Terrio walked a winding road on his way to St. Paul

A young Fr. Paul Paul Terrio celebrates  a parish  Mass during his years in Brazil.

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A young Fr. Paul Paul Terrio celebrates a parish Mass during his years in Brazil.

December 10, 2012
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

It was a long and winding road on which Bishop-elect Paul Terrio travelled from the Eastern Townships of Quebec to the Edmonton Archdiocese, a road that took him through Montreal, Brazil and Rome, always learning, always searching and finding every step along the way amazing and wonderful.

When he finally arrived at St. Joseph Seminary in 1994, this native English speaker found that, for the first time in his priestly career, he would be called upon to minister in English.

"I had to learn how to function in English," Terrio said of his first months in Edmonton where he had to adjust both linguistically and culturally before teaching his first philosophy class.

It had been 11 years since he had been in Canada, most of those spent in Brazil, interrupted by two years studying at Rome's esteemed Gregorian University, which has provided an education to 17 popes and one-third of the current College of Cardinals.

"It was wonderful" being in Brazil, he said of his experience teaching at a seminary in Brasilia. "Brazilians, they've got it all."

Terrio went to Brazil two years after joining the Sulpicians, an association of priests whose main work is to teach and provide formation in seminaries. He had joined the association during eight years of teaching at the College de Montreal, a private secondary school run by the Sulpicians where he had taught and mentored young people.

Going to Brazil meant a total immersion in Portuguese. He arrived in September 1983, entered an inculturation program and began teaching seminarians in February 1984.

"It was sink or swim. I came up spluttering and splashing."

Fortunately, he had already made the transition from one language to another – from English to French – during his years studying, ministering and teaching in Montreal.

"The language reflex – once you've given it a good run – you're less intimidated when moving into another cultural setting."

RIDING THE BUS

Living and working in a seminary setting, Terrio was not often in direct contact with the widespread poverty in Brazil. But he did have his moments.

Shortly after arriving in Brasilia, he had acquired enough knowledge of Portuguese to take the bus into the centre of the city by himself. At one point, he had to change buses and was mobbed by "a whole swarm of begging children."

In the evening, he returned, changing buses at the same spot. The same children were playing soccer barefoot in the parking lot across the street, no longer concerned about begging money from a Canadian priest.

"They had become children again. They were jumping and running and playing and had reverted to childhood."

There was something typically Brazilian about that, he said. "There's a joy and a happiness that is very impressive."

EASTERN TOWNSHIPS

Paul Terrio was born May 4, 1943 in Montreal and raised in the Eastern Townships where his father, Joseph Paul, was the long-serving mayor of the municipality of East Bolton.

Fr. Paul Terrio played his part in the Villeneuve parish string quartet.

PHOTO | JUNE VICTOOR

Fr. Paul Terrio played his part in the Villeneuve parish string quartet.

"He was an admirably honest and just, fair man," he said. When he was offered "monetary rewards for certain policy decisions on the council," Joseph laughed and turned them down. "Dad just didn't live like that."

As mayor, the elder Terrio had inherited a municipality on the verge of trusteeship. "Eighteen years later when he died, they were on their way to glory. They had come out of debt and were on their feet again."

Phyllis Terrio, the mother of the future bishop of St. Paul, was a convert from Anglicanism. Her father and grandfather were both Anglican ministers. It was long before the launch of RCIA and so Phyllis received instruction in the faith directly from the pastor, a Father Feeney who gave her "a very generous and welcoming view of Catholicism."

Far from an exclusive or narrow Catholicism, Feeney taught her that "everybody who looked to Christ and who followed the light of the Gospel was part of a great light for humanity."

With no Catholic school near the Terrio home, Phyllis was the catechist for the four children. "She was a woman of real faith and tremendous prayer." As for his father, he taught the faith "in a very practical way."

"I am very grateful for all that I received from my parents."

At election time, the girls would tease their dad that they would vote against him. "They wanted him to quit" and devote more time to the family.

"But he loved it and he was good at it. It was a service and he had something to give outside the home."

Phyllis, meanwhile, was a voracious reader, reading everything her children brought home from college and eventually reading the entire corpus of books by Canadian women authors.

"Mom was a practising Catholic and a woman of prayer. She didn't necessarily agree with everything that was being said. But the more you read, the more perspective you have and the more insight."

What would his parents think of his being named a bishop?

"They would say, 'Congratulations and we're proud of you.' But behind the lines of intimate family life, they would say 'Don't forget your prayers and always remember who you are and where you came from.'"

DANDELIONS

Paul learned his faith well from his parents. When he was about three years old, he disappeared one day and his parents set out in search of him. They found him . . . eventually . . . in the church with a handful of dandelions, looking up at the stained glass behind the altar.

"It was to make an offering of some sort, to bring something to him."

Says Terrio: "I never lost that." Faith was always important; there was never a crisis of unbelief or rejection of the Church.

In Grade 11, he and other students were discussing issues of life, death and the meaning of things. A female classmate stopped him and said, "'Oh, for heaven's sake, Paul. You're talking like a priest.'

"It sort of stopped me and I thought, 'Gee, I guess I really do believe what I've been brought up in.'"

DRAWN TO DAILY MASS

From high school, it was on to Concordia University in Montreal where, along with his studies in philosophy, literature and the humanities, he often made time to attend the noon Mass at the downtown cathedral. "I didn't force myself to do it. I felt drawn."

On campus, he attended a Lenten mission put on by the Newman Club. "I realized that not only can you become an educated Catholic and believe, but it gets more and more interesting. There just seemed to be more and more room in God."

So, rather than go to graduate school, Terrio decided it was time to check out the possibility of a priestly vocation and he entered the seminary.

"Right from the first semester, the great discovery for me was the Old Testament. It was a great opening for me. If you grasped the Old Testament, the New Testament was wonderfully exciting."

The Montreal seminary was a huge community of 250 to 300 seminarians. Terrio's first year there was in the traditional monastic style where the seminarians could only leave the grounds once a week. In the second year, the seminarians were sent to the University of Montreal. Because they were on a large secular university campus, they couldn't always get to daily Mass.

Quebec and the Church were changing rapidly. By 1970, only 26 of his original class of 120 graduated and not all of the graduates were ordained to the priesthood. "They dropped off like flies."

Terrio was ordained May 23, 1970 by Archbishop Paul Gregoire – "It was a beautiful, sunny day" – and was assigned to the Basilica of Mary Queen of the World for his first five and a half years of priesthood.

Fr. Paul Terrio talks with Montreal Archbishop Paul Gregoire at the young priest's ordination on May 23, 1970.

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Fr. Paul Terrio talks with Montreal Archbishop Paul Gregoire at the young priest's ordination on May 23, 1970.

"They were wonderful years. You meet the world in a place like downtown Montreal."

There were five priests in the parish and they each heard Confessions for at least an hour a day, five days a week. "We needed all the help we could get to man the confessional and say all the Masses."

The Monday morning meetings of the priests at the basilica, led by Auxiliary Bishop Andre-Paul Cimichella, were a highlight for Terrio.

"Those Monday morning sessions, they were the continuation of my seminary," he recalled. "We would talk shop and plan the liturgy and preaching. I listened to the wisdom of the older men."

His work at the basilica was pastoral – marriage preparation, meeting people in their homes and the schools, preaching, preparing people for the sacraments and helping to establish Meals on Wheels.

"It really confirmed me in the vocation to be a priest. I've never regretted it."

From there, it was on to the College de Montreal where he taught, mentored students and celebrated daily Mass.

"Teaching is a wonderful vocation," Terrio said. Teachers are "unsung heroes in terms of being agents for social change and progress."

He was drawn to the life of the Sulpicians by their community life, spirituality and commitment to education. In 1981, he joined the association and two years later was sent to Brazil.

That stint was interrupted by his two years in Rome where he earned his licentiate in philosophy.

"I was a good experience of the European academic tradition where you read, read, read and then debate in seminars, and then read some more, you attend lectures, and then you have oral and written exams. But the big accent is on reading."

SHARPEST SABRE

Terrio studied under a well-known German Jesuit philosopher, Carlo Huber, and wrote a thesis comparing the theory of knowledge of the Canadian Bernard Lonergan with that of Blessed John Henry Newman.

When he presented the first draft to Huber, "He took out his sharpest German sabre and slashed it to pieces." The Jesuit, however, took Terrio under his wing and gave him lots of advice, and, a few months later, the thesis was ready for approval.

Terrio returned to Brazil and taught for several more years.

In Edmonton, meanwhile, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil had asked the Sulpicians to assume responsibility for St. Joseph Seminary. Given that Terrio was one of the few members of the Montreal Province who was English speaking, it wasn't surprising that he was asked to come to Alberta.

While he was in Brazil, his remaining family members had moved to the West. "I was happy to come back to be nearer to Mom and to start eating Alberta beef."

The rector, Father Marc Ouellet, took note of the fact that the archdiocese was short of priests and said the Sulpicians would have to help in parishes. MacNeil gave them responsibility for St. Peter's Parish in Villeneuve and its missions.

Father Gerard Gaudreault and Terrio celebrated weekend Masses, with occasional help from Ouellet, but Terrio became the pastor.

"I found the parish ministry engrossing. And the longer you're there, the more engrossing it becomes."

Still involved in the seminary, in 2000 and 2001, he helped set up its philosophy program. But the next year, Archbishop Thomas Collins appointed him pastor at Holy Trinity Parish serving Spruce Grove and Stony Plain.

MORTGAGE PAYMENTS

At Holy Trinity, he received "a bigger dollop of administration." The parish had just built its new church and had mortgage payments of $21,000 a month.

"That's an awful lot of money. It required quite a head change for me."

The parish grew quickly and he had to coordinate a large staff. The parish put its pastoral focus on youth and family, but it still had to keep ahead of the debt.

Terrio learned a valuable lesson: "If people see they're getting good meat-and-potatoes pastoral services, they'll step up to the plate."

"They've never missed a payment," he said, noting that the parish is now only a year and a half away from having the church completely paid off.

Despite the financial scare and the burden of administration, it was, just like in the first assignment in downtown Montreal, the pastoral work that fulfilled him.

"I love serving and celebrating the faith of the community."

Celebrating means the sacramental life, while serving refers to the interpersonal work that can include preparing a family for a funeral, couples for marriage and unchurched people for the Baptism of their children.

FAITH MENTOR

"The pastoral accompaniment involved in each of those situations is really the inner guts of pastoral ministry."

You become a faith mentor and a dialogue partner. "That's wonderful."

Now, he's off to become the seventh bishop of St. Paul, filling the shoes of his former seminary colleague, Bishop Luc Bouchard, who moved to Trois Rivieres, Quebec, earlier this year.

At age 69, it's a new and unexpected challenge. But as he said, when the appointment was announced, it is a continuation of his pastoral ministry. "Being a priest with people, being a pastor, that's what it's all about."