When he entered the Oblate Novitiate at Ville LaSalle in 1918, young Gerard Mongeau was far from foreseeing the road he would follow during his long life of 94 years.
One day in June, 1919, the provincial, Father Guillaume Charlebois, came to the Novitiate to give a conference. At the end of his talk, Father added a simple invitation that would eventually have a great influence on Gerard’s career. “Recently,” he said, “the Texas provincial has asked me for one or two candidates for his Scholasticate. Since we have some thirty novices in Quebec, I promised him one recruit per year. If you are interested in becoming a Texas missionary, give your name to the Novice Master, and we will choose from among the volunteers.”
Let’s allow Bishop Mongeau himself to share his reactions to this kind of request: “Personally I didn’t feel one bit attracted to Texas. My mind was already made up ... I’m not comfortable as a volunteer. I was afraid to offer myself. Leaving my family and my country, to live in exile in the southern part of the United States, with my little knowledge of English, all of these things frightened me. But, I placed all my confidence in the Lord. I preferred to wait. At the end of three days, however, I came to a decision. I went to see the Novice Master, Father Victor Jodoin. I said in a trembling voice: ‘Father, I come to offer myself for Texas... I don’t want to go, but if you believe that I can answer the purpose, I offer myself.’ His reaction was spontaneous: ‘We had in fact thought of you, but we didn’t want to force you. Furthermore, we need you father’s consent.’
“A few days later my father came to visit me at the Novitiate. Having heard my story, he said these words which I have never forgotten: ‘To save souls, you don’t have to go to Texas, there are plenty of them in Montreal. But, your superiors are prudent men ... therefore, I give my consent.’ Now, my mother had to be convinced. When dad made her aware of my intentions she broke down in tears: ‘No. I will never consent. I want to see him become a priest, receive his blessing, attend his Mass... I don’t want to see him leave for the end of the world.’ On the following Sunday, she came to the parlor with an aunt. ‘Listen, Gerard, you can’t leave without my consent.’ It was my turn to cry, and I said to her: ‘Please understand, mother, that I didn’t want to go to Texas. I gave it some thought, and prayed a lot... I made my sacrifice to God. Now that my superiors are sending me, it is no longer my will, but the will of God.’ There was a long moment of silence, then mother dried her tears, and like a true Christian she took me in her arms and said to me: ‘If it is God’s will, you can go.’ I kissed her tenderly in gratitude, and that’s how I left for Texas, answering the Lord’s call with a ‘yes’ that was so rich in blessings. “
Rich in blessings
See what followed. Gerard Mongeau was ordained to the priesthood in Texas on June 14, 1924. He left for the Philippines in 1939. He was courageous and daring, nothing stopped him. During his fifty-five years of missionary life he fully realized his episcopal motto: “The Lord is with me, I have no fear.” He constructed churches and chapels, gave life to a local clergy, prodigiously developed a number of Notre Dame colleges, crowned with a university, established houses of hospitality, habitats, craft centers, set up newspaper and radio communications, in which he was a precursor, without forgetting to mention his concern for dialoguing with the Moslems. At the end of a well-filled life, he returned to the Father’s House at the age of 94, on October 29, 1994.
André DORVAL, OMI