On January 31, 1965, at Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Father Joseph Guinard died at the age of one hundred years and three months. This legendary Oblate had been a missionary to the Amerindians of James Bay, of Haut-Saint-Maurice, and of Maniwaki for some sixty years. His qualities of kindness, dedication, and rapid adaptation to native culture have always been characteristic. He was born at Maskinongé, on October 16, 1864. Joseph Guinard entered the Oblates in 1887. He was Ordained in 1891, and the following year he was sent to the Cree Indians, on the Ontario side of James Bay with Father François-Xavier Fafard and Brother Grégoire Lapointe. He collaborated in the founding of the missions at Albany and Attawapiskat. From 1889 to 1965, he was often the part-time helper from Maniwaki who rushed to the aid of the Amerindians of Waswanipi, Weymontachfe, or Manouan. The lumberjacks of the Gatineau received their annual visit. As catechist emeritus, he quickly gained everyone’s friendship and confidence. His mastery of Amerindian languages enabled him to publish, at the age of ninety, a most useful book: Les noms indiens de mon pays (The Indian Names of My Country). This valiant missionary also left us a precious document of two hundred typewritten pages on his apostolic endeavors.
The most beautiful page of his Memoires is entitled Mon calice brisé (My Broken Chalice). “One morning, on mission, as I opened my portable chapel to say Mass, I noticed that my chalice was broken. On seeing it in this condition, I began to cry and to kiss it. This little silver chalice, engraved with a cross, had followed me along the sandy shores of Hudson Bay, to James Bay, in the Haut-Saint-Maurice. Together we had crossed a thousand lakes, immense forests, dangerous rapids; we had visited lumber camps and Amerindian huts. During twenty-nine years I had drunk from it the Holy Blood of the Lamb. How may Algonquins, Crees, Têtes-de-Boule and lumberjacks have approached this dear chalice. How many times, in the morning, have I surrounded its fragile foot with small hosts which I consecrated and then distributed to the poor, who came to communion in shirt sleeves, in rags, with bushy hair. Oh! My chalice, my dear chalice, will my missionary life be broken with you?
“I took up my chalice with trembling hands, and tried to straighten the stem. I used a white cloth to treat it with even more reverence. By pressing it against my heart, the fire of my love melting the metal, I slowly restored its shape. I poured water into the cup, the fractures were closed up. It wasn’t perfect, but seen from certain angles its form was still graceful. Yes, God, with my beloved chalice, broken and reshaped, I adored you once again, for two more years during which I seemed to love you more.
“Many years have come and gone since these events: I served the missions for twenty-two years with another chalice. Today, it is no longer my silver chalice that is broken, it is I who am being broken by time. My voice can hardly respond to the community prayers. I keep silent, I stand aside, I am powerless. It’s God Who wants these flaws; I accept them and I welcome even more the great and last breakage that will make me disappear from this world. I know that God is a skilled craftsman. He will restore to a better state what He will soon break.
André DORVAL, OMI