Fr. Henry McErlean organized thousands of retreats around Mary. In the 60s, McErlean travelled to Uganda where he served several church communities. He died peacefully in Newmarket, Ont., at the age of 82. Photo by Michael Swan

Fr. McErlean touched all he met

  • February 25, 2015

Those who knew Fr. Henry McErlean remember the man for his strong will, his wit, wisdom and calming smile.

Fr. McErlean died peacefully at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., Feb. 15. The former retreat director at Marylake Retreat Centre was 82 years old.

“It was almost a joyous funeral, sad and joyous at the same time,” said Joseph Gennaro, executive director at Marylake, of the final service for Fr. McErlean that was held Feb. 19 at Marylake’s Shrine of Our Lady of Grace in King City, Ont.

“Everyone really appreciated the time they had with him. You really got a sense that he has touched everyone that he’s met over the years.”

Fr. McErlean took vows in the Order of St. Augustine and joined the Augustinian monastery at Marylake on Dec. 15, 1993.

He became retreat director in 1995.

For more than a decade, Fr. McErlean organized and developed thousands of retreats at Marylake.

Most of his talks were about his love and devotion to Mary. He prayed the rosary daily and every summer made a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Cape Shrine in Trois-Rivières, Que. His living quarters were filled with icons, pictures and statues of Mary in her many incarnations.

“He had pictures of every (Marian incarnation) you can think of. He had ones of Our Lady of Grace, Fatima, Guadalupe,” said Gennaro. “His big loves were Mary and the Sacred Heart.”

Before he came to Marylake, he was a member of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart in Rome and a Comboni missionary. He was ordained in March 1959 at the Vatican by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who later became Pope Paul VI).

In his early years of priestly service, Fr. McErlean travelled to Uganda where he served several church communities.

“He went to Uganda in the ’60s when it was probably not the best time to be there,” said Fr. Jacob Mado, retreat director at Marylake. “He talked about how he struggled to learn the language… and using motorcycles to go between churches doing catechism classes, Mass services, other missionary work.”

Mado said that Fr. McErlean was very dedicated to his work as a retreat director and as a pastor, either at Marylake or elsewhere.

“In the past three years, he really focused on continuing with his priestly ministry,” said Gennaro. “He had a deep concern for people to continue to practise their faith. He loved to hear confession and wouldn’t refuse anybody.”

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