Pierre Champoux wept when he saw St. John Paul II in Ottawa in 1984.

CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG

Pierre Champoux wept when he saw St. John Paul II in Ottawa in 1984.

March 7, 2016
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

The first major life event calling Father Pierre Champoux to the priesthood occurred during St. Pope John Paul II's 1984 visit to Ottawa.

Champoux, today the vocations director for the Ottawa Archdiocese, had not been caught up in the excitement of the pope's visit. But he happened to be riding a bus that stopped at the Rideau Canal just as the pope was traveling up the canal in an open boat.

He got off the bus, headed to the top of the Laurier Street Bridge and watched the pope greeting people from the boat.

Champoux told the archdiocese's annual Vocations Fair he was struck by his "sheer emotional reaction" and had "tears coming down his cheeks." He remembered thinking, "The pope is here. Peter is here. Peter is calling you."

The second distinct call occurred while he was working a night shift as a security guard at an Ottawa museum. Having lots of opportunity to read on this job, he was reading the Confessions of St. Augustine and came to the famous passage: "Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved you."

The passage came alive and made him realize a "deep longing in my heart to be one with Christ," he said.

Growing up in a military family, Champoux was used to moving and to making friends quickly, but the move to Ottawa in 1967 proved difficult.

Books came to fill the void in his life. He read a lot and watched a lot of movies. He also went to church because it brought stability.

By the time he read that passage of St. Augustine, however, he had been attending university and "leading a different life, going out with lots of women."

He felt prompted to attend a vocations retreat in Arnprior, Ont. run by the Companions of the Cross and spent four years as a seminarian. He took a Life in the Spirit seminar and consecrated his life to Jesus through Mary.

"For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of joyfulness and peace," he said.

The Companions used to send young men to spend a year at Madonna House, in Combermere, Ont., he said. About six months before Champoux was to go there, he had a dream he was in a dense fog and a monster with many legs - a spider or an octopus - was after him.

Then "a statue arose out of the mist," and the monster was scared away.

WELCOMING STATUE

For Champoux, the fourth sign that God was calling him to the priesthood came when he arrived at Madonna House and saw the statue of Our Lady of Combermere, a Madonna with her arms outstretched as if running to gather up her children. It was the statue in his dream.

"God always sends a message to us, an invitation," he said.

He also recalled a meeting with Father Bob Bedard, founder of the Companions of the Cross, who had just emerged from a squash court at a university gym. Bedard asked him, "Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?"

A personal call can come from hearing the words from someone you trust, he said, stressing the importance of letting people know if you think God has a call on their life.

Champoux eventually took a three-year break from the Companions. He began dating again. The calls from God were interspersed with personal struggles. Eventually, he realized "It's not about us, but what God wants to do with us."

Though he was dating a woman seriously, there was a "gravitational pull" that made him realize he was happiest when he was on his way to the priesthood. Anything else left him feeling that something was missing.

HEALING PHONE CALL

One highlight of his priesthood occurred when he was asked to see a man dying of terminal lung cancer. He asked the man what his last wish was.

The man said that for 17 years he had been isolated from his wife and children because of his severe alcoholism. Though he had tried apologizing years previously, the apology was not accepted. "He never picked up the phone after that." He wished to see his daughters before he died. They both lived in Toronto.

RECONCILIATION

Champoux made a cold call to one of the daughters, who reacted at first with anger, venting about her father's behaviour and selfishness. She called back shortly afterwards, and said she and her sister would be at the hospital in five hours.

They stopped and picked up a bucket of fried chicken on the way, and by the time they reached the hospital, their father had slipped into a coma.

"The moment his daughters walked in and touched his hand, he woke up," said Champoux. They were able to reconcile and even eat the fried chicken together. The father died a few hours later.