The Cordillera of the Andes are to Chile what the Rockies are to Canada. These two perpetually snow-covered mountain chains are spectacular to behold, but at times they can be dangerous
because of the sudden and frequent avalanches. A group of Oblates experienced this in July, 1963,
A vacation trip
Taking advantage of a winter vacation, a group of students left Santiago for a snow trip to the Andes Cordillera, about 60 kilometers from the capital. After three days of inclement
weather, between snow and rain, the six jolly companions were returning by station wagon around nine o’clock in the evening. Shortly before they reached the town of Volcan, a bank
of snow made the road impassable. To drive around this obstacle the driver swerved to the right and headed straight for a nearby ravine. Luckily, they came to a stop right at the
edge. Apart from a few contusions, their main injury at the moment was fright. Four of them left on foot to seek help at the nearby village. The two others, Father Joseph Massé,
and scholastic bother Roch Gendron, sat quietly in the station wagon, awaiting their return.
Suddenly, they heard a distant rumble, like a peal of thunder. An avalanche was forming on the mountain. It was absolutely dark, they could see nothing. The noise comes closer, louder,
and becomes threatening. The wagon is shaken violently. The top and one side are crushed. In less time than it takes to write about it the two confreres are buried under tons of snow.
Between life and death
A sepulchral silence enveloped them. They were in the full grasp of anxiety. Will they emerge from this alive? The question came to their minds. Not losing a moment, they got
to work. They broke a window, and with a shovel attempted to clear a vertical chimney. At the same time snow was finding its way into the station wagon, and began to fill it rapidly.
They kept digging, through at least two meters. But that snow! Always more snow! They began to think that nothing could be done. Stopping momentarily, they started to face the
prospect of a Christian death. They fervently recited a few prayers, recommending themselves especially to the Blessed Virgin. Would she hear them? No doubt she did, for she inspired
them to return to their labors. During fifteen more minutes of feverish shoveling they were hovering between feelings of confidence and discouragement. Will they ever get out?
Free at last
Yes! The shovel finally pierced through to the surface. Fresh air rushed inside. A spontaneous shout rose from their lungs: “Saved… We are saved! Thank You God! Thank you, dear
Holy Mary!” As soon as they emerged from their glacial tomb, they were stunned to discover that over three meters of snow now covered their station wagon. They had never been
that close to death. We can easily imagine their exuberance at the return of their four companions. The following day, at Saint Pius X Scholasticate, in Santiago, the whole Oblate
community gathered to sing a Mass of Thanksgiving.
Roch Gendron was only twenty-seven at the time of this adventure. He already suffered from the first symptoms of stomach cancer. A few months later, he returned to Canada
for treatment. Doctors were unable to stop the progression of the malignancy. Death was now imminent, so his priestly ordination was advanced. The ceremony took place in his
home parish at Saint-Samuel-de-Frontenac on July 31, 1965. He died nine months later, on April 22, 1966. As for Father Massé, he is still with us and can authenticate this accident
in which he was buried alive.
André DORVAL, OMI