New Nelson bishop a man of service

  • December 6, 2007

{mosimage}OTTAWA - Pope Benedict XVI has chosen a new bishop for the Nelson diocese who finds as much joy waiting on tables in a restaurant for the poor as he did serving at the highest levels of his Capuchin religious order.

Bishop-elect John Corriveau will replace Bishop Eugene Cooney, who retired at age 75 as required by canon law.

Corriveau said he was both honoured and surprised to receive the appointment. Though he has never been to Nelson, he has met Cooney, whom he described as “a marvelous man.”

Corriveau said Cooney’s ministry has been pastoral rather than administrative, “serving the parishes, filling in for his priests and travelling.” He said he is happy to follow in Cooney’s footsteps as a pastoral bishop.

“That’s how I served my brothers,” said the former Capuchin General Minister. An autonomous Franciscan order, the Capuchins have 11,000 friars in 102 countries.

Born on the shores of Lake Huron in a small French settlement, Corriveau, 66, grew up in a small rural parish in the London diocese. Drawn at first to the diocesan priesthood, he decided to follow in the footsteps of a cousin who was a Redemptorist. He applied to the Capuchin minor seminary in Blenheim, Ont., for his high school education. There he found himself drawn to the Franciscan fraternal way of life.

After attending the Capuchin Novitiate in Maryland, he studied philosophy at St. Fidelis College in Pennsylvania. He made his solemn vows as a Capuchin friar in 1960. He continued his studies at the University of Ottawa and Waterloo Lutheran University, obtaining a B.A. and an M.A. in religious education. Ordained a priest in 1966, Corriveau began his ministry as a teacher and prefect of discipline at the Mount Alverno Capuchin Minor Seminary northwest of Toronto.

After three years, he was elected provincial for the province of Central Canada, when he was only 29. He served six years before returning for a three-year stint at St. Philip Neri Church in Toronto. In 1980 he was elected to serve on the Capuchin’s General Council.

After a sabbatical year, he was elected provincial again in 1989. In 1994, he was elected General Minister of the order. Though headquartered in Rome, he travelled eight months a year.

He returned to Canada in the fall of 2006 to work at St. Francis’ Table, a restaurant for the poor in Toronto’s Parkdale area.

There, dressed in his habit, he would welcome the guests and help them get seated or wait on tables. He did priestly ministry on weekends, helping out in parishes.

He’s looking forward to his call to the wider church as a bishop.

“We have to be Catholic, have to make our people know they are part of a greater community of faith,” he said.

His years in Rome and travelling have given him “the great gift of seeing the church throughout the world.” It is a “world-embracing community,” embracing all “with the Gospel of Jesus and the blood of the cross,” he said.

The Nelson diocese serves a Catholic population of 75,000, in 31 parishes and 23 missions.

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