Father David John has been the Catholic priest serving Elk Valley communities for the past seven years and he will be relocating. Father David has been appointed to the North Island Mission area of Vancouver Island where he will serve the communities of Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Port Alice, and Alert Bay.
Local parishioners are disappointed to see this pleasant and giving priest leave. He has demonstrated many positive attributes while in service to three parishes ministering not only in person but also providing zoom masses, meaningful homilies and messages in the weekly bulletin. He’s delightful with children as he kneels to bless and speak to the little ones and give them a high five. His kindness and consideration of everyone contributes to the mass as more of a shared experience rather than a solitary one.
At five-foot six inches Father David may be short in stature but towering in heart for the people he serves. His charming accent, smiling countenance and ability to deliver interesting homilies, even on the fly as with his work as chaplain for CWL national has him often away driving home all night and arriving just in time to say masses.
He was born in the south of England, adopted at birth by a father who was a school principal and a mother who was a teacher. He had an older brother and a sister both also adopted. “I always knew but I don’t remember ever speaking about it in the house.” He said they lived in a small village that had a farm on one side and a market garden on the other. Of his adopted parents he says “God entrusted this sweet baby boy to a couple who were able to show him great love, indeed, they bathed him with a reflection of God’s love for each one of us. Their aim was to give him and his siblings the best possible start in life through love and guidance and a lot of patience.”
Father David continuous, “A big part of this start in life was to provide a solid academic education. There is an expression that talks about fishes taking to water; this saying is so inappropriate for how I took to academia. For most of my time at school, I feared that rather than swimming, I was about to drown in the school environment. But through dogged determination by my parents, I was dragged often kicking and screaming through the system until I managed to get to university and gain firstly, a degree at honours level in mathematics. This was followed by four years working in the Lloyds of London insurance market.” Father David describes this period as one long ego trip and that in the eighties propelled him to complete six years of Seminary studies to prepare for priesthood in the Catholic Church.
Father is a prolific writer, as can be seen by this statement and others in a short biography he wrote for his work with the National Catholic Women’s League. He writes that “The miracle of his birth was experience resulted in his faith becoming more and more important to him. only surpassed by the miracle of God’s grace that got him to priesthood”.
He says that “After ordination he had five years of real fun as an assistant priest in various parishes across the diocese of Plymouth that covers the far South-West of England. And then another formative and fulfilling five years in charge of three, then four and then five scattered church communities in rural Cornwall.“
He asks “How could life get any better for this very blessed individual? The answer came in 1999 when his Bishop asked him to move to Canada to assist the Prince George diocese in northern B.C. that were short of priests. He writes the “next ten years serving in Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, Hudson’s Hope, and most particularly the First Nations’ communities in Moberly Lake were simply wonderful years. This active priest with the love of the outdoors found a place and a people with whom he would have happily spent the rest of his life. Yet, when pilgrimages cease to move forward, they are no longer journeys in faith, and in 2009 he left northern B.C. to start 14 years in the far South-East corner of British Columbia, firstly, covering the most beautiful Slocan Valley, then the spectacular Elk Valley.”
Father loves his dogs, when he arrived here, he had Ranga, when that dog passed Thumper was acquired as a newborn, parishioners are shown photos of Thumper regularly as he seems almost human in how he behaves. Father loves the outdoors especially “in the middle of nowhere”. Who can forget during Covid, Father and Thumper saying midnight mass somewhere in the bush or giving mass to a stunning sunrise or Father’s beautiful videos of the Elk Valley. Many times, mass would begin with a stunning aerial video of animal and vegetation life in the great outdoors that is the Elk Valley. He says, “through having access to this space in solitude, he was able to recharge his inner batteries for the many varied and sometimes difficult tasks asked of our priest today in increasingly complex parishes”.
This was very evident when in “2013 the main church in his area at the time along with his house were destroyed by fire in an arson attack and suddenly a completely new ‘skill set’ was required, that of guiding a parish through the process of designing and rebuilding their spiritual home. Once that was completed and now serving the parishes of Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford, life was good. Little did he know that God had yet another great gift awaiting him; in 2018 Archbishop Michael Miller asked him to become the spiritual advisor to the Catholic Women’s League of British Columbia and Yukon! What more perfect life could any priest ask for? This new ministry was carried out during the challenging times of Covid which pushed us all to find new and imaginative ways to minister. The North Island Mission Area is on the territories and traditional lands of the Kwakwaka’wakw Peoples, and I hope I will be working with the local First Nations communities and that many of the indigenous peoples will be part of the parishes. When? While I have been in the Elk Valley I have been blessed because I have been in a most beautiful part of the world, and certainly where I am going will also have mountains, plus deep valleys, and long sea inlets as well as lakes. But ultimately, as a priest, it is the people in the parish that are the really important factor, so I have had a double blessing while I have been here in this corner of B.C. I am looking forward to meeting the people who will now be my new family for – hopefully – a good number of years.”
To hear Father David tell of how he found his birth parents is compelling and difficult to believe it was only by chance and not by God’s hand that it happened.
Father David was in his mid twenties when he searched for family medical history by looking into his birth records. The folder was empty except for information on his mother’s name and his birth name of Neville.
This information served him when years later he was searching the internet for a Ralph McTell cd and for some reason typed in “I’m okay, all is well, but why?” and signed it Neville. Little did he know that his birth father was organizing a Royal Air Force get together for his squadron and saw those words. Although three o’clock in the morning he woke his wife to show her and the next day responded by writing we think we are your mother and father. Father David was cautious, their email address was a Telus one so he knew they were in Canada. But they thought he was in England. For him all he wanted was to know why? He didn’t ask the question though as he felt he didn’t want to test the relationship just yet if the information he was told was something he wasn’t prepared to hear. He did discover that although his parents were married when his maternal grandmother learned that he was born before nine months she forced them to give up the newborn as she considered it a disgrace to the family. Today he enjoys a close relationship with his birth parents and three siblings and tells of how on his maternal grandmothers 90th birthday, his birth mom flew to England to visit, she was both excited and apprehensive to tell her mother that she had found her lost baby and that he was a Catholic priest as the family was Protestant. But on arrival she found her mother lifeless in her chair.
Father says it is hard leaving as he loves the beauty of this area, the mountains and small town living is wonderful, he said people in shops will often speak to him, “a priest inherits the goodwill of previous priest that have left, I have been fortunate to have been in places where good priests have gone before me, and very blessed to have the people I serve let me be who I am”. Father David is compassionate and friendly, he doesn’t fit the mould of priests from long ago with his wit, smile, and bare feet in church. He serves all in need, non-Catholic residents know who he is and appreciate his service. He has been here seven years and 24 in total in Canada.
Good luck in your new post Father, you and Thumper will be greatly missed here.
By Mary Giuliano
Mary arrived in Fernie in May of 1953 and has lived here ever since, by choice, because she loves the Elk Valley and everything it stands for. Read more from Mary here.