Louis Veuillot once said to the Oblates, at the end of an interview with Vital Grandin: “Quel bel évêque vous avez dans les glaces!” (What a fine Bishop you have in the ice fields!) After fifty years as a missionary in the Far North of Canada, this man’s merits are well known, and we are awaiting the day when he will be proclaimed as the first saint of the Church in Western Canada. His treks on snowshoes and in birch-bark canoes have accumulated a distance equal to seven times around the world. He accomplished these apostolic journeys, as did Saint Paul, in the midst of dangers of all sorts: suffering from famine, cold weather, mosquitoes, fatigue, and lice.
The terrible night that he spent on December 15, 1863, with a métis youth on Great Slave Lake, is proof enough. The young bishop was on his way to celebrate Christmas at Fort Resolution, two hundred kilometers from Fort Providence. In normal times, with a good dog sled, one could count on four or five days. “It’s the jump of a cat” said the bishop as if to reassure his young companion of fourteen. So they left. The dogs were vigorous, and the cold, intense. As the days passed, all went well. The mission was not far, just a little more effort…
All of a sudden the sun became obscured, clouds gathered, and then the storm struck. In no time the helpless travelers found themselves trapped in a whirlwind of powdery snow that left them completely disoriented. Bishop Grandin wrote about this later: “We kept walking for several hours and cried out with all our strength, but only the storm answered. We were on sheer ice and the wind swept away the snow as fast as it fell. More or less protected by our sled and our dogs, with the lad sitting on me and leaning against me, we prepared ourselves for death. The cold began to overwhelm us, so we had to get up and walk, enrolled in a blanket, as if fleeing from death. In a clearing, I seemed to see dry land. Then, a little later we noticed two dog sleds. We shouted as loud as we could. It happened to be the father and the uncle of my companion, who were out looking for us. We were only a quarter hour’s distance from the mission.”
The following year, Bishop Grandin went to Rome for his visit with the Pope. Pius IX requested details on the bishop’s exhausting apostolic tours, and on the poverty and solitude of the missionaries in the Far North. When Bishop Grandin asked for permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament without a lighted lamp, since his mission had no way of paying for the oil that would be necessary, the Pope replied: “Keep the Savior. Yes, keep Him. You have such a need for Him, you and your missionaries. Keep Him without a lighted lamp.”
André DORVAL, OMI