God’s Joy in a Totally Given Heart!

There are some women who leave a lasting impression on our lives. In addition to my mother, who gave me life and faith, I think of Miss Bernice Parent, Miss Alice Pinsonneault, Sister St-Gilbert. These are elementary school teachers who have marked my intelligence as much as my soul. But life moves on, and other women cross our path... and open up furrows that leave permanent marks within us.

This afternoon, I learned the sad news of the passing of one of these women, a good friend and a great lady: Marie-Paule Emond. If I hadn’t been so shy when I first met her, she would have become a mentor to accompany me on my spiritual journey. But in spite of this, she was present at various times, and it pains me today to know that I will no longer hear her steady voice, that I will no longer read her simple lines.

Marie-Paule entered the Father’s house in the early morning hours on June 25th. Her dream of that great encounter was fulfilled. No doubt the Father ran out to receive his beloved daughter. Paraphrasing the words of the gospel, she no doubt heard in the depths of her heart, these words so consoling: “Very well, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful for few (for many) things, I will entrust to you many; enter into the joy of your Lord” (cf. Mt 25:21).

I was barely 20 years old when I first met Marie-Paule. I had just begun my vocational journey within the Pius X Secular Institute, and she was the same age as I am today. Already a mature woman, she nonetheless carried an inner fire that inspired all who crossed her path. Her contagious smile, her deep sense of listening, her ability to invite everyone to surpass themselves inspired us to always go beyond, “a little higher, a little further”, in search of the impossible dream. For she knew – she knew! – that our God is the God of the impossible!

Becoming the Best Version of Yourself

Born on May 22, 1920, in the Ottawa region, Marie-Paule’s experience of Catholic Action, and in particular of the Young Catholic Students (YCS), led her to join this movement in the firm belief that every little gesture of everyday life would lead to the transformation of the world. But involvement in a movement wasn’t enough for this all-giving woman; she became a member of the Équipières sociales, a women’s secular institute founded in Montreal and Ottawa in 1940 by Marie-Jeannette Bertrand, a doctor of social sciences. The group, made up of young lay women, was involved in various Catholic social works. The first Canadian Secular institute to be approved by the Church, Les Équipières sociales was erected as an institute of diocesan right on February 2, 1953.

Marie-Paule has a background in social work and has worked for many years with abandoned children. She was instrumental in setting up homes for neglected and abused children. She cared for delinquent and abandoned girls entrusted to her by the court. It was through her work that she often found herself in the corridors and halls of the juvenile court, accompanying young people. A woman of faith, she believed in second and third chances, in the possibility of always taking one’s life in hand to become the best version of oneself.

A selfless woman, she helped found the Canadian Conference of Secular Institutes over 50 years ago, along with colleagues from other secular institutes in Canada. Among these were Gabrielle Lachance and Paul-M. Demers, respectively of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and the Pius X Secular Institute. Her constant and faithful participation and commitment to the Canadian Conference of Secular Institutes (CCIS) and the World Conference of Secular Institutes have made her a woman of reference for the promotion of secular consecrated life.

Through the years, I’ve been blessed to keep in touch with this extraordinary woman. Sometimes it was at a meeting or a spiritual retreat; other times, it was a handwritten letter or a phone call that reconnected me. Or a visit to the house on boulevard Wilfrid-Pelletier in Anjou that she shared with companions from Équipières Sociales, a lunch shared at the seniors’ residence on boulevard Gouin, or a visit to the CHSLD Pierre-Joseph-Triest in Montreal where she spent the last months of her life. But each time, Marie-Paule knew how to encourage me – as she no doubt did with all the other people who passed through her life – to touch what was essential.

My last visit with Marie-Paule was a few weeks ago. It was a surprise visit with Marie, the CCIS secretary, on the way back from a meeting. When we arrived, it was as if she was waiting for us… Beaming, well-dressed as always, she told us about the new ties she had forged at the CHSLD, about the friendships that have lasted for decades, and about her hopes for the Church and society. She took an interest in the friends and acquaintances of the CCIS, recalling beautiful moments from the past but encouraging us to keep moving forward so that this consecrated secular vocation can shine even brighter. Her smile and her joie de vivre bear witness to God’s joy in a totally given heart!

In giving thanks to the Master of Life for Marie-Paule’s long, full and fruitful life, I ask the Lord for two things. Firstly, may he give me, may he give us, the ability to respond with such fidelity and generosity, with such selfless love, to each of the calls made to us. The testimony of total self-giving was expressed in this extraordinary woman; may our lives also reflect the same gift! And finally, may men and women of Marie-Paule’s caliber rise up so that our world can live with unbridled hope… for together, one small gesture at a time, we will build the new city! So long, Marie-Paule… this is just a farewell!

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