For whom does the bell toll at midnight?
Elsewhere in these stories, I recounted how Father Elphège Allard, OMI, had drowned in the Dense River, and was found with the help
a picture of the Virgin Mary. This priest had two older brothers who were Oblates: Joseph and Odilon.
Missionary in the Yukon
Joseph’s life also had its adventures. He was born on April 26, 1871, in Saint-David-de-Yamaska. After working for a few years on his father’s farm, he went to Montreal for
commercial courses, and found employment at Worcester, Mass. It was only at the age of twenty-four that he began his classical studies at the Sacré- Coeur Juniorate, in Ottawa.
On June 6, 1903, he was ordained to the priesthood with the Oblates, and the following year, was sent as a missionary to the Yukon. For thirty-eight years, he traveled across
this vast region, visiting numerous Amerindian tribes. He built four churches and as many schools. His apostolic zeal was remarkable. He left a deep impression on all the people
he evangelized. His teaching was founded on respect for God, faith in Jesus-Christ, and filial love for the Virgin Mary. Even to this day, thirty five years after his death at
Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, older men who knew him recall with emotion certain moments they shared with him.
Christmas at Atlin
In the 1930’s, while he was living at Lejac, Father Allard made frequent visits to Atlin, a small mission of the Klonkets , a mission that he had founded with pain and suffering,
in 1907. He had organized a lay ministry long before Vatican II. When he was not there, on Sundays and Holy Days, the local people assembled in church or in one of the homes for
customary prayers. Most often, it was a woman, better prepared for this ministry, who took on the direction of this ritual. One year, it happened that a few weeks before Christmas
the church bell had remained jammed in its belfry. No one dared climb up on the roof during this time of winter. Thus, the bell remained silent.
On Christmas Eve, a small group of
Christians met at the home of an Amerindian named Leo. They always expected the missionary, for he had promised: “I’ll come at Christmas.” Around
’clock at night, worry set in… an accident is always possible. Nervousness began to circulate throughout the house. But everyone knew, as a matter of fact, that Leo had his provision.
Three peals in the night
All of a sudden, to everyone’s surprise, the sound of the bell was heard. Three distinct rings: Ding! Ding! Dong! “That’s it,” said Leo, “Father has certainly arrived.” Without
hesitation, he donned his anorak, his cap and his caribou gloves to go out and meet the missionary. Lantern in hand, he reached the church. In spite of his expectations, he found
no traces of footprints in the snow, not on the front steps nor around the building. He returned to the house and shared his findings with the others. Mystery! Why and how did the
bell ring? Different hypotheses were shared. Leo, for his part, suggested that the priest had died accidentally, and thus would not appear this night. On the contrary, Lucie, his
spouse, a good Christian, who suspected a ruse of her alcoholic husband, saw in these three rings a warning from God. “Three rings,” she said to the confused assembly, “that means
that in three hours the priest will be with us. Let’s recite the rosary to help him if he is in danger. The storm could have delayed him.”
The rosary was recited, everyone rested,
more prayers were said, but at the end all became impatient. Leo and his buddies could wait no longer. They brought out the bottles and glasses. But hardly had the first stopper
popped when the bell rang once again. They looked at the clock: it was MIDNIGHT! “I told you so,” remarked Lucie. “Let’s hurry, for this
time Father Allard had certainly arrived!”
In fact, that night Oblate Father Joseph Allard, happy to be among his own, was able to celebrate the Midnight Mass joyfully, with his
faithful of Atlin.
André DORVAL, OMI