By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
WELAND – My choice of lasting image for Rev. Deacon Gérard Demers, who died Saturday, August 25, aged 74, would be Empire Street’s spacious Sacré-Coeur church and how it was close to capacity for his funeral Mass.
The turnout did not go unnoticed by the homilist, Rev. Miroslaw Olszewski, who said: “Our attendance here today says something about Deacon Gérard.” Several hundred people were at the Mass, celebrated Thursday morning, August 30.
Ordained a permanent deacon 10 years ago, Deacon Demers was appointed to Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Five years ago he began to serve also at francophone parishes Sacré-Coeur (Welland), Immaculée-Conception (St. Catharines) and Saint-Jean-de-Brébeuf (Port Colborne).
Father Olszewski, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul, said Deacon Demers was admired and loved by many. He had a winning way with people, he had a gift for storytelling and song, he said. Father Olszeswki called him “a man of great joy, great laughter through his many stories and songs.”
In his ministry, Deacon Demers gave meaning to words spoken by Pope Francis, who said that a shepherd should smell like his sheep, meaning it is necessary to go out and live the nitty gritty of parishioners’ lives rather than ministering to them from within the confines of a church.
Father Olszewski said Deacon Demers excelled at this. For example, he made time to visit residents and conduct chapel services at Rapelje Lodge and Woodlands of Sunset. Likewise, he visited parishioners who were sick or homebound. Father Olszewski said Deacon Demers is credited for starting the Harvest Kitchen program at Sts. Peter and Paul and is recognized for his care and compassion “for the most needy among us.”
He was a 4th degree member of Chevaliers de Colomb (Knights of Columbus). In his death notice it is written: “He… always put the needs of others before his own. His gentle and soothing approach led him to be called upon to officiate weddings, baptisms and funerals, in which he took great pride.”
He was asked by the Demers family to be homilist, Father Olszewski said, and doing so was his honor, even though his first reaction had been, “I am not prepared for it.” Providing some insight into the bond between them, Father Olszewski said Deacon Demers became his closest colleague at Sts. Peter and Paul. Shortly after he had arrived in town, Father Olszewski took seriously ill, requiring two stays in hospital and a lengthy period of recuperation.
“He spent many hours taking care of me,” Father Olszewski said. It was Deacon Demers and Denise, his wife, who tended to the convalescing priest’s needs.
Deacon Demers had been planning to retire from parish ministry at 75 (next August), then to spend more time with his wife, children, grandchildren and extended family, but that was not to be. Father Olszewski said he is certain Christ, “the Good Shepherd”, would reward him for his fidelity, his compassion and his love.
The heartfelt homily ended as simply and fittingly as could be: “Rest in peace, Gérard. Rest in peace,” said Father Olszewski.
Twenty seven priests and deacons attended the funeral Mass. The celebrant was Most Reverend Gerard Bergie, Bishop of St. Catharines, and the concelebrants, Father Olszewski and Rev. Julien Beaulieu, a former pastor of Sacré-Coeur.
(Lasting Image is a recurring feature on the blog. Recent others in the series include: Augusto Macoritto, Gifted Lensman, August 21, 2018; Ivan Zecchini, His Countenance Glowed from Wide-Eyed Appreciation, July 18, 2018; Keith Hornibrook, Opening Doors to Addictions Recovery In Dignity, July 11, 2018; Mother Alba Puglia, Tireless Trailblazer, June 18, 2018; Don Murray, A Small Part of Local History, June 6, 2018; Michael Santone, A Barber of King Street, January 23, 2018.)