Fr. John Nowakowski lived at St. Joseph's Basilica after serving as chaplain at edmonton Auxiliary Hospital.


Fr. John Nowakowski lived at St. Joseph's Basilica after serving as chaplain at edmonton Auxiliary Hospital.

September 5, 2011

ST. ALBERT — A priest best known for his quiet presence and caring nature has passed away.

Father John Nowakowski died Aug. 27 at Sturgeon Hospital in St. Albert. He was 79.

"He was a very dedicated priest, committed to the Knights of Columbus," said Mickey Casavant, a past state deputy for Alberta-Northwest Territories and former supreme warden for the order.

"He used to attend as many functions as he could, and was available for the Knights. We developed a lot of respect for him. If the Knights needed someone for Mass, Father John was always there."

Nowakowski was born July 18, 1932, the oldest of five on a farm near Vermilion. His family prayed together regularly, and he attended Mass weekly, making the eight-km drive each Sunday to St. Andrew's Church, north of town.

School played a key influence in his eventual decision to enter the priesthood. He attended school at Mary Lake, Rusylvia and Clandonald. The Sisters of St. Joseph's of London ran Clandonald High School. From them he learned more about the faith and was already discerning his religious life.

However, after high school graduation, he opted to become a teacher. At the University of Alberta he attained a teaching licence in one year and went to teach near Vermilion.

The idea of serving God as a priest stayed with him. In 1953, at age 21, he entered St. Joseph Seminary. He was ordained in Clandonald May 28, 1959 by Archbishop Anthony Jordan.

"He was very faithful to the Church in every way, faithful to his hospital ministry and faithful to the sick," said Father Leo Floyd, who was in the seminary with Nowakowski.

"He loved Clandonald and he was proud of being from the rural area of Alberta. He had a great respect for the land out there."

Floyd described his friend as a storyteller who remained connected to his home and family in Clandonald. He was proud of his roots and his family.


He watched the stock market closely, followed major league baseball avidly and never owned a new car, always driving around in an old clunker.

A two-month stint as assistant pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish was Nowakowski's first assignment. He later served in Tofield and at Edmonton's Immaculate Heart Parish. He also faithfully served as chaplain at St. Joseph's Auxiliary Hospital.

Nowakowski found his call within his call in 1968, when he became chaplain of the Edmonton Auxiliary Hospital, where he spent the next 25 years. He cared for the sick and dying. By virtue of his faithfulness, commitment, dependability and gentle approach with people, the ministry defined him.

"The important thing for him was his fidelity to the Church, his ministry to the sick and the dying. He took on funerals that no one else wanted," said Floyd.

Nowakowski's typical day as chaplain began at 6:30 a.m. He would give Communion to the patients before saying Mass at the chapel and visiting with some patients. He was on call, day and night, to give the last rites to a dying person.

"He showed dedication in taking care of the sick and lonely and those who are isolated from the Church," said Floyd. "He never really had a parish. The hospital was his parish ministry."

Nowakowski retired from the hospital in 1993, and later went to live at the cathedral rectory. In 2009, the same year as the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, he moved to Youville Home in St. Albert. He had tremors from Parkinson's disease in his later years - something he never complained about.

"He was a very pleasant man to have around," Casavant told the WCR.


The priest was a certified graphoanalyst. He analyzed handwriting to determine a person's character traits. From only a 100-word sample scribbled on a sheet of paper, he was trained to discern creativity, emotional responsiveness and other qualities. He analyzed handwriting for the local police and the University of Alberta.

"He would be at functions and sitting around at the table he enjoyed handwriting analysis a lot," said Casavant. "People signed their names, and he'd analyze the signatures, and people were always intrigued by this."

A prayer vigil for Nowakowski was held Aug. 31 at Connelly-McKinley. His funeral was Sept. 1 at St. Joseph's Basilica.