British Columbia has seen plenty of Missionary Oblates. Among the most renown we should mention the ethnologist Adrien Morice, the polyglot Jean-Marie Lejeune, the valiant heart of Casimir Chirouse, and the impetuous Charles Pandosy. One of the last, but not the least is François-Marie Thomas, an apostle dedicated entirely to serving the Chilcotin amerindians in the Cariboo district.
He was born in Brittany in 1868 and, as an Oblate, ordained to the priesthood in 1893. In spite of serious illnesses he always wanted to be a missionary in Canada. His dream was realized in 1894 with his first obedience for British Columbia.
We soon found him among the Chilcotins near Williams Lake. They were a tribe of fierce warriors always hostile to the White Man’s religion. Veteran missionaries were convinced that young Father Thomas’ efforts to convert them would be futile.
“These people let Redemption pass by”, was the general opinion. But they never succeeded in discouraging the newcomer. For sixty years his dedication overflowed with initiatives, along with his amiable smiling presence. He eventually proved the predictions of his confreres to be untrue. Astounding results were brought about.
Between two rivals
But the missionary’s life was not always easy. At times he had to settle disputes between families and jealous conflicts between individuals. One day, in the mission at Anaham, the priest had hired a carpenter from Nazko to perform repairs on the local church. The work had already been going on for a few weeks when a woman from Anahaua began to make loving advances towards the poor fellow, who naturally, was lonesome for his wife, back at Nazko. But once the wife got wind of the provocative conduct of this foreign rival, she decided to come and confront her.
Their exchange of insults soon led to blows. A crowd gathered. The women were encouraged to fight. It was unexpected entertainment. The situation became very serious; suddenly the rival, wielding a large bone, was coming for the kill . Father Thomas hesitated no longer. In spite of the danger, he stepped in between the two women. At the same moment an alert and strong matron grabbed the rival by the wrist and shouted: “How dare you hit the Black Robe!” There was a momentary calm. Witnesses rapidly separated the two women and led them to opposite ends of the village. Whew! The danger had passed.
André DORVAL, OMI