Fr. Gilbert Dasna
The St. Paul Diocese in northeastern Alberta is in mourning following the tragic death of a beloved priest.
Father Gilbert Dasna, 32, is dead after being shot multiple times in the chest on Friday evening, May 9. He was left to die in the doorway of the rectory of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Born in Cameroon, Dasna was the third child and the second son among four children. After his parents died when he was a boy, Dasna was raised by his sister, who became a nun in his hometown. She was killed in a car accident two months ago at the age of 42.
Dasna trained for the priesthood in Nigeria with the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy, an African-based religious order founded in 1970. He was ordained a priest on July 11, 2009. He came to Edmonton in May 2011 for a three-week orientation that taught him about Canadian culture.
He was soon recruited to the St. Paul Diocese, becoming associate pastor of the cathedral. He also served Sacred Heart Parish on the Saddle Lake Reserve and its mission church, St. Matthias in Goodfish Lake.
At about 5:50 p.m. on May 9, the St. Paul RCMP received an emergency call about shots fired at the rectory. Three police officers arrived around 6:15 p.m. and saw Dasna laying on his right side at the rectory entrance. He had been shot, and blood was coming from his wounds.
Dasna tried to say something, but no words came out.
An ambulance brought him to the local hospital around 6:30 p.m. Father Peter Tran, diocesan chancellor, arrived at 7:10 p.m., and was informed that Dasna had died just a minute before. He died on the third anniversary of his arrival in Canada.
Tran said Dasna was strong and faithful to his ministry as a priest.
“He liked to wear a white cassock to show that he belongs to God completely. He loved people, especially native people. Many times he replaced me to celebrate Sunday Mass in Saddle Lake and Goodfish Lake without charge,” said Tran.
Speaking both French and English fluently, he made friends easily with others, both young and old, said Tran.
“I think he is the kind of priest that people like to be: holy, humble, generous and charitable,” said Tran.
Denise Paquette, religion teacher at Ecole du Sommet in St. Paul, knew Dasna while working with him on the school’s graduation Masses the past two years.
“People in the community here are just heartbroken, not just at the cathedral but everywhere in the community. I feel that our community is broken,” said Paquette.
“You go to the grocery store and people just kind of look at each other with sad eyes. No one knows how to start a conversation with one another. It’s tough.”
In preparation for the graduation Masses, she found that Dasna listened carefully to the needs of the graduating students. He genuinely cared about their problems and their specific interests.
“I found him to be so attentive to our grads when we would meet with him. We’d have a lunch meeting with him, so he could get to know them a little better, so that he could preach a little more closely to who they were. He was generous in his ministry and generous with his time,” said Paquette.
Father Casmir Muobike, pastor at St. Isidore Parish in Plamondon, belongs to the same religious order as Dasna.
“He was very down to earth, lived his life with simplicity, and I’d say he lived a life of poverty. He was a joyful person, and peaceful. Wherever he was, he brought joy to the people around him,” said Muobike.
The charism of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy is to bear witness to the mercy of God, by following the footsteps of Christ. Muobike said Dasna, whether working in the parish or in the school, lived up to this charism, and the mercy of God was expressed in compassion, forgiveness and kindness.
Father Ambrose Umeohanna, pastor at St. Mary of Assumption Parish in Westlock, met Dasna in Nigeria. Umeohanna came to the St. Paul Diocese in 2006, and the two priests were reacquainted three years later.
“He was a very dedicated priest, and a funny guy. Whenever you were in his presence, he made everybody laugh. He was a humble guy, a very smart man and a good fellow. He was obedient to his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,” said Umeohanna.
While the tragedy is confusing and hard for people to understand, Umeohanna offered one possible explanation, “Maybe God allowed him to share in the martyrdom by allowing this type of dirt.
“Since this happened, I’ve been trying think about the mystery of Christ’s death, and trying to compare it to his death.”
He said Jesus’ death was surrounded in mystery. How could the Son of God die in such a cruel manner? Jesus died for greater goodness, “for the good of the sheep.” According to Umeohanna, the same can be said for Dasna, that even in bad times we must give glory to God.
“When I look at what happened, I ask, ‘Why should this guy die in such a cruel manner?’ I don’t know why. God’s ways are totally different from ours. But I know that he died for greater goodness, which I cannot explain because only God knows,” he said.
Around the world, Canada is regarded as a peaceful country, and he cannot explain to people back home in Africa how such a violent incident could occur here.
His life was short but exemplary. In his three years in St. Paul, he touched the lives of many people. Umeohanna said Dasna will be greatly missed by the Missionaries of Charity, the clergy and the faithful.
“There is so much love for him, and people are crying out how this could happen. Why should this happen to such a good man, this loving man, this peaceful man who cared for people and gave them attention? Nobody can understand it,” said Umeohanna.
Yvan Beaudoin is the religious coordinator for the Catholic school division in St. Paul. He’s also a parishioner at the cathedral. He said that Dasna was always readily available to assist in the schools. He defined the priest as a kindhearted man and a spiritual leader who led by example.
“He was a gentle soul is the best way I’d describe him. He had a gentle nature and a joyfulness about him that was evident, almost like a light that shone from him,” said Beaudoin.
Beaudoin has a 10-year-old son, Nicholas. When the boy was told that their dear pastor had passed away, he said, “Oh no, I loved him because he always encourages me.”
People are left wondering why this happened. Beaudoin is doubtful the community will ever determine the answer to that question.
“There’s a certain sadness that we’ve lost him. There’s a deep sorrow that he’s no longer with us. That’s been the feeling of the people in the parish who knew him. Everyone is profoundly touched by it,” said Beaudoin.
As of May 13, police have not confirmed whether Dasna’s homicide was related to a gunfight in St. Paul the same evening. Gunshots rang out near the St. Paul RCMP detachment, and police began hunting for a black Dodge pickup that was seen leaving the area.
The truck later rammed a police cruiser in downtown St. Paul, leaving a female police officer with extensive injuries to both legs. Two other Mounties were injured in a shootout, one of them shot in the hand, and another hit in the face by flying glass.
The shootout resulted with the suspect in the truck dead. The suspect was identified as John Carlos Quadros, 55, co-manager of Health Mart 2000, a health and vitamin store in St. Paul.
Alberta’s Serious Incident Response team, a provincial unit that investigates the use of force by police, has taken over the shootout investigation.
A community prayer vigil is set for St. Paul’s Cathedral on May 16 at 7 p.m., with Father Gerard Gauthier presiding. A prayer vigil will also be held at Sacred Heart Church in Saddle Lake on May 17 at 7:30 p.m. with Tran presiding. Funeral prayers will be held at the cathedral on May 18 at 7:30 p.m. with Gauthier presiding.
The funeral Mass of Christian Burial shall be held at the cathedral on May 19 at 2 p.m., with Terrio presiding.
The remains of Dasna will be transported for burial in the cemetery of his order in Nigeria.
Donations in Dasna’s memory will be received by the St. Paul Diocese. The beneficiaries of the donations shall be determined and confirmed as soon as possible.