‘Great missionary’ Father Guilbaud passes away at 95

Father Joseph Guilbaud always said that, when he goes to heaven, the first thing he wants to see is his father's face. After a stroke and a month-long hospital stay, Father Jim Bleackley asked him, "Joseph, is it time to go and see your father?

Father Joseph Guilbaud always said that, when he goes to heaven, the first thing he wants to see is his father’s face.

After a stroke and a month-long hospital stay, Father Jim Bleackley asked him, “Joseph, is it time to go and see your father?

“And he just smiled, he didn’t really say too much,” said Bleackley. “There was a sense of peace and a sense of, yeah, it will be good.”

Shortly after, Guilbaud passed away.

He was born in France in 1915 and lived in the Yukon for 62 years. He’d never met his father.

He had one picture of his dad holding him when he was six months old, but just after that his father died in the First World War.

So when Guilbaud died in the Whitehorse hospital on June 21, he was on his way to see the face he only knew from a photo taken 95 years ago.

He served the Catholic Church for 52 years and retired in Whitehorse in 1999, moving into the oblate.

“He was forced to retire. He always said, ‘I could have done more,’” said Bleackley.

The directory above the doorbells at the front of the building points his visitors to apartment No. 4.

Priests don’t have many personal belongings, Bleackley explained, but Guilbaud asked the photos displayed in his room be returned to his family.

Bleackley and Father Pierre Rigaud sat in the oblate’s common room, sharing stories of the “great missionary.”

“He was a special one,” joked Rigaud who knew Guilbaud for 62 years. “He had his own ideas.”

One of these “ideas” was creating his own directions while on his mission.

“He was leaving Ross River, he was going to Pelly Lake. In his mind, the shortest distance was a straight line. He got lost the whole time,” said Bleackley.

“He had stories about getting lost in the bush … he came around a corner and there was a bear. I said, ‘What did you do?’ and he said, ‘I shot my gun and ran and I guess the bear ran the other way.’”

When he finally made it across the river he had been crossing, Guilbaud was so relieved that he sang every song he knew.

Although he may not have had the best sense of direction, Guilbaud had a strong sense of purpose.

He was very spiritual and always learning.

During his mission in Upper Liard, he often heard the people speak about losing their language.

“Well then I’ll give back,” said Guilbaud.

He carried around a tape recorder and asked elders to teach him their Kaska language.

Guilbaud studied the voice recordings.

“That was one of his big projects,” said Bleackley. “He got quite proficient at speaking Kaska.”

He also set up two speakers in the church tower and played his recordings to the people sitting on the church steps.

“Maybe they’ll pick it up,” Bleackley said with a laugh.

Up until he got sick on May 29, he was continually doing his routine of praying, reading and studying.

“He had been very alert,” said Bleackley.

Guilbaud also worked on his book and hoped it would one day be published.

In the hospital, Guilbaud asked, “What about that Catechism?”

“It’s in God’s hands now,” Bleackley replied.

Bleackley had been in the hospital all day on June 21, but took a break in the afternoon for exercise.

When he came back, Guilbaud had passed away.

“Guilbaud always liked to be free. Like when he crossed to Ross River, on the other side he said, ‘No more superior! I’m on my own.’ So he probably said, ‘Yeah, the superior’s gone. I’m free to go.’”

A prayer vigil will be held on Sunday at Sacred Heart Cathedral at 7 p.m. and the funeral mass is Monday at 10:30 a.m.

Father Guilbaud will be buried in the oblate plot on Grey Mountain.

Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston

at larissaj@yukon-news.com

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