Fr. Bob an ‘old preacher’ with a few things to say

  • October 11, 2011

Fr. Robert J. Bedard, founder of the Companions of the Cross, died on Oct. 6. He was a great sign of hope for the Church in Canada, a truly original pioneer in the new evangelization.

Fr. Bob, as he was known to all, and I were not friends, but certainly had many friendly encounters over the years. Our last meeting stands out for it captured so much about Fr. Bob.

It was the last days of 2008 in Toronto. Fr. Bob was 79 and had been having a rough year health-wise, suffering several serious falls that caused damage to his head. Indeed, he was only weeks away from a near brush with death which more or less kept him in hospital or in long-term care for the rest of his life. But he had come from Ottawa for the annual conference of Catholic Christian Outreach, the university campus missionary movement that his Companions are close to.

It was time for the evening adoration and confessions, and Fr. Bob and I were sitting beside each other as the preacher, like Fr. Bob a charismatic priest, began. After about two minutes, Fr. Bob fell quietly but deeply asleep beside me. Forty minutes later, as the preacher was winding down, Fr. Bob roused himself, feeling quite refreshed no doubt. I was rather impressed that he managed a solid 40-minute nap, and not only the few snatches of restorative shut-eye usually possible in such circumstances. As we walked together to hear confessions, he took my arm to steady himself, and I asked him if he was feeling well.

“Oh Raymond, don’t worry,” Fr. Bob said. “I had a good rest. I didn’t miss a thing. You have to understand that with us old charismatic preachers, you only have to get the first few minutes. The rest is repetition!”

Of course he was right. The preacher had done just that. Fr. Bob had made good use of his time, and was now ready to hear confessions with full attention.

I only knew Fr. Bob in the last decade of his life, and his little half-joke was often how he spoke about himself, with humility and self-deprecating humour; just an old preacher with a few spiritual insights repeated often.

There was a great deal more to Fr. Bob than that. For this 50th anniversary in 2005 I wrote that he wasn’t a “religious founder from central casting. He is not a firebrand like Ignatius of Loyola, nor has he charted a radical new course like Benedict of Nursia. All of which is reasonable enough, because Robert of Ottawa never set out to found a religious community of priests in the first place. Back in 1985 he was looking for a practical solution to a real problem. Many of the priests of his generation had left and newer vocations were finding it difficult. He started meeting with three men preparing for the priesthood on a weekly basis, simply to pray and to encourage each other as sources of mutual support. Soon they figured out — they would say that the Holy Spirit illuminated them — that what they were creating was something for the wider Church. Their vision was priests living together for mutual support and common prayer, while serving parishes as part of a new evangelization.”

Indeed, he was an early visionary of the new evangelization. Fr. Bob knew better than most how to present the ancient faith anew. The good work of the Companions is proof of that. It is fitting that the latest project of the Companions is to participate fully in the specialized programs in the new evangelization initiated in the archdiocese of Detroit.

For all his remarkable achievements in preaching the Gospel, Fr. Bob was right about being an “old preacher” with just a few things to say. His genius as a spiritual guide was to make things simple, to focus on essentials and to do so in a way that was memorable and attractive. I don’t think I ever encountered Fr. Bob — whether in a public address or a private conversation — when he didn’t speak about God’s love and God’s providence. Simple? Yes. Essential? Absolutely.

After a long illness and much suffering, Fr. Bob is entrusted by his many sons and daughters to God’s love, having proved to be a most remarkable instrument of His providence.

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