Catholic Vancouver Jul 17, 2017

Retiring priest feels connection with St. Matthew

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Father Anthony Boniface smiles for a photo with members of the Legion of Mary at St. Monica's Parish in Richmond, where he served from 2005-2017. He retired in July. (BCC file photo)

VANCOUVER—An Irish priest who is retiring after nearly five decades of service in B.C. says his story is a lot like St. Matthew’s.

“It was just like in the Gospel, when Jesus said to Matthew: ‘Follow me.’ Matthew just got up and followed him,” said Father Anthony Boniface, 75.

Father Boniface was ordained with 25 other men in Waterford, Ireland: a shy 28-year-old priest with holy oil on his hands wondering what God would call him to next. “I was more or less hanging around looking for a diocese, looking for an opportunity.”

An elderly nun encouraged Father Boniface to meet a priest from Vancouver who was a relative of hers and on vacation in Ireland. That chance meeting changed the course of his entire life.

“He asked me if I would come to Vancouver. I said ‘sure,’” said Father Boniface. “That was it! I didn’t know anything about Vancouver until I got here.”

On a whim, the young Irish priest packed his bags and flew to Canada’s west coast in 1968. He phoned the priest he met in Ireland and caught a ride to Precious Blood Parish for the night.

That quick decision to fly half-way across the world was met with more “St. Matthew moments.” Father Boniface’s luggage was lost. The next morning, still jetlagged and without his belongings, he was asked to celebrate the 9 a.m. Mass, then meet the mayor of Surrey. The mayor was Bill Vander Zalm, who would later become the premier of B.C.

“I just nearly fell because here’s a country boy talking to the mayor of Surrey.”

Father Boniface took on sudden challenges as they came. “I’ve never said no to the bishop in anything. If the bishop wants to move me, that’s fine with me.”

Highlights of the priesthood for Father Anthony Boniface:
1970, June 7: Ordained a priest
1970: Assistant pastor of Holy Rosary Cathedral
1975: Assistant pastor of St. Jude’s
1976: Pastor of St. Pius X
1982: Pastor of St. Bernadette’s
1984: Judge of the Regional Matrimonial Tribunal of Vancouver
1996: Pastor of St. Francis de Sales
2000: Assistant pastor of Holy Rosary Cathedral
2002: Pastor of St. James
2003: Archbishop’s representative to St. James Elementary School
2005: Member of the Presbyteral Council
2005: Chaplain at Richmond General Hospital

He has served at several parishes in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, including St. Pius X, St. Bernadette’s, St. Francis de Sales, St. James, and most recently, St. Monica’s. Each parish presented its own challenge: one was in serious debt, others, in need of a new church.

“St. Bernadette’s had a beautiful hall, but it was a hall. It wasn’t a church,” he said. St. Pius X and St. James also needed church buildings. Father Boniface was not around to oversee construction over all of them, but he helped many communities prepare.

“When there’s not a church, there’s a colossal bond between the people themselves and the pastor,” he said. “You pray together, you play together, you work together all in the same building.”

When you build a church, “it becomes much bigger,” said Father Boniface, estimating St. Bernadette’s has grown threefold since it built a new church. He worked hard to make sure the community spirit wouldn’t dwindle. “I remember saying to the people: ‘We have something really going because we’re really close. When the church is built, let’s not lose that togetherness.’”

Father Anthony Boniface in 2009. (BCC file photo)

He was flung into another unexpected role when Archbishop Raymond Roussin assigned him as the pastor of St. Monica’s Parish in 2005, then added the job of chaplain of Richmond General Hospital and forgot to tell him.

“It is really challenging” but “an opportunity to offer consolation to people.” Father Boniface baptized several people on their deathbeds and prayed for and consoled countless others in those 11 years.

Now, retired and living with friends in Surrey, Father Boniface has plans to take a much-needed break and visit family in Ireland. Then, he plans to help local priests some more.

“I don’t want to fossilize. There’s nothing as bad in the whole wide world as sitting around and doing nothing,” he said. “A few priests have asked if I’d help them out, cover for them on their holidays.”