Fr. Bob Bedard: no big car, but he's happy (Companions of the Cross).
It was Cobb who recently turned the public spotlight on Fr. Bedard when in a long feature the reporter recalled the events of October 27, 1975. That day, high school student Robert Poulin burst into Fr. Bob's classroom at St Pius X High School in Ottawa and blasted away with a shotgun, fatally injuring one student and seriously wounding three others.
Poulin, 18, then left the classroom and killed himself. Earlier that day he had raped and murdered Ottawa teenager Kimberly Rabot. It was discovered in the aftermath that Poulin had been delving deeper and deeper into pornography.
Fr. Bob was told later, by Robert Poulin's father, that the shotgun blast had been meant for him, but the priest is sceptical of this, observing to Cobb that Poulin was familiar with the classroom and had the youth meant to kill him, he would have aimed accordingly.
However, the whole incident had the effect of "throwing me on total dependence on God" and underscored in a profound way the knowlege that "there was no way that we could control our own destinies." It strengthened, rather than diminished, his faith, the priest observed: "I never got angry at God, never asked why . . . I felt the Lord was very strong there." Fr. Bob added, "I was surprised, really surprised" to discover on reading Cobb's article that several of the students in the classroom that day still suffer nightmares from the shooting.
Who wants to be a dentist?
Up to that point Bedard had served most of his priestly life at St. Pius X. Ordained on June 6, 1955, for the Ottawa archdiocese, he was asked by Archbishop Plourde to join the staff when the school opened in 1958, then as a boys' school only. (St Pius became co-ed about 12 years later.) He taught the senior religion program, Canadian history, and English, and coached basketball for 18 of his twenty-year term there. He also served as rector at various times, and as principal.
The influence wielded by a high school principal was something Bedard had experienced first-hand. In his youth he thought about becoming a dentist. "They were self-employed, they set their own pace, had lots of holidays, lots of money, drove big cars, well, fair-sized cars." However, he experienced a turnaround at 17 during a parish mission by the Redemptorists at Blessed Scarament, and he started to pray, and to pray specifically about what to do with his life.
Bedard had enroled in the obligatory science courses for dentistry in his senior year, but a week into classes "I was profoundly disturbed inside of me and didn't know why." His dad--Fr. Bob is an only child--noticed his son's distress and took him to see Oblate Fr. Harold Conway, principal of St. Patrick's, who told him to drop physics and algebra and take Latin instead. "I liked it," Fr. Bob recalls. Although in taking the principal's advice he cancelled his dentistry aspirations, "I really didn't care. Who wants to be a dentist anyway?"
He completed his BA at St. Patrick's, and in the middle of the first year, "I had decided I wanted to become a priest." Fr. Bedard can pinpoint the exact Gospel words that compelled him to this decision. One Sunday a priest, in his homily, repeated Jesus' words over and over again: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he suffers the loss of his immortal soul?"
Walking to school the next day, "that line was pounding in my head," Bedard said, and he concluded, "That's got to be the most important question in the whole world." Nineteen at the time, he knew he was going to be a priest, but for two years kept his resolve to himself.
Receiving support from his parents, Fr. Bob went on to study at St. Augustine's in Toronto. His first parish assignment was at Assumption in Ottawa. After that he ended up at St. Pius, and there he faced over the years increasing frustration at being unable to reach the students with the truth and beauty of the faith, "to go deeper into their hearts and souls."
The gift of prayer
Teaching in the seventies, he admitted, one contended with fallout from Vatican II--"a lot of priests were leaving". Adding to his difficulties, he himself had "gone into considerable decline in regard to personal prayer." Bedard finally concluded that "I didn't know how to pray" and as a result, he stopped.
He also began asking himself if "maybe it's just too complicated a world" to try and bring the faith to teens.
It was into this set of circumstances, around 1972, that a few people with "fascinatingly similar things to say" began to enter. Their lives had been renewed, changed, transformed, they claimed, by the Holy Spirit. It was the beginning of the charismatic renewal.
Since Fr. Bob was looking for somewhat to break through to his students--interestingly, even though he had stopped praying, Bedard says he knew his faith was strong--he decided to investigate the renewal and in August 1974 went to a prayer meeting. "It was a disaster for me. I couldn't relate to it at all." Decidedly turned off, Bedard "wanted to say to myself, `Those people are really nutty,' but I knew they weren't . . . the best I could say was, `It's their thing, not mine.' "
But come September, in the first day of class, two students, unknown to each other, came up to the priest expressing the same idea: "Father, if we could just get the charismatic renewal going in this school, it would be a wonderful thing." Bedard thought, "I must have missed something: it must be me."
So back he went, as a student, still not liking the meetings, but eventually winding up in a Life in the Spirit seminar, and meantime reading all to the literature, of which he said, "I had to admit there was a lot of sense in the manuals."
It was in receiving the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" that Fr. Bedard asked God for the "one thing I desperately need: I need the gift of prayer . . . I asked for it--and within a day, I had it." He couldn't wait to pray, "I knew how to talk the Lord's language", the psalms leapt off the page at him and soon his personal prayer, not counting the Divine Office, was at least an hour a day.
Need for a personal encounter
With prayer renewed, Fr. Bob saw things differently and his approach in the classroom "changed dramatically." He began to ask his students to "make a commitment to Christ the Saviour" because, as Pope John Paul II points out, the living faith begins with "a personal encounter with Jesus."
"I began to see that that's the answer to the Church's delimma"--that delimma being the Church's inability, at least in this culture and especially to youth, to evangelize. We are unable to evangelize, Fr. Bob opines, because we don't exhort people to "put their lives in the Lord's hands."
What occurs in evangelization is that the Gospel is proclaimed, the person responds, and "the Holy Spirit goes to work. . . Evangelization is human work: conversion is God's work."
Bedard has solid credentials to back up his assertions. In 1977 he was appointed the liaison between the renewal and the Ottawa diocese, and was involved full time in renewal work until appointed as pastor of St Mary's in 1984, the first time he had been pastor since his very early days at Assumption.
When Fr. Bob arrived, the parish was small but "the Holy Spirit moved in here." What happened, he says, is that God told the priest to get out of the way, or in Bedard's words, he was asked to give God "permission to do His work." Whatever trepidation Fr. Bob felt at following the Lord's promptings were put to rest when he recalled that "his reputation was shot anyway, because of his association with the charismatic renewal."
That renewal, the priest observes in passing, has suffered decline. The reason he proffers is that "in the western world, we organize the work of God, and end up curtailing the work of God . . . we're too efficient . . . He has to be totally free to move whatever way He wants."
However, no such decline is in evidence at St Mary's. As the parish grew in leaps and bounds, the problem was not how to bring more people into the Church but how to find room for the throngs who just kept coming, exuberant in their new or rediscovered hunger and ardour for Jesus.
In the midst of this expansion, including the formation of the Companions of the Cross, the seemingly unflappable Bedard maintained, and still maintains, his serenity. He learned, long ago, that God wants to run His Church, and that He will use those who want to help: "You make God an offer that you will do whatever He asks, and He likes that. He'll listen."
After all, that was the offer Fr. Bedard made--and that, he says, "was my first big mistake."
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|Date:||Jul 1, 1997|
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