Diocesan priest retracing footsteps of half-century of ministry to the Church

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor
davejolivet@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Father Paul E. Canuel’s address may read Cardinal Medeiros Residence on Elsbree Street in Fall River, but one would be hard-pressed to find him there, especially recently.

In retirement, Father Canuel has remained active in diocesan ministry, in his words, “Continuing to minister as a ‘retired’ priest to any parish in need.”

Add to that the fact that he is celebrating his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood with a “whirlwind tour” of places at which he served over the last half century.

“I was impressed last year when I saw Father Tom Lopes celebrating his 50th anniversary doing something similar,” Father Canuel told The Anchor

Father Canuel’s celebration tour began on the actual 50th anniversary of his ordination on May 21 at a Mass and reception for him at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk.

“I was thrilled by the reception I received there,” he said. “The church was packed and the music superbly conducted by Ms. Jeanne Kusiak whom I had hired back in 1974 when she was just a teen-ager.”

The celebration journey continued on June 5 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro, where he celebrated a bilingual Mass in English and Spanish. “Actually, it was a trilingual Mass, since I prayed the ‘Our Father’ in French, as I was first taught to pray,” Father Canuel added.

He will also visit St. Mary/Our Lady of the Isle Parish on Nantucket; and Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. James in New Bedford, where he will visit with his former parishioners from Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and St. Hedwig parishes.

In July, Father Canuel will travel to Guaimaca, Honduras where he served at St. Rose of Lima Parish for seven years. “I am traveling there to participate in the ordination of Daniel Velasquez Escoto, my godson,” Father Canuel told The Anchor. “He is from the parish where Father Craig A. Pregana and I served when our diocese ‘adopted’ and staffed St. Rose of Lima Parish. Father Daniel will allow me to join my 50th anniversary Mass with his first Mass.”

The anniversary tour will conclude next year. “I will have to wait until then to celebrate the final anniversary Mass in one of the parishes in which I served in Peru, South America,” he said. Father Canuel spent six years in Peru.

Father Canuel had seven “holy” cards prepared with various scenes from his priesthood on one side and on the other:

Fr. Paul Edouard Canuel
50th Anniversary of Ordination
May 21, 2016
This is what the Lord asks of you, only this:
to act justly, to love tenderly, 
and walk humbly with your God

— Micah 6:8

The scenes include an anniversary picture in alb, and one in a suit; a dedication ceremony of an infant to God in the village of Piñuelas, Honduras; a Communion call to 100-year-old Herminia in Orica, Honduras; a photo of Father Canuel on a motorcycle from his “motorcycle days of Mount Carmel in Seekonk; walking barefoot “in the footsteps of Jesus”; and open-air Confessions in LaNava, Honduras.

In his homily at Our Lady of Mount Carmel on May 21, (see page five) Father Canuel said it was difficult to put in a “10-minute frame of time, how God has acted in my life these past 50 years.”

He told The Anchor that he clearly remembers an encounter with his dad nearly 63 years ago. “My dad and I sat down together in the only ‘private’ room in our house. He asked me what ‘kind’ of priest did I think I wanted to be,” he recalled. “This, the only question he asked when I surprised him by saying I wanted to go to a Catholic high school because I would like to be a priest. 

“I answered that I wanted to be a priest like Father Maurice Parent, our parish ‘curate’ at St. Michael’s in Ocean Grove. He was visibly relieved that I did not want to be a missionary priest traipsing all over the world, far from family and friends.”

Father Canuel added that little did he know he would give missionary service twice in his career, six years in Peru and seven in Honduras.

“As I look back over my years of priestly ministry I am overwhelmed with joy as I now see how God has blessed me every step of the way,” he said. “Even at times when I experienced trials, challenges, doubts and difficulties, the Lord was not only with me but guiding me to His purpose and plan. I feel very much like that popular prayer called ‘Footsteps in the Sand,’ by Mary Stevenson and know that there were times when only one set of footprints were left in the sand because the Lord carried me in His arms.”

Asked for a few memorable instances over the last five decades he said he received a great deal of joy serving with the Cursillo movement; driving a school bus to pick up CCD students and youth ministry members at Our Lady of Mount Carmel with trips to Newport beaches and Christmas caroling at homes of elderly parishioners; the St. James Missionary Society; pastoring and blending multi-cultural communities in Attleboro (St. Joseph’s) and New Bedford (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe/St. Hedwig); serving in Honduras and on Nantucket; and his continued service wherever he is needed.

Father Canuel told The Anchor that the Church has experienced some very difficult times over the years. “I have witnessed, in 50 years’ time, an exposure to other cultures and traditions, a rainbow of many colors that only make sense when they are woven together and seen from afar,” he said. “Only God knows what future form He may lead us to adopt in order that we may continue to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life and be happy with Him in the next.

“I am not discouraged nor fearful. Rather, I am filled with hope and trust in the Lord Whose own strength will uphold us, renew us and continue calling us to build the City of God.”

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Homily of Father Paul E. Canuel on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of ordination

The following is Father Paul E. Canuel’s homily at a Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Seekonk on May 21, 2016 celebrating his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.

Like Peter on Mount Tabor, I say: It is so good for us to be here to celebrate thanksgiving to God on the occasion of my anniversary of ordination, 50 years ago today. I am nervously grateful to Father Mark, to my brother priests and to all of you, family, friends, and parishioners of Mount Carmel, for choosing to be with me today. It is the job of the celebrant, following the example of Jesus, to open the Scripture of the day and then break the bread. I find that opening up the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, while daunting as that task is, seems to me a bit easier than trying to put into a 10-minute frame of time, how God has acted in my life these past 50 years.

The main point of Jesus’ revealing to us that God is Father-Creator, Son-Redeemer and Spirit-Sanctifier is that they exist not as three individual gods but as a Community of Persons, unique and powerful in their identifying activities yet so perfect in love for One Another that we know God as One. And then we are told that we have been created in the image and likeness of God and called, as the great commission empowers us, to be one “that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that you have sent Me.” COMMUNITY.

Forty-one years ago this faith community of Mount Carmel sent me forth to the land of the great Incas, Peru, to build community and to share the story of what love was doing here at Mount Carmel. What a joyful journey that was! Many times as I trekked up and down the trails of the Andes Mountains, carrying on my back the necessary material things needed for the celebration of the Sacraments, I would think of that farewell Mass at the parish center, with a humongous burlap banner draping the altar, covered with images of cactus and burros, otherwise known as donkeys (you know in the six years I lived with you, I think we bought out the entire supply of burlap in East Providence!) and on that banner were huge red letters that said: VAYA CON DIOS. Go with GOD. Go with the Father, with the Son and with the Holy Spirit; go with the love of this community of Mount Carmel. Go and make us one with them. I did my best and God blessed me with a million memories of His love. The feast of the Trinity invites us not to heady speculation but to loving appreciation. It is a time to give thanks to the God Who loves us, to meditate on the ways we have encountered that love and all the names for God that love has inspired.

 On May 13, this year, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I was celebrating Mass with the beautiful Dominican Sisters of the Presentation in Dighton and the Gospel of the day was the one in which Jesus confronts Peter with the triple, “Do you love Me?” It is after the third question and emotional response that Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” And then Jesus said to him, “Follow Me!”

 These words, strike home for me at the age of 75! It makes me think that this is not so much a time of looking back but an opportunity to prepare for what is yet to come: “Follow Me.”

I may not be able any longer to be trekking in and out the Andes with Sister Maria del Rey but I am ready for the next stage. The booster is spent but I am still in orbit and like the poet Robert Browning quoting Rabbi Ben Ezra I invite you: “Come, grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in His hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; trust God: See all, nor be afraid! Follow me.’” Discipleship at any age can still be a time of enjoying the accumulated wisdom and memories of a life well-lived. 

That leads us to the Eucharist we celebrate today. Gratitude is one of the best ways to celebrate whatever number of years with the Lord. The years when I could “dress myself and go where I wanted to go” have been a great gift, but so are those who respond when I “stretch out my arms” to be lead somewhere I’m not sure I want to go. I’m just glad that you will be there to do that. 

 It’s a daunting task the great commission. You might doubt that you are capable of doing much about it, you might think: O Lord I am not worthy, but in whatever wisdom God has given me through 50 years experience of priestly ministry, I can tell you that the call to ministry is not about you, not about me. It’s about God. God is our companion on the journey, We dare not be afraid. When I look back on these past 50 years I find that God was with me every step of the way, not always in the way that I wanted but in the way that He wanted. It was when I asked for strength that God gave me difficulties to make me strong. When I asked for wisdom, God gave me problems to solve. When I asked for prosperity, God gave me brawn and brains to work. When I asked for courage, God gave me dangers to overcome. When I asked for patience, God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait. When I asked for love, God gave me troubled people to help. When I asked for favors, God gave me opportunities. When I asked for everything so I could enjoy life, God gave me life so I could enjoy everything.

It was when I received nothing I wanted, that I received everything I needed. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.


© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts