© 2006-2018 All rights reserved by Fr. Gilles Surprenant, R. Catholic priest, Family Life Chaplain, Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life, & Family, Montreal,  QC Canada
 © 2006-2018 Tous droits réservés à l'Abbé Gilles Surprenant, prêtre catholique Romain, Family Life Chaplain, DCMLF / OEPS, Montreal, Québec, Canada
 

L’abbé / Fr. Gilles A. Surprenant

Paroisse S. Luc / St. Luke Parish

 

106A Anselme-Lavigne, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, QC H9A 1N8

Home Phone/Tel Personnel 514-685-8329     Church Fax  514-683-0836

EMail:  frgilles@sympatico.ca                               courriel:  alphafranc@sympatico.ca

Blog Site:  http://fathergilles.blogspot.com/       Site blogue:  http://labbegilles.blogspot.com/

 

Web Site:   http://fathergilles.net/

 

Aumônier à l’Hôpital Général du Lakeshore General Hospital Chaplain

Centre de santé et de services sociaux de l’Ouest de l’Île

 

Sunday, January 07, 2007

 

Fr/l’abbé Gilles A. Surprenant

Brève Autobiographie – Brief Autobiographical Sketch

 

Je suis né samedi le 9 avril 1949 à minuit entre le samedi et le dimanche, et c’était le Dimanche des Rameaux, de la Passion du Seigneur, dans la maison de mes grands-parents paternels au 1020 rue Leman et fut baptisé le lendemain le dimanche après-midi le 10 avril à Sainte-Thérèse-de-l’Enfant-Jésus rue S. Hubert près de Jarry à Montréal.  Mes parents construisirent une nouvelle maison à Rosemère mais retournèrent chez mes grands-parents avant d’acheter une vieille maison au 10171 rue Parc Georges à Montréal Nord.  I learned English on the street and my parents sent me to St. Rita Annex # 3, which successively became Blessed Adrian Fortescue # 2, and finally St. Alice.  I then went to St. Pius X High School under the Christian Brothers of Ireland, who were mostly from Newfoundland and Brooklyn, and participated in the Glee Club, the Sartorian newspaper, the Chess and History Clubs, and the Sodality. 

It was during our first high vocation week that Fr. John Brayley, our Chaplain, gave his vocational testimony, and the Lord seduced my young heart.  I knew I wanted to be a priest.  As I turned 16 and looked forward to a social life, my parents bought a dairy farm in l’Épiphanie, and I soon found myself in exile, as it were.  I experienced considerable emotional turmoil over the next 10 years, during which time I wasted a year playing cards, socializing, and losing my scholarship to Loyola College.  Then I took a year off to help my parents on the farm after my Mom’s recovery after a hysterectomy with complications.  I became a better student, but didn’t last more than 4 months in my first attempt at the Seminary – I was 22 and just didn’t have a life or know what I was doing.

After seven years in the world during which time I was a substitute high school teacher (English as a second language), Air Traffic Control trainee, unemployed, Senior Collector for Master Card National Bank and Training Supervisor, theology student and resident at St. Gabriel Parish, I entered St. Paul University Seminary in Ottawa in 1978 and finally requested Holy Orders in 1983.  I was ordained a Deacon on February 27th by Bishop Leonard Crowley at St. Elizabeth Parish in Ottawa, and a priest at St. Kevin Parish on July 2nd.  I became a Knight of Columbus priest the same year in 1983.

 

Spiritual and Faith Journey

 

As an infant, I was quite solitary, counting a lot on Maman’s presence in my life.  J’ai un souvenir d’environ 4 à 5 ans où j’avais peur de la noirceur le soir et Maman m’a enseigné mes prières et comment réaliser que je n’étais jamais seul.  À partir de ce temps-là je me savais comme en présence de Dieu.  Maman m’a permis de me savoir entouré de Jésus, de Marie, de Joseph, et des saints et aimé du Père.  Plus tard Maman m’a expliqué qu’elle avait utilisé une petite lampe pour appuyer son enseignement, et la lumière dégagée par cette lampe appuyait ce qu’elle me disait et m’avait aidé à comprendre ou plutôt à percevoir la lumière intérieure qu’est la grâce de Dieu, la présence et l’amour de l’Esprit de Dieu.

 

I have vivid memories of being struck by the large posters in class which were the same as pictures in our catechism book, and in particular of the one of the Nativity of Jesus.  Something happened deep within me as I looked at that picture and at the others, especially around the time of my First Holy Communion when I looked at a picture of Jesus on the Cross.  The Holy Spirit was doing something in my soul, as I look back and think about it, that brought me somehow closer to Jesus and to the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is the first One that I felt in relation with as a little child.  Then around the age of 12, when I was again struck by the scene of Jesus in the Temple at the same age, I became more aware of the Heavenly Father, and began to relate to the Father more.  A year later when I began High School, it was the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in Rome in the Fall of 1962 and the Christian Brothers of Ireland teaching us and running St. Pius X High School gave us cards with the prayer of the Council composed by Pope John XXIII, a prayer to the Holy Spirit.  Around that time reference changed in English from Holy Ghost to Holy Spirit, and I became more aware through that prayer of the presence of the Holy Spirit and to relate to this divine Person.

 

These are developments of which I was conscious at the time, though I might not have spoken about them in that way at the time.  There were other experiences that were far deeper and much less conscious.  At the time we were preparing to be fully initiated in grade 2, we learned our prayers and then experienced the sacraments, all within a few days.  I don’t remember the exact sequence of those sacraments, but the records show I was confirmed April 29th, 1957, Monday after what is not the Feast of Divine Mercy, the second Sunday of Easter.  I believe in those days they confirmed before allowing First Confession and First Holy Communion, so I probably celebrated Penance and Reconciliation for the first time that week, perhaps on Friday May 3rd, and would have received Jesus for the first time on Sunday May 5th.  It might have been during a special Mass on the Saturday, but I think the practice then was still to allow First Holy Communions during Sunday Masses, but I may be wrong.  There aren’t any records that I know of and I haven’t had the occasion to ask retired teachers and principals. 

 

The point is that something significant happened.  Je me souviens que mes grand parents Eva Quevillon et Albert Surprenant et ma Tante Thérèse Surprenant et son mari Oncle Raymond Hotte et peut-être d’autres sont venus à un repas spécial préparé par Maman.  More importantly, when I was in my twenties, for the first time as an adult I thought back to these experiences while on a retreat and discovered to my amazement that I had extraordinary memories of these events.  I remember being confirmed by the bishop, his presence, and being touched by him, and going back and sitting down, and feeling within me a holy presence, like there was someone there with me, the Holy Ghost, who was doing something mysterious inside of me.  It was pleasant and deeply moving and yet ever so natural, very mysterious. 

 

I remember my First Confession, which took place probably in our little 6-class school in the little auditorium.  I remember the little portable “grill” that I knelt on with the priest sitting in a chair on the other side.  I remember being impressed by the priest and the experience itself, and touched.  Something real happened.  I felt different after, perhaps holier and closer to God would be what I might now say about it. 

 

The day of my First Holy Communion, I remember lining up with my classmates in the hall of St. Rita Parish church, and the teacher using her little wooden “clapper” to get our attention and as cues for each move we were supposed to make as a group.  We were fasting since midnight the night before, and it was all so impressive, that one of the boys got sick and threw up – it’s funny what we remember.  I remember having been told and being careful to sit a proper distance from the boys on my left and right, and that the girls were seated on the other side of the main aisle.  I remember receiving Jesus on my tongue and going back to sit down, and saying my prayers as I had learned them, and that I actually felt Jesus with me, as if He were actually there within me and beside me at the same time.  It was mysterious, wonderful, and again ever so natural, yet unusual.

 

As a young child it seemed that all my life was one thing all together, but as an older child and as a teenager I began to realize that my life had different parts.  I felt so good in church and most of the time in school, but not so good at times there, at home, and when I was playing outside.  For example, around 8 or 9 I had a problem with stealing coins from Papa’s business cash box or purse, but one day my parents set a trap for me and caught me and left me with a very impressive lesson.  I was never inclined to steal again, except for a few more subtle work related adult temptations.  Then there were confusing years wondering what to do about my sexuality and relations with girls and later young women.  During those turbulent years, there were a few deep moments when I felt God’s presence or love.  One was when I heard Fr John Brayley give his testimony as a priest in first year high when I was 13.  Singing in the Glee Club at Pius was a spiritual experience, and learning to serve Mass before school. 

 

Vivre et travailler sur la ferme à l’Épiphanie à partir de l’âge de 16 ans fut une expérience profonde et spirituelle en raison d’une nouvelle relation avec la nature et les saisons en plein air.  Mon départ du Grand Séminaire à 22 ans fut ma première décision adulte, et une profonde expérience spirituelle, comme une nouvelle naissance psychique.  Après mon départ j’ai continué plus ou moins régulièrement à prier le Bréviaire, et ce fut vraiment une expérience spirituelle comme jeune adulte qui m’a marqué.  Entre 1974 et 1978 j’ai vécu quelques expériences de conversion qui ont fini par m’amener de retour su séminaire pour une formation théologique et pour y discerner si j’avais vraiment une vocation.  J’ai fait partie d’un groupe de jeunes adultes pendant 2 ans, et cela a consolidé en moi un sens d’être quelqu’un. 

 

J’ai vécu un rapprochement profond de la Sainte Trinité en préparation à l’ordination alors que coïncida dans notre famille un accident tragique qui prit la vie de mon petit neveu bébé.  Lors de deux retraites en six mois la question que je me posait concernant ma vocation est devenue claire : « Seigneur, que veux-tu de moi ? » est devenu « Et toi, Gilles, que veux-tu ? »  Alors je me suis demandé « Est-ce que je veux être prêtre ?  De Montréal?  Avec ces prêtres qui sont déjà là ?  La réponse positive s’est fait sentir en moi et j’ai demandé d’être ordonné.  Par la suite, les difficultés ont été de grandes grâces pour moi, y compris 4 ans de counselling, ainsi qu’un pèlerinage en Europe en 1990, et depuis, mon implication avec Madonna House et le Spiritual Life Institute, ainsi que de nombreuses retraites et sessions de formation à tous les ans depuis mes années au séminaire. 

 

Priestly Ministry

I was assigned summer Chaplain to Camp Orelda-Marian and to provide the Eucharist for Trail’s End Camp, and also served Kinkora at the Director’s request.  Appointed Curate at St. David, I began at the end of September 1983 and after only 2 years was sent to the team responsible for St. Brendan, St. Aloysius, St. Dominic, and St. Philip Neri September 1st, 1985 but began a month later.  I became Moderator of the Team February 5th, 1986 during Fr. Brian Moon’s recovery from a heart attack and succeeded him September 1st, 1986.  I was elected to the Ministry to Priests Team and confirmed by Bishop Crowley on October 23rd, 1987.

After consultation with the other priests on our team serving those four congregations, I recommended to the Archbishop a break-up of the team and became Parochial Administrator of St. Aloysius Parish and St. Philip Neri Mission September 22nd, 1989.  Five years later, what is now my previous parish was without a pastor; so I offered my services to Mgr. Neil Willard and was appointed Parochial Administrator of St. Thomas à Becket Parish September 11, 1994.  Then on April 24, 1998, I was elected one of our priests’ representatives to our Archdiocesan Synodal Assembly and participated in both weekends in October and November 1998.  My appointment to Becket was changed to that of Pastor effective September 1st, 2000, for 6 years. 

In 2003, my appointment as member of the Ministry to Priests Team changed as our new Episcopal Vicar and Director of the Office for English Pastoral Services, Msgr. Sean Harty, changed the consultative structure at the service of the English Vicariate and constituted EPAC, the English Presbyteral Advisory Council, of which I am currently an appointed member.  Then our Archbishop appointed me Spiritual Advisor of the Montreal Archdiocesan Council of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada effective October 15th, 2003 till August 31st, 2008. 

Since September 1st I have been Assistant to Fr. Roger Martineau, Pastor of Paroisse S. Luc/St. Luke Parish for 3/5 of the work week.  This part-time appointment was made by Cardinal Turcotte so that I might be available for 2/5 of the work week for service at the Lakeshore General Hospital of the Centre de Santé et de Services Sociaux de l’Ouest de l’Ile.  I was interviewed and subsequently hired by the Centre de Santé et de Services Sociaux de l’Ouest-de-l’Île as Animateur Pastoral, also known as Chaplain/Aumônier, mostly serving the Lakeshore General Hospital and began November 13th, 2006.  I visit patients every Thursday and Friday for 14 hours a week and am occasionally called by the West Island Palliative Care Unit under an arrangement between the two institutions. 

I could also be called by the CLSC Pierrefonds, Centre Benjamin Viger, or the CLSC Lac St.-Louis.  This is unlikely to happen very often, since in order for just the LGH to have adequate coverage there should be two full-time positions.  As it is, we are rarely, between the two of us at five days a week, able to make contact with all the patients assigned a bed in the hospital, let alone be present to all the people who come to the Emergence Room or come in daily for ambulatory care.  Although the team of volunteers helps us provide better service, adequate coverage by chaplains would significantly enhance the hospital’s healing mission.

 

Éducation, Formation Continue et Spirituelle, et Retraites

 

Je fus éduqué en anglais depuis l’école primaire jusqu’à l’université.  Là j’ai commencé à prendre des cours en français.  Voilà pourquoi je maîtrise davantage l’anglais.  J’ai obtenu un B. ès Arts en Littérature Anglaise avec un mineur en philosophie et théologie de l’Université de Montréal (Collège Loyola) et en 2005 un B. ès Arts de l’Université Concordia reconnaissant celui accordé en ce lieux par l’UdeM, un B. ès Théologie à la fois de l’Université d’Ottawa et de l’Université Saint-Paul, et une M. ès Arts Études Pastorales (Ministère Général) de l’Université d’Ottawa.

J’ai complété un certificat d’Éducation Clinique Pastorale pour le ministère hospitalier, un autre pour le contrôle de la circulation aérienne, et encore d’autres pour « L’Actualisation des Forces Vitales Humaines », « L’École d’évangélisation Billy Graham », et un semestre d’études sabbatiques.  En plus, j’ai suivi des cours et ai participé à des conférences sur la sexualité humaine, les innovations pastorales, et le Cours Alpha.  J’ai fait depuis 40 ans de nombreuses retraites ignaciennes, sacerdotales, et privées, et de nombreux séjours spirituels à Madonna House, avec des ermites dans la tradition carmélite au Canada, aux É.-U., et en Irlande, et aussi à Rome, Lourdes, et en Terre Sainte.  J’ai participé aussi dans diverses fraternités sacerdotales avec des confrères ici même dans l’Archidiocèse. 

 

Emploi

 

Dans ma jeunesse j’ai travaillé l’équivalent de dix ans à temps plein sur la ferme laitière de mes parents, et ce sans aucun salaire.  Il s’agissait de mon devoir de fils.  Mon premier emploi payant fut comme instituteur substitut au secondaire pendant pas tout à fait un an, suivi d’un peu plus d’un an comme stagiaire au contrôle de la circulation aérienne, après quoi – suite à une brève période de chômage – je devins percepteur de carte de crédit et formateur des nouveaux employés.  En attendant de retourner au séminaire j’ai même livré des épiceries en fourgonnette. 

Depuis mon ordination en 1983 j’ai servi comme aumônier de camps d’été pour un été complet, comme vicaire à St. David de 1983 à 1985, membre de l’équipe responsable de St. Brendan, St. Dominic, St. Aloysius, et St. Philip Neri pour quatre mois puis soudainement chef de cette équipe en 1986.  J’ai demandé d’être pasteur pour ces deux dernières communautés de foi en 1989, pour ensuite devenir pasteur de St. Thomas à Becket de 1994 à 2006.  Enfin, me voilà vicaire à S. Luc/St. Luke et aumônier à l’Hôpital Général du Lakeshore.  Apparemment, on s’attend à de nouveaux changements en septembre. 

 

Caractéristiques Personnelles et Habilités – Personal CharacteristicsAbilities

 

I have a reasonable baritone singing voice and enjoy leading the congregation in song, something I learned to do mostly at weekday Masses during the year and at Sunday Masses during the summer.

 

Papa m’apprit de nombreuses habiletés manuelles pour l’entretient de la maison, de la voiture, de ses pigeons voyageurs, et de la flotte de camions pour la livraison d’huile à chauffage domestique.  Sur la ferme j’en appris beaucoup plus encore.  J’ai touché à beaucoup de choses pour atteindre à la fin une certaine confiance pour faire face à presque tout nouveau défi.  J’aimais beaucoup la satisfaction de l’accomplissement lorsqu’on a complété un travail manuel.  C’était une belle saison de la vie.

 

I began composting in 1992 and have since encouraged my households to participate.  We can do much more to care for our environment, which is in danger and is accelerating towards some kind of disaster. 

 

Personal Characteristics – Sports

 

For 20 to 25 years, I have enjoyed swimming, walking/jogging, cross-country skiing, warm-up and stretching exercises, and I have enjoyed cycling and ice skating since my early youth.  From 16 to 24 I worked a lot on my parents’ dairy farm and found myself in almost peak physical condition.  For the next three years I helped them part-time and this helped me remain in fairly good condition.  From 27 to 32 I studied and was less active but went for regular walks and occasional ice skating in winter. 

 

Finally, I realized I needed more vigorous exercise and resumed the elementary swimming I had been taught by my mother as a child.  I asked for tips from the lifeguards and improved significantly and this became a good form of exercise when I couldn’t ice skate or go for a good walk.  I did this irregularly from 1981 to 1986, when a counselor helped me realize I needed regular vigorous exercise. 

 

From 37 to 45 were my best years as every other day I would engage in vigorous or extended walking/jogging, or cycling, or cross-country skiing, or ice skating, or swimming.  I even took tennis lessons, but hurt my shoulder, realizing I wasn’t strong enough in the shoulders for this sport. 

 

From 1994 to 2002 I kept in fairly good condition by continuing the same sports, but not nearly as frequently, being now in a much busier parish.  At WYD 2002 I suffered a small hernia in the groin, and between waiting for surgery and then recovering, avoided vigorous exercise for over a year.  Even then I was slow to get back into a regular routine.  When I did, I occasionally developed aches or pains mostly because I had lost the condition I had previously enjoyed due to both inactivity and aging.  The recent changes have aggravated this situation and I am in need of restoring an exercise regimen.

 

Personal Characteristics – Health, Diet, and Tastes

 

While in the Seminary at the age of 32 I developed conditional hypoglycemia, which means that there are triggers causing a rush of insulin drastically decreasing my glycemia or blood sugar, and that my organism is unable to restore the balance by itself without eating something.  That is why I now avoid anything with white flour or refined sugars.  I can have a teaspoon of honey occasionally or even of maple syrup, but gone are the days when I can enjoy them as dessert.  This means I generally cannot have any dessert or chocolate or candies.  Even orange juice is too sweet. 

 

While in my first parish at around 35 I had an attack of kidney stones and was told by the urologist to avoid spinach, eggplant, rhubarb, glycerin, berries, and caffeine, which includes any form of chocolate or coffee, and most teas.  Over the years, I have lost my taste for these things and have developed new tastes for plain yogurt, cheeses, nuts, and tart fruit such as grapefruit, limes, lemons and certain apples. 

 

Personal CharacteristicsTemperament and Preferences 

 

Depuis ma plus tender enfance j’ai toujours aimé être seul avec mes pensées aussi bien qu’être avec les autres.  Au jeu je me retrouvais souvent le ou un des meneurs parmi les amis.  Je suis plus confortable avec une seule personne, mais avec le temps j’ai trouvé un certain confort dans des situations de groupe et en publique.  Je n’ai jamais eu peur de la solitude, au contraire, j’aime m’y retrouver.

 

By contrast, I am not a “life of the party” type, and don’t care for gregarious socializing, touching everyone, acting as a kind of cheerleader.  I can occasionally do that, if it is really important, but it requires real effort, is draining, and generally comes off looking staged or strained.  It just isn’t me.

 

I am contemplative by temperament, and for many years my friends thought that I would become a monk or hermit, that is, a full-time contemplative within the religious orders of our Church.  The Lord has called me instead to active ministry, and over the years, I have learned how to engage in this active and mostly parish ministry in a contemplative way.

 

In 1992 I received the great grace to become involved with two different apostolates in the Church – Madonna House Apostolate, which is primarily a lay apostolate, and the Spiritual Life Institute, which is a contemplative community of women and men hermits in the Carmelite tradition. 

 

Four years later at 47 I made final promises as an associate of Madonna House Apostolate, wearing their Pax + Caritas cross, and made personal promises related to the Spiritual Life Institute.  These spiritual associations have together shaped my life as a priest of Montreal and how I go about pastoring the people of God in our archdiocese and in particular in the West Island.

 

J’aime bien voyager et rencontrer les gens, voir des paysages, des cultures, et des mœurs différents.  J’aime surtout découvrir la présence de Dieu partout. 

 

I enjoy traveling for the joy of seeing and exploring different places – both nature and culture – and meeting people, and mostly for the joy of experiencing God’s presence everywhere. 

 

By temperament I tend to connect to the world around me through my emotions, and this makes it very difficult to remember names and places or to associate correctly memories with people, time and place. 

 

Par tempérament j’ai tendance à toucher et à être touché par le monde autour de moi par la voie des émotions, ce qui me rend la tâche difficile de me rappeler les noms et les sujets de conversations.  Je ne suis pas du tout comme ces prêtres qui peuvent ou même aiment « transiger et brasser des affaires » dans l’église, la salle, ou la sacristie avant et après les messes dominicales.  Je ne peux tout simplement pas me rappeler de qu’est-ce qui s’est passé qui a dit quoi, qui m’a donné quoi, et ainsi de suite.  Alors malheureux la personne qui a l’impression que je ferai suite à une conversation que nous avons eu « en passant » après ou avant une messe.

 

Unlike some other priests it is a very bad idea for me to attempt to “transact business” on Sundays in between or before or after Masses.  I simply can’t remember who said what or even that it took place.  As a result I generally fail to follow up on anything we may have talked about on Sunday. 

 

I need to write everything down and prefer people to call, email, or write me so that I can receive it during the week when I have access to my office and working tools.  I have learned the hard way not to transact any Church business on Sunday or in church only to discover once it is too late that someone expected something of me that I wasn’t able to remember outside of the church afterwards.  I usually remember to ask people to communicate with me during the week, but if I forget, then be warned.

 

Special Projects – Projets Spéciaux

 

From the first moment I was offered by my superior Msgr. Sean Harty in December 2003 to go on sabbatical in the Fall of 2004 a reflection and questioning process began within me, which became a writing project on pastoring, especially in the parish setting.  While in Chicago I made a significant beginning and added to the work since then during my winter writing breaks and summer vacations.  The work is slow due to my heavy pastoral assignments, and I hope in time to rationalize how I spend my time and energy; so that I leave to others what is theirs to do and focus on what is mine to do.

 

Durant mes dernières quelques années à St. Thomas a Becket, dans le cadre du 40e anniversaire, j’ai suggéré aux gens qu’il pourrait être utile de réfléchir à notre expérience de foi, de la paroisse et de nos engagements, et d’en rédiger un récit qui pourrait avec ceux de tous les autres constituer une ébauche d’histoire de la paroisse.  Cela a fait boule de neige et j’y ai participé moi-même, contribuant un certain nombre de documents de valeur historique.  Entre autres, nous avons révisé notre pratique de la Messe.

 

At the end of my stay at Becket, in the context of the then upcoming 40th anniversary, I suggested that we might all reflect on our experience of faith, of the parish, and of our involvements and write some form of accounting of our stewardship in view of an eventual parish history.  The idea took off and I made significant contributions to the process.  Among others, we revised our practice of the Mass.


© 2006-2018 All rights reserved by Fr. Gilles Surprenant, R. Catholic priest, Family Life Chaplain, Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life, & Family, Montreal,  QC Canada
 © 2006-2018 Tous droits réservés à l'Abbé Gilles Surprenant, prêtre catholique Romain, Family Life Chaplain, DCMLF / OEPS, Montreal, Québec, Canada