By Bob Brehl – reprinted from the Catholic Register with permission
Fr. Raymond Corriveau was one of the best
This week marks the second anniversary of the passing of one of the finest priests — make that people — I have had the good fortune to know, Fr. Raymond Corriveau.
Some readers may have known “Corry” through his work with the Redemptorists, but many readers probably don’t know the name. And that’s a shame. Not necessarily for Corry’s sake because he was remarkably humble for someone with such remarkable talent. But it’s a shame for the sake of the priesthood and the Church that he and others like him aren’t better known.
We hear all too often about the bad priests who have done notorious things, especially when it comes to child abuse. We hear the tasteless jokes about priests. We hear about the Church hierarchy’s ham-fisted handlings of past scandals. We hear all the bad stuff and it affects us all.
But we don’t necessarily hear about the really good priests — and there are many — who are quietly going about their business, doing good things day after day, and living up to the teachings of Jesus. Here is Corry’s story, or more rightly, a tiny slice of a life that was lived well with positive impact on so many.
Corry was born in 1936 near Woodstock, Ont., where he grew up until leaving to study to become a Redemptorist priest. He was ordained in 1962 and quickly made his mark for helping the poor and disenfranchised when he and two others started a pastoral ministry in a poor area of Montreal.
In the 1970s, he was appointed the Redemptorists’ “Novice Master” or mentor for young men interested in becoming priests. My brother, Michael, was one of Corry’s charges and they continued a close friendship, with the student counting on the teacher’s wisdom and guidance until Corry’s last day. It was in the 1970s that Corry entered our family’s lives on a regular basis, usually on a weekend afternoon for a drink with my father, an inevitable debate about some weighty matter, and dinner with us.
Two things stick out about Corry: his incredibly sharp mind with a depth of knowledge that seemed bottomless and his smiling eyes that could light up a room.
On the first matter, the good-natured debates with dad (who was no intellectual slouch himself) were both entertaining and educational for teenage ears and eyes. On the latter, Corry had this flawless ability to make everyone around him feel special. Later, in the 1980s when my mother was sick and the chemotherapy was zapping her energy, I can remember Corry dropping by the house and mom would literally light up and one could feel her rejuvenated energy, if only for that afternoon.
For such a smart person, it was natural that Corry’s career would thrust forward and move him up the ranks, eventually to lead the Redemptorists in Canada. But it was his pastoral caring at various parishes — from St. Patrick’s in Toronto and St. Alphonsus in Peterborough to St. Teresa’s in St. John’s and Holy Redeemer in Sudbury — that touched so many lives.
Corry had that ability to make you feel good, even if you didn’t really feel good. It was a wonderful gift which he freely gave.
Years later, when he was sick, I went to visit him at the Redemptorist headquarters in Toronto. I had not seen him for a long time. We sipped tea and sat and talked for well over an hour. I remember the length of time because my teenage son was waiting in the car playing an electronic game.
When I returned to the car, my son looked at me and said: “What’s so funny, dad? Why are you smiling?”
“I didn’t realize I was smiling,” I said. “I can’t explain it, but every time I see Corry, he makes me feel good, he lifts my spirits.”
Some months later, and only days before his death, I visited him in hospital with my brother. His eyes weren’t as smiling, but his mind was still incredibly sharp which surprised me because brain cancer was killing him.
At one point, a third priest entered the room and a deep theological discussion began. For me, they might as well have been talking in Aramaic because the topic was so over my head, but for Corry it was no problem to follow along and add insight to the discussion.
A few times, he would break away from the talk and pray, urging God to take him because he was ready. His faith was so deep; he was so dignified in his submission to God’s will. I can only hope I have a modicum as much when my time comes.
Telling Corry’s story in no way erases past crimes by other priests. I cannot even imagine the pain their victims live with each and every day. These “preying priests” will be punished on Earth and beyond. But telling Corry’s story, I hope, shows that the priesthood as a whole should not be painted with one brush and mocked with tasteless jokes. There are many other “Corrys” out there right now doing good deeds; true praying priests who deserve our support.