God “governs all things well” we read in the book of Wisdom (8:1). He directs our lives in such a manner that we sometimes accomplish things that were humanly unforeseeable. A good example of this providential action is the life of a Canadian, Father Arthur Terrien, whose appetite for adventure led him to Chile. Here he was to prepare, unknowingly, the coming of the Oblates to this country.
This legendary apostle of the Andes Pampa, Señor Terrien as he was called by the people of that country, was born in Watton, Quebec, into a very poor family. He was barely sixteen when he had to migrate to the United States, in 1896, to earn a living in the mills of New England. Feeling attracted to Religious Life, he later entered the Brothers of the Holy Cross, in Montreal, where he remained for seven years. However, his independent spirit was too strong for this reclusive life . In 1916 he headed west and reached Oregon. There, for a time, he taught French, but he eventually signed up as a sailor on a merchant ship headed for South America. He got off in Chile and settled at Iquique, serving as a professor at the Dos Bosco College located in that city.
A few years later, Bishop José Maria Caro, in Iquique, became aware of this stranger, who seemed to possess the necessary qualities for the priesthood. He sent him to study Theology at Santiago. Finally, on September 24, 1927, he was ordained by Bishop Labbé, who was Apostolic Vicar at the time. This was the beginning of his heroic life of dedication in favor of the pampa laborers and the Aymaras of the Andes. He covered hundreds of kilometers over vertiginous trails, that reached four thousand meters, to reach Amerindians grouped here and there in scattered villages. Almost all were Catholic, but there was no resident priest. The traveling missionary took advantage of this visit to Baptize the newborn, give Catechism lessons, bring the Eucharist to the sick and see to urgent repairs in the small chapels. For their part, the Amerindians performed their ritualistic dances, called chunchos, which require a lot of endurance, since they can stretch out for about twelve hours.
An insatiable dream
Señor Terrien led this kind of eventful life, while neglecting his health, for some fifteen years. In 1942 he felt the need for a rest. He accepted the chaplaincy at Puerto San Antonio Hospital. On top of this very demanding ministry, he found the time to give lessons in Spanish and English at the Sara Cruchaga secondary school. All the children esteemed him very highly. They often grouped around him to delight in his magic tricks.
In October 1943 he obtained permission from the bishop of Iquique to retire from active ministry. His eyes had become sore and he suffered from rheumatism. He longed to see his homeland, Canada, once again, if it was still possible.
However, he kept repeating: “God’s Will be done and not mine.” He would not see his homeland again, nor his family. He was found dead in his hospital room on June 13, 1944. He was sixty-four years old.
During all his encounters on the pampa, he often asked the Master of the Harvest to send workers in the vast fields of Chile. Undoubtedly, he had paved the way for the coming of the Oblates. In fact, in December 1948, four of them, Fathers Albert Sanschagrin, Robert Voyer, Maurice Veillette and René Ferragne, arrived in Santiago to settle in the midst of the Chilean population.