Father John Brioux, pastor of St. Paul's Indian Catholic Church, suddenly passed away of a heart attack May 24, two months short of his 75th birthday. BCC file photo

Parishes, First Nations communities mourns sudden death of beloved pastor

By  Agnieszka Krawczynski, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 6, 2017

NORTH VANCOUVER – Parishes and First Nations communities from B.C. to Ontario are mourning the death of Fr. John Brioux, OMI, an Oblate priest with a deep spirituality and love for his flock.

“He just gave it his all and he was much beloved by all the people,” said Fr. Robert Haggarty, OMI, who met Fr. Brioux when he entered the community as a novice 53 years ago.

“He would draw people like bees to honey. He was a joy to be around.”

Fr. Brioux, pastor of St. Paul’s Indian Catholic Church, died of a heart attack May 24, two months short of his 75th birthday and one day before the 43rd anniversary of his ordination.

He is remembered as a renaissance man who inspired artistic talent and had a remarkable passion for First Nations people, a deep spirituality, a strong sense of history and a drive to build for the future.

Fr. Brioux served First Nations communities in B.C.’s Shuswap and Chilcotin regions for at least 20 years. During those years, Fr. Brioux built relationships with local chiefs, learned First Nations cultures and languages, and encouraged locals to deepen their faith by joining Cursillo, a Christian renewal movement, or participating in the Fountain Lake pilgrimage he launched.

When Fr. Brioux moved south, he continued building relationships with local First Nations, including at St. Paul’s in North Vancouver.

“Fr. Brioux was not only a great priest, but also a father figure to us and a lot of people in the community,” said Deacon Rennie Nahanee, a member of the Squamish nation and St. Paul’s. “We loved him. We are heartbroken.”

Fr. Brioux would wear Aboriginal regalia to funerals and welcomed the use of eagle feathers and cedar branches at St. Paul’s. Nahanee was the parish music minister when Fr. Brioux became the pastor in 2010. It was thanks to the priest’s guidance and mentoring that he became the area’s first locally ordained permanent deacon.

Fr. Brioux was also interested in restoring tiny Catholic churches in remote First Nations communities. In the 1980s, he renovated the aging St. Paul’s in Canoe Creek and added a church bell at Immaculate Conception in Dog Creek. He also led St. Paul’s, a national historic site, through a major renovation.

Renovating old churches wasn’t the only way Fr. Brioux guided his parishes into the new generation. While he was a pastor at St. Augustine’s, he learned children had been going to school in makeshift cinderblock classrooms since their school was torn down in the 1950s.

When then-principal Catherine Oberndof approached him in 1999 to ask about building a new school, Fr. Brioux wrote a prayer. That prayer was recited at the school every day for the next 15 years, and in 2015, a new school was blessed.

“The biggest legacy that he began and left was the construction of the new school,” said Jayne Le Vierge, St. Augustine’s parish secretary.

“He made everyone feel like they really meant something to him,” she said. “If I had a penny for someone who ran by my office who said, ‘He’s a friend of mine,’ I would be wealthy.”

(The B.C. Catholic)

fr john brioux webFather John Brioux, OMI, and Sister Jo Ann Sutherland, MCR, are seen with a first Communion class at Anaham, B.C. in 1992. (BCC file photo)

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