entry into the congregation8 of Missionary
Oblates seemed to be a natural choice. For health reasons he
had made retreats at the Oblate centre Cap-de-la-Madeleine, which
was attractive because of the Oblate's Marian orientation and
varied ministries. As a boy Clement had read the works of Fr.
interest in working with Canada's aboriginal people was ignited
and he hoped to one day work in the Inuit communities in northern
Canada. There he hoped to find the outdoors he loved and the
people he wanted to serve. In 1933 he entered the Oblate noviciate
at Ville La Salle, Quebec, and was ordained to the priesthood
on 11 June 1938. In 1940, Fr. Desrochers was called by Bishop
Langlois to serve in the Francophone communities of the Peace
River District, neither the far north nor an Aboriginal community.
Nevertheless, when Fr. Desrochers arrived in Girouxville he felt
he had arrived home.
When Fr. Desrochers joined the community the village of Girouxville
was still in its early development. Its church, dedicated to
Our Lady of Lourdes, had been blessed by Bishop Grouard in 1928.
Fr. Desrochers shared his Québécois patrimony with
the people of this region. His understanding of what community,
Church and family life ought to be like was familiar to them.
They shared similar cultural values, spoke the same language
and shared a common body of images and ideas which animated what
was ultimate in life. For the next ten years he travelled in
a horse and buggy to say mass and serve the sacraments in the
surrounding area, visit the schools, teach catechism and hear
confession. The young people became a special part of his ministry.
He noticed that they had little to do in their spare time so
he introduced hockey - a sport they did not know. Most did not
even know how to skate.
1940 the effects of the Great Depression lingered and a moral
discouragement was still noticeable. The parish priest, Fr. Nadeau,
and Fr. Desrochers succeeded in inspiring the people to become
engaged in their own community and new projects began to emerge
in rapid succession. Fr. Nadeau had observed how the organisation
of co-operatives in the Maritime provinces had brought about
change. He now dreamed about something similar in the Peace Country.
It was left to Fr. Desrochers to organize a study circle during
the winter months. Together
they studied "le catéchisme des Caisses Populaires,"10 which provoked lively discussion. The
people of Girouxville were inspired to raise the economic and
social level by means of co-operatives. In 1941 a credit
union was incorporated at Girouxville. A Co-Op store followed,
and in 1951 the village of Girouxville itself was incorporated.
foundation of the co-operatives may have been deliberate, but
the Girouxville Museum happened by chance, or what Fr. Desrochers
described as "une génération spontanée."
One day Fr. Desrochers noticed that a vitrine holding relics
of former bishops and missionaries was no longer in the bishop's
house in Grouard and learned no one knew where the contents were.
Fr. Desrochers received permission to track the artifacts down.
He was only successful years later, but as people became aware
of his interest in historic material they delivered many artifacts
to his quarters. Thus grew the need to house the collection properly.
This was initially done in a shed on the pilgrimage grounds in
the heart of Girouxville. In 1968, the Museum building was erected.
Fr. Desrochers' brother-in-law, Henri Monfette, provided substantial
help. Fr. Desrochers convinced Henri that during the hours in
which he did not drive the school bus his time was best spent
working with his carpentry tools in the Museum. Henri built the
log panel interior which gives the Museum its warm atmosphere.
In the Museum, the mission chapel and the personal artifacts
from the missionaries and bishops were Fr. Desrochers' pride.
Jacques Carbonneau, who had come to Girouxville from Jacques
Lake, Quebec, in 1959, shared Fr. Desrochers' passion for the
religious artifacts in the Museum. He worked with Fr. Desrochers to organize the
pilgrimage and all aspects of the Museum. At Jacques' suggestion
the chapel in the Museum was consecrated and Fr. Desrochers came
to serve mass here regularly.11 The
Girouxville Museum is the only museum in Western Canada where
the reserved Sacrament has been
present, making its reconstructed chapel a place for prayer at
the centre of the Museum.
In 1953 Fr. Desrochers
was delegated to go to the Missionary Oblate General Chapter
meeting in Rome.12 During this trip he made pilgrimages to various
Marian shrines in France: Notre Dame de Lourdes, Notre Dame du
Laus, Notre Dame de l'Osier. From these sites he acquired a large
number of artifacts - statuary, paintings, and reliquaries. Fr.
Desrochers arranged for the objects to be made available to the
new Girouxville pilgrimage site. The articles were added free
of charge to a shipment destined to the missions in Labrador,
from where they travelled by train to northern Alberta. Today
they are located in the church, in the grotto, and in the Museum's
Notre Dame de l'Osier,
a painting brought back from France. Fr. Desrochers often told
the story of the young Calvinist, Pierre Port Courbet, who refused
to recognize the Marian Feast Days. In 1649 on the Feast of the
Annunciation he was cutting down a willow tree. The tree bled
profusely and the Holy Virgin appeared to him. The young man
repented and became a Catholic. Fr. Desrochers acquired a piece
of the original willow tree. The relic hangs in the grotto of
Our Lady of Lourdes in Girouxville.