A Knight and A Bishop
Bishop Eugene P. LaRocque came to the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall and was installed as our Bishop on September 15, 1974.
My first experience with him did not go well; a shy man, he seemed a little stand-offish when I was the reader for his first Mass at my parish. Time passed, and we met a few more times when my children were confirmed.
I was also guilty of criticizing him, and not showing him the proper respect when speaking of him to others. We should never criticize any priest; without them, there is no Holy Eucharist available for us in the Mass.
I was a convert Catholic who did not fully understand the responsibility and burdens that a bishop could be facing in a bilingual diocese where there seemed to be a battle among the parishes for control.
The bishop chose to change some bilingual churches into unilingual French and English churches. This would mean that certain parishes would be off limits for transfers for priests who struggled with the language issue.
I remember an Oblate priest, Father Andre Peter Steinmann from Cap de la Madeleine visiting me through that period, and saying that people have cars so they can choose to travel to the church of their choice. He felt that their parish life would be stronger if there was only one Parish Council and one language.
A few years later, I had an inspiration from Our Lady, who was chosen by Bishop LaRocque as the patron of this diocese. Ironically, my husband and I were attending a French parish at the time, as it was the closest church to where we lived.
The idea that came to me was to hold a Prayers for Peace event at our local arena, enlisting children to pray the rosary, with a bilingual choir and to invite everyone, whether Catholic or not, to come together to pray for peace in the world. I made an appointment with my bishop to ask his permission. I also contacted the Mayor of Cornwall, who agreed that since it wasn’t a protest, he would support the idea and attend.
Bishop LaRocque met me in November,1984 and I shared the thoughts I had for this Pentecost Sunday gathering. I gave him regular updates, organized a small committee of five people, and things began to fall into place. A few months before the event, that February, I received a call from the bishop that he needed to see me.
Apparently, a few priests in the diocese had gone to him and strongly suggested that this event would be a fiasco; one cannot have a gathering with the rosary as the main prayers, and consider it to be ecumenical. They described me as a “kooky artist type with wild ideas” and told the bishop he should cancel this event.
Bishop LaRocque said that I had some opposition but he believed I was inspired by Our Lady and the Holy Spirit. He encouraged me to remain steadfast and continue with our plans. His confidence helped our committee to forge ahead.
On May 26, 1985 over two thousand people prayed for world peace, using the prayers of the rosary, recited in both official languages by Grade Eight students, and the choir of 100 voices had members from the United and Anglican churches singing with the Catholic church choir members.
The only speech that was given was a short mention by Bishop LaRocque about a train conductor, a devoted member of the Knights of Columbus named Frank Gregotski who had given me a ring rosary many years earlier. The bishop had also met Frank on the train, and so the bishop shared how one man can make a difference for others.
Frank had given me a metal decade rosary and suggested I should pray a daily rosary. Frank’s suggestion had helped to inspire this event, and every person in attendance that day received a decade rosary, courtesy of our local Knights of Columbus organization.
An Ottawa television station had come to film the event for a short news item that Sunday, and when they witnessed the entrance of hundreds of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides joining our closing song, flags waving, and marching to the hymn, CITY OF GOD, the reporter felt a national story was unfolding.
So that Sunday night, the last item on the CTV National News were words from Sandie Renaldo saying: “In Cornwall Ontario today, they prayed for peace in the world.” The news item lasted about 90 seconds, but it made an impression, especially after the bishop read a telegram from St. John Paul II who was joining us in spirit to pray for world peace.
I will always be grateful to Bishop LaRocque for saying yes to this idea. After he retired, we stayed in touch and every birthday and Father’s Day, he received a card from me as a reminder of my gratitude for his wisdom and faith.
He passed away on December 16, 2018 and his funeral was held at Nativity Co-Cathedral here in Cornwall. At his vigil, I prayed a rosary quietly for him, with a heart full of love and thanks for that time when he trusted the Holy Spirit to guide us for the celebration of that very special Feast of Pentecost.