. And he was not afraid to correct them when they stepped out of line."
For Hessel, Terrio was also a great mentor. "His pastoral sensitivity, his administrative acumen, his strong background in theology and philosophy, his dedication to prayer, and his overwhelming love of our Lord will serve him well as he shepherds his new flock," he said in an email. "He is, above all, a parish priest; his 'parish' just got bigger."
In a homily Hessel gave to the parish shortly before Terrio left last summer, he praised the many ways Terrio taught his flock without words.
"I think his greatest teaching was the way he dealt with his mother in the last years of her life," he said. "With all of his many responsibilities, he brought her into his home so that he could care for her and he was her constant companion when she moved out to receive more intensive care.
"The caring he showed to his mother taught us all the importance of family – perhaps the most dominant theme of his 10 years with us.
"It also reinforced for all of us the Church's teaching about the dignity of the human person in all stages of life and in all states of health. And most importantly, it was an example of abundant love."