Fr. Rogatien Papion
April 15, 2013
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER
About 10 years after Oblate Father Rogatien Papion arrived in the Arctic, hunters came back one day to Thom Bay and found the missionary unconscious.
In the late 1950s the Inuit hunters would have loaded him on to a dog sled to transport him back to a community where he could be cared for.
Almost 2,500 kms north of Winnipeg, and nearly 1,000 kms north of the Nunavut town of Rankin Inlet, the tiny, tough Frenchman was at the outer edge of civilization, but he wanted to be there for the people.
"He was determined to be there because the people were going to come back (from the hunting expedition)," said Oblate missionary Father Tony Krotki. "He didn't know that the sickness would come on him so rapidly, so quickly that it just put him down.
"He was expecting death. He couldn't walk. He couldn't move. He couldn't go away to the community. It was too far. He had nothing to use, no dog team. He was left there to die."
If Papion was faithful to the people, the people were also faithful to him. He was brought back to health and continued his work in the Arctic until 1998.
"Another 50 years of beautiful ministry," said Krotki.
At the age of 92, Papion died in an Oblate nursing home in Lyon, France, March 13.
Born in 1921, ordained in 1946, Papion had wanted to be a missionary in Laos, where he wouldn't have to learn English. Instead, he arrived in Repulse Bay, NWT, in 1947. Over the years he lived in Ikpik, also known as Thom Bay, Arviat, Baker Lake, Whale Cove, Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet, Coral Harbour and Repulse Bay.
"In Repulse Bay people speak very highly of him. They have beautiful memories of him," said Krotki. Papion's obituary on Nanatsiaqonline.ca attracted a number of positive comments.
"Rest well, Father Papion. . . . It was always so uplifting to see you and know the joy of the Lord in your presence. Thank you for serving Inuit well," wrote Cathy Towtongie.
LOVED BY HIS PEOPLE
"He is the only priest I respected. He truly loved the people and had a wonderful sense of humour," wrote Johanne Coutu-Autut.
Krotki, who arrived in the North from Poland in 1991, remembers Papion as a role model.
"He didn't say much, but everything he said would make sense," said Krotki. "It was something he lived through in his life."
It's the work of pioneering missionaries such as Papion that is now the heritage of Christians in the North, he said.
"At that time (Papion's missionary work) kept people alive and it was courageous," he said. "It was what people needed before times changed, and our understanding and needs also. But we need to know where we come from."
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