Retiring pastor Pat Lafleur is leaving the parish hoping he's done enough to leave a mark in some people's lives.
Monsignor Lafleur, 70, is the pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral, vicar general of the Diocese of Timmins and chaplain with the Timmins Police Service (TPS).
On Tuesday, TPS bid a bittersweet farewell to Lafleur.
Thursday morning, the staff of the O'Gorman High School, with whom Lafleur worked for almost 20 years, stopped by the parish to congratulate Lafleur on his retirement.
"It was a little emotional for me," he says.
His final weekend as pastor will take place on June 26 and 27. Lafleur will have three masses over the weekend and a special Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday afternoon. There will be a gathering restriction at 15 per cent capacity.
Saying farewell with no people in the church was one of his fears, Lafleur says.
“The part of me is really happy because I know I need to retire. And then there’s a part of me that’s terribly sad,” Lafleur says.
After 22 years in Timmins, Lafleur is moving back to Cobalt and Haileybury. He has a trailer at a campsite near Cobalt and an apartment in Haileybury. In July and August, he’s going to mellow out and then decide what he wants to do next.
As a Catholic priest, he didn’t get to marry and have children and that was one of the hardest things for him to give up.
But the parishioners and the staff became his family whom he’s going to miss a lot.
“I will miss the privilege of being allowed into so many people’s lives. They let you in, at their highest and their lowest,” he says. “They allow you to be a part of their lives and walk with them.”
Before joining the priesthood, Lafleur worked as a teacher, a bank accountant, an insurance investigator and a part-time DJ.
Lafleur was born in Latchford and grew up in Elk Lake and Haileybury. He comes from a big family of 11 siblings.
There was a time he struggled with his faith when he walked away from God and the church. At the time, he moved back to Haileybury where his parents lived and was trying to find an apartment.
One Sunday morning, his father woke him up to go to church and Lafleur’s response was, “I don’t do that anymore.” His mother didn’t want him to set a bad example to his younger brothers and sisters in the house, so Lafleur went to the church hoping he’d find an apartment.
Then, he got a teaching job at a Catholic school in New Liskeard and found a house.
Once he became a Catholic teacher, he remembered what his mother said about being an example. Although he wasn’t fond of the idea, he decided to go to church.
One Sunday, the priest was reading a gospel about the Prodigal Son and Lafleur realized he was the prodigal son returning home to God.
“I started having a better attitude about going to church and then I went to this retreat weekend and that sealed it,” he says. Lafleur was about 27 at the time.
For Lafleur, God called him to look after people who may feel like they don’t belong or have a home, who walked away from the faith or made mistakes.
He worked as a teacher with children who “needed a little more attention” for seven years. The job was rewarding and enjoyable and yet, he knew something was missing.
When a priest suggested Lafleur consider a seminary, Lafleur laughed and thought the priest was “nuts.”
Then, when another priest suggested seminary, too, Lafleur decided to go to the seminary to get rid of what he thought was a “really bad idea.” A few times, he came close to quitting.
At the age of 36, he was ordained. Back then, Lafleur didn't think that later in life, he would end up in a cathedral, be a vicar general and be named Monsignor.
It was the right decision, Lafleur reflects now. Faith gives him purpose, a reason to be, something to fall back on and share. It also ties him to other people.
Being a priest is what Lafleur calls “living in a fishbowl.”
“Everybody looks at you and judges you. Everybody got an opinion on how you preach, how you act, how you live. And sometimes, they think they’re quite entitled to tell you and everybody else what that opinion is,” Lafleur says. “I found that a little difficult.”
When he was in seminary, Lafleur was diagnosed with cancer. Initially, he was angry and upset. A nun gave him a prayer card that read, “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen today that you and I together can’t handle.” That’s the prayer Lafleur says when he is needed in difficult situations.
He ended up beating cancer twice. The experiences made him a different person, with more tolerance and faith.
In his duties, Lafleur strived to stay true to himself.
"That's what any of us ever has to offer,” he says.