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Celebration marks Fr. Emile April's 50 years of service as a priest, in both Canada and Brazil

fr emile april celebration

Fr Emile April was joined by parishioners, friends and family at a celebration June 25 to mark his 50th anniversary as a priest, his 75th birthday and his upcoming retirement.

St. Philip Neri Parish hosts celebration honouring Fr. Emile April

By Kate O’Gorman

A celebration was held June 25 at St. Philip Neri Parish in Saskatoon honouring Fr. Emile April on the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

April’s ministry as a priest began at St. Philip Neri Parish after his ordination in 1967, and for the past five years parishioners there were pleased to have him back at the same parish where his journey began. In the years between, Fr. April had many rich experiences serving locally and abroad.

To celebrate his Golden Jubilee, his 75th birthday and the eve of his retirement, he was surrounded by parishioners, his brother priests, friends, and family as they “roasted and toasted” him for his many years of selfless service during a celebration that included an afternoon Mass, a program, and a barbecue.

A large part of April’s ministry was spent in Uniao dos Palmares, Brazil, where he served from 1972 to 1998 as a missionary from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

Sr. Claire Novecosky, OSU, and Fr. Les Paquin both worked closely with April in Brazil, and shared fond memories of that time. Fr. Paquin explained in a letter read at the celebration that while in Brazil, April pastored a large parish of 50,000 parishioners – and how his focus was on building small Christian communities for the laity.

The task of caring for the sacramental and ministerial needs of a parish that large was no small undertaking. On weekends, Fr. Paquin explained, it was not uncommon to have three sets of baptisms, each involving some 30-40 children.

Fr Emile April

In conjunction with serving a parish, Fr. April was involved with a number of special projects, one of which was mobilizing a work bee to assist flood victims rebuild their homes. Through this project, April saw 250 homes constructed.

There was always something to be done but, as Fr. Paquin explained in his written tribute to April, the secret to being a good missionary is to have a nap after lunch – something that April mastered. Fr. Paquin and Sr. Claire Novecosky both took the opportunity to tease April about his penchant for sneaking in a snooze where he could.

Sr. Claire Novecosky recounted times when April was caught sleeping through a homily or during reconciliation, “he nearly fell out of his confessional chair,” she remembered with a smile. “But I’m sure the Lord showed mercy,” she teased, “not only on the sinner but on Fr. Emile as well.”

While Sr. Claire Novecosky and Fr. April lived and served in different parts of Brazil, she recounted how April would often visit, “for a meal or a siesta.”

“We had good discussions,” she said, “where we, of course, always solved all of the social, political and religious problems of the day.” Fr. April ardently denounced injustice and inequality. “He was passionate for God’s Kingdom and the poor,” said Fr. Paquin. “He loved the poor and took a stand on their behalf and at times this made him unpopular with the rich land owners.”

While in Brazil, Fr. April was involved in supporting the rights of landless farmers who were being illegally denied access to safe and productive work.

After taking steps with local authorities to help support poor workers reclaim their land rights on one farm in particular, Fr. April found himself the target of an intended assassination. By upsetting the social and political power that contributed to systemic inequality around land rights, he served as a voice for the voiceless. Commenting on the threats Fr. April suffered, Sr. Claire Novecosky said: “It didn’t seem to faze him too much.”

Fr. April was unwavering in his work to defend the landless and the small farmers. As he himself went on to explain, the threats against his life did not materialize. “This was just one of the little ways in which God has protected, helped and supported me all these years and I am extremely grateful,” he said.

Fr. April is known for his hospitality, both in Brazil and here in Canada. He always had time and the necessary patience to welcome others. Honest, welcoming, courageous and loving, Fr. April also has a sense of humour, and a prayerful spirit. Fr. Paquin described him as a great friend and mentor.

In a tribute to his ministry with students at Holy Cross high school between 1969-1972, the choir, under the direction Leanne Hamm, performed two songs – Take Up Your Cross and This is Not the End – both of which had meaning for the students and resonated with Fr. April’s anniversary and retirement. Leanne Hamm expressed her deep thanks Fr. April for all he has done for the students at Holy Cross.

During his years of ministry, Fr. April also spent a total of 10 years serving in the Humboldt deanery, where he was pastor in Watson, Englefeld, St. Gregor, Lanigan and Humbolt.

Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB, offered some words of congratulations and thanks. “Fr. Emile was deeply shaped by the Vatican II vision of the Church,” said Abbot Peter. “He led people to a renewed vision of celebrating the liturgy, of empowering the lay people and of working for social justice.”

The abbot went on to say that, “Fr. Emile is a pastor in the style of Pope Francis. Pope Francis has described the Church as a field hospital and tells us to reach out to people on the peripheries of church and society and I think that describes the role Fr. Emile adopted in his ministry, whether in Brazil or here in this diocese. It isn’t easy to be a great pastor in two very different cultures and in two different languages,” Abbot Peter Novecosky explained, and thanked Fr. April for spreading what Pope Francis calls “the joy of the Gospel.”

Upon his retirement, Fr. April plans to return to Brazil for a time to visit friends and subsequently enjoy a year of rest – after that he affirms that Saskatoon will remain his home and he will be available to assist and minister from time to time when needed.

“These have been wonderful years, both in Brazil and in Canada,” said Fr. April. “I enjoyed the work that I did very much.”

Fr. Ron Beechinor, who concelebrated Mass alongside Fr. April, summed it up best in his homily when he said to Fr. April: “for your ministry and for your fidelity to the priesthood, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

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