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Father Lorson receives funeral this week in Rankin Inlet

After 51 years of service to the people of Nunavut, Oblate missionary Father Georges Lorson has passed away.

By JANE GEORGE

The Roman Catholic community in Rankin Inlet was to have held funeral services this week for Father Georges Lorson.

Fr. Lorson was 78 years old when he passed away of natural causes on Dec. 19 at his mission residence.

“Everyone is deeply affected by his passing,” said Bishop Reynald Rouleau of the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay. “It’s a shock.”

Fr. Lorson, an Oblate missionary originally from France, had been ministering to the North for 51 years. During this time he served in the Kivalliq communities of Baker Lake, Coral Harbour, and Rankin Inlet, in the Kitikmeot communities of Pelly Bay and Gjoa Haven, and in the Baffin communities of Pond Inlet, Iqaluit and Igloolik.

Before coming to Canada, Fr. Lorson collaborated with the French resistance during the Second World War, narrowly escaping death.

As a young priest, Fr. Lorson enjoyed travelling between camps by dog team. According to a diocesan release, Fr. Lorson respected “what he called the ‘sixth sense’ of the Inuit, their ability to know their direction on both, land, sea and ice.”

“As far as I am concerned — and since I am not a unique specimen, others probably share my feeling-a strange emotion arises when one leaves the post,” Fr. Lorson about a trip from Arctic Bay to Pond Inlet in 1957 with Alain Maktar.

“Ahead lies adventure and the unknown, a route never before explored, a chain of little incidents and accidents that will crop up one after another, calling forth from the experienced guide the proper solutions. Every time a new world seems to open and a new kind of adaptation. Only on the second day does composure return.”

“On the first night out, of course, I slept badly, but that is merely incidental. All day I remain seated like a Buddha on a thick bear skin, with occasional sprints of a hundred yards to get the blood circulating. Tomorrow I will be comfortable and will not regret at all the relatively easy life at the mission. On the road, life simplifies itself, circumstances simply cut a lot of the objects with which a civilized man surrounds himself. To be relieved of them gives a feeling of wonderful liberation…

“You must think that time hangs heavy, sitting all day, and running a bit alongside the sled. But I have rarely felt that way and I never thought of asking the guide to halt because I was fed up. When I travel I make my best meditations. Distractions come, naturally, but the Good Lord understands that I get back into His company in short order.”

Fr. Lorson spent 29 years in Rankin Inlet, where he helped with the construction of the first mission when a nickel mine started up in the community.

The Catholic congregation in Rankin Inlet is the Eastern Arctic’s largest, with 1,200 members.

A fluent speaker of Inuktitut, Fr. Lorson translated many religious texts and composed more than 100 songs.

He was also an avid gardener and carpenter, crafting the furnishings for the sanctuary of the “Notre Dame du Cap” church in Rankin Inlet.

In ill health for years, Fr. Lorson was obliged to become a more solitary person, said the bishop, although the elderly priest would still venture out to visit the sick.

“He didn’t want to leave the North,” said Bishop Rouleau. “He didn’t want to go to Winnipeg, Quebec or back to France.”

During his last 24 years in Rankin Inlet, he worked closely with Sister Vicky Servant who passed away in Sept. 2000.

“These are very big losses,” Bishop Rouleau said.

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