Centenarian receives blessing from Pope Francis

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Tyler Clarke
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In a Saskatchewan first, centenarian Father Paul Emile Côté received a papal blessing from Pope Francis on Saturday, in recognition of his 100th birthday. 

In a Saskatchewan first, centenarian Father Paul Emile Côté received a papal blessing from Pope Francis on Saturday, in recognition of his 100th birthday.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert had sent a request to Rome months in advance of Côté’s birthday, before Pope Benedict had tendered his resignation. As such, it was a surprise to receive the certificate from Pope Francis’s office, Father Maurice Fiolleau said.

“I think it’s just an honour to be able to receive a special blessing from the pope, and especially that this is the first one in Saskatchewan,” the vicar general noted.

“It’s a special blessing and it’s an honour to receive something from the pope.”

Côté received blessings from far more people than the pope on Saturday, fielding hugs, handshakes and kind words from a legion of supporters during the event in his honour.

Longtime friend Jay Lokken came all the way from Alberta to wish his good friend the best on his 100th.

“He’s very giving to people and the church,” Lokken said. “I myself, am not religious, but he is and I’ve always respected his faith and what he believes in. He’s taught me quite a bit about it.”

“He’s a great, wonderful man and I’m blessed to know him.”

Don Rak met Côté about 25 years ago when he and his wife were neighbours to him in a Prince Albert apartment building.

“We had our door open one day, and father -- he just comes in,” Rak said with a laugh.

During his time as a neighbor to Côté, Rak said that he learned a lot.

“He’s a very multi-dimensional fella’,” Rak said, noting Côté to be a multilingual encyclopedia of knowledge, who was always keen to learn more.

“One of the funniest things is, he’s artistic enough that he’d have made a master painter,” Rak said. “He had a talent, but he had a calling for the priesthood.

“He’s just a very devout, very talented -- borders on genius in many ways.”

Côté was born in St. Pierre-Jolys, a Manitoban French community, on April 6, 1913.

He studied art at the Winnipeg School of Fine Arts, furthering his studies in Banff and at Fordham University in New York City.

Following his studies, Côté went on to teach school in Manitoba and Quebec, focusing on science, literature, history and art.

He’s just a very devout, very talented -- borders on genius in many ways. Don Rak

In the late ’60s, he accepted a calling to the Catholic Church, becoming an ordained minister at the age of 56, on Dec. 28, 1968.

“He had that courage to go through the studies and stuff at his age, which I think is remarkable,” Fiolleau said. “He’s given a lot of years to us as a priest.”

Between 1969 and his retirement 30 years later, Côté served at various churches throughout the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert, continuing to help out from time to time thereafter.

“When he was 80 he was still very vibrant, so he could still replace priests and was very sharp at age 80,” Fiolleau said.

Throughout the years, Côté remained active in the local area arts scene, becoming well known throughout the province for his shoe polish paintings, which he painted with a spatula.

He discovered the medium at 2 p.m. on Feb. 2, 1968, he recalled in an issue of the Daily Herald that dates back to the late ’90s.

“They could not believe that I was painting with a spatula,” Côté said at the time. “No water, no turpentine -- just my fingers and what’s in the jar and my imagination.”

Although he’s slowed down since then, Côté, who now lives in St. Louis, was all smiles during Saturday’s event held in his honour, which saw the St. Joseph Parish basement packed full of supporters.

After the celebration wrapped up, Côté said that the credits part of his longevity for having remained physically active over the years.

“I never drove a car,” he proudly stated.

Côté said that he was surprised to have seen so many people attend his 100th birthday celebration, as well as the number of greetings. In addition to his papal blessing, Côté received letters from various politicians, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Brad Wall.

The Daily Herald article from the late ’90s quoted Côté as stating that his motto in life is “to be up and doing.”

Still mobile and telling stories about his eventful life, Prince Albert’s latest centenarian continues to do just that.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Daily Herald, Winnipeg School of Fine Arts Fordham University Catholic Church

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Rome, Alberta Banff New York City Manitoba Quebec St. Louis

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  • Norbert Philippe
    May 27, 2013 - 17:28

    I met Father Paul Emile Côté back in 1961 at St. Joseph College in Otterburne, MB. Over the next two years, I had the privilege of enjoying his storytelling and admiring his artistic creations on canvas. He had a love for life that was contagious and I thank him for sharing that. He is a very special individual and I'm so glad to see him going strong at 100. Bonne fete L'Abbé Côté!