(Courtesy Gabriel Berberian)
Bernardin Houle, choir director and organist for the St. Francis Xavier Mission Catholic Church, and a prominent figure in Kahnawake, passed away last Wednesday, June 3. He was 96.
Houle was a member of the choir since he was 29 years old, for over 60 years.
Even though he was from Ahuntsic in Montreal East, he would utilize several means of public transit to make it every Sunday to church in Kahnawake.
Father Vincent Esprit said, “He was so important that if he didn’t come to play, the choir would not sing.”
Esprit said Houle was always early to funerals and masses and never missed a Sunday.
Esprit described Houle as a very polite and quiet man who was exceptionally dedicated to the church and the community of Kahnawake.
“The church will miss him,” he said. “His commitment and dedication to the church and the community is unparalleled.”
Houle retired in fall 2019, but according to Esprit, only provided a one-day notice of his retirement.
“He was so humble I guess he didn’t want any public recognition for his work,” Esprit said. “He came in one Sunday and said this was his last Sunday and we all were in shock because we had nothing planned and all we could do was take photos with him.”
“He was well respected in the church and the community,” Esprit said. “Very disciplined and dedicated man.”
The youngest member of the choir is Drey Morris, a student under Houle.
“He showed me the organ,” 14 year-old Morris said. “He taught me one of the songs.”
Morris, who says he joined the choir around four years ago, said Houle shared stories about his life to him.
“He spoke about when he first started playing the organ when he was 17,” Morris said. “He was one of the nicest guys to ever live. He went through a lot in his life and he remained so nice and such a beautiful soul.”
“He meant a lot to me. He was like a grandfather to me,” Morris added.
Beverley Delormier, who started the choir in 2010, said Houle was amazing.
“He told me his mother took him to Saint Joseph’s Oratory when he was a little boy and he shook hands with brother André; he shook hands with a saint,” Delormier said.
“He was witty and he would make you laugh,” she said. “I couldn’t get over his memory too, he had such a sharp memory.”
Delormier also highlighted that Houle will be remembered by his commitment to the church and community.
Annette Jacobs, who is the longest member of choir for over 30 years, said she remembers his dedication and commitment to the church as well.
“I got to know him as dedicated, determined and loyal,” Jacobs said. “I do believe the only time he missed Sunday mass was when his mother was sick.”
Jacobs also remembers his musical talents and says he was a “wonderful musician.”
“I don’t think the choir would have existed without him,” Jacobs added. “He was there all the time.”
Jacobs said his presence was always encouraging and he never lost his patience with anyone.
“He was a special man,” she said.
Kakaionstha Deer, who was with the choir for 34 years, also remembers how Houle made it to Sunday mass despite the distance.
“Nothing stopped him,” Deer said. “He was the most devoted organist you could have.”
Deer said his impact on the church and the community is clear and memorable.
“He loved the music and he loved the people in the choir,” she said. “He was an exceptional human being. He called us his family and he was part of our family too.”
“You don’t meet people like that anymore,” she said. “He was so devoted to what he did he was amazing.”
Due to the restrictions of COVID-19, a memorial will be held when health and safety permits.
“As Mr. Houle was ascending to the Sky World,” Deer said, “He was greeted joyously by all the choir members who had gone before – his musical family.”
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