Fr. Gilbert Dasna brought light and laughter wherever he went.

PHOTO SUPPLIED | ST. PAUL DIOCESE

Fr. Gilbert Dasna brought light and laughter wherever he went.

May 26, 2014
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Father Gilbert Dasna was a happy, funny, hard-working priest who loved people, especially the First Nations people he served at Saddle Lake where his kindness and evangelical fervour sparked a flourishing parish.

"When my wife and I first started taking care of the church a few years ago, we were lucky if we had five people in church on Sunday," said Greg Hysell of Saddle Lake.

"After he was here for a few months, we'd have 40 or 50 people, sometimes more. He completely turned the church around."

Dasna went door-to-door speaking with people, bringing Communion to the sick and elderly, and immersed himself in every aspect of the community, Hysell said.

The 32-year-old priest from Cameroon died after being shot multiple times in the chest on Friday evening, May 9, the third anniversary of his arrival in Canada.

"He was the most wonderful man I ever met," said Hysell. "He had a way with people that he knew how to get a point across without offending anyone."

Greg's wife Patsy described Dasna as a humble, loving, charismatic, genuine and spiritual man. He never forgot the names of people he met.

Patsy spoke to Dasna on the phone about half an hour before he was shot.

After speaking with Dasna, she went to her computer to update the parish's Facebook page. Later, one of her friends from St. Paul posted that she heard gunshots by the church.

She got up and told her husband, "Something's wrong."

At a small altar in their home, Patsy lit a candle and read from her Bible. Worried, she kept phoning Dasna, but there was no answer. She texted him, and still no response. Eventually she heard from the diocesan office that he was dead.

"I felt like I was ready to drop. My whole body went numb," she said.

"A very big void is left in our community. Now we are left wondering what is going to happen to our church because he is what brought the people back. To have him leave, we have no shepherd."

Born in Lainde-Garoua, Cameroon, Dasna was the third child and the second son among four children. After his parents, Gango and Monique, died when he was a boy, Dasna was raised by his sister, who became a nun in his hometown.

Sister Jeannette Horbaita Dasna 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 in Mater Dei Cathedral in Umuahia in the state of Abia in Nigeria. He came to Edmonton in May 2011 for a three-week orientation to 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, 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 lying on his right side at the rectory entrance. He had been shot, and blood was coming from his wounds.

Dasna tried to speak, but no words came out.

An ambulance took him to the hospital around 6:30 p.m. Father Peter Tran, diocesan chancellor, arrived at 7:10 p.m., and was told Dasna had died a minute before.

He is survived by two brothers, his grandmother and members of his religious congregation, the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy.

LOVED ABORIGINAL PEOPLE

Tran said Dasna was a faithful priest.

"He liked to wear a white cassock to show that he belonged to God completely. He loved people, especially native people," said Tran.

Speaking both French and English fluently, he made friends easily with others, both young and old, said Tran.

Denise Paquette, religion teacher at École du Sommet in St. Paul, knew Dasna from working with him on the school's graduation Masses.

In that work, she found that Dasna listened carefully to the graduating students. He clearly cared about their problems and 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.

ST. PAUL HEARTBROKEN

Dasna's murder left people in St. Paul heartbroken, 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."

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. 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 in the footsteps of Christ. Muobike said the mercy of God was expressed in Dasna's compassion, forgiveness and kindness.

Father Ambrose Umeohanna, the pastor in Westlock, met Dasna in Nigeria and the two priests were reacquainted when Dasna came to St. Paul.

"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," said Umeohanna.

Dasna's life was short but exemplary. In his three years in St. Paul, he touched the lives of many people.

"There is so much love for him, and people are crying out how this could happen," said Umeohanna.

Yvan Beaudoin is the religious education coordinator for the Catholic school division in St. Paul and a parishioner at the cathedral. He said Dasna was always readily available to assist in the schools.

"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 died, he said, "Oh no, I loved him because he always encourages me."

TERRIBLE TRAGEDY

Theresa Devall, a parishioner at the cathedral, said the murder stunned the entire community.

"It's been a terrible tragedy, not only for the Catholic Church but for the whole community of St. Paul."

Devall described Dasna as a nice man, smiling all the time and always busy.

In an official statement, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith urged the priests of the Edmonton Archdiocese to pray for the repose of the Dasna's soul.

"May the Lord welcome him into the joy of eternal life, and bless the members of his family and religious community, as well as he clergy and faithful of the St. Paul Diocese, with consolation and peace," said Smith.