Nunavummiut mourn Father Jusipi
Catholic priest ministered for 59 years in Nunavut and Nunavik
Communities in central Nunavut on Dec. 1 mourned the death of Father Joseph Meeus, who ministered to several Catholic churches in Nunavut and Nunavik for more than 50 years. He was 86.
Better known as Father Jusipi, Meeus last served as priest in Rankin Inlet, where he was minister to Mary Our Mother Church from 2001 to 2011. He spent his final years in Winnipeg.
“He was a very humble man, and very outreaching to people of the community,” said Simone Clarke, who served as a deacon to Meeus at the Rankin Inlet church. “When he first moved here, he was very active playing his guitar. He was kind of like the singing father, and people really enjoyed that.”
The community mourned Meeus’ death Dec. 4 with a mass held in his memory.
Clarke recalled that Meeus connected well with the community through his love of music.
“He had a great little grace he used to sing at family and community gatherings,” she said. “Everybody loved it.”
In later years Meeus encouraged residents to “keep their faith strong” in spite of negative news about abuse and misuse of power in the Catholic Church, Clarke recalled.
“That was part of his message every week, no matter what the sermon was, he would always end with that kind of attitude,” she said.
Belgian-born Meeus came to Canada in 1952, according to Martin Rumik, minister of the Rankin Inlet church. Meeus first served as a missionary priest in several communities of Nunavik and Labrador, including Puvirnituq, Quaqtaq and Happy Valley.
Meeus moved to the territory in 1968 to work at the mission in Chesterfield Inlet. He also served in Iqaluit, Kugaaruk, Igloolik, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Pond Inlet, and Nanisivik. His final 10 years as minister in Rankin Inlet ended in April 2011, when he retired to Winnipeg due to illness, Rumik said.
“People loved him very much, he was well-known,” said Rumik. “No matter if the people were Catholic or Anglican, the whole community had huge respect for him.”
Jeannie Ugyuk, who represents the communities of Taloyoak and Kugaaruk as MLA for Netsilik in the Nunavut’s legislative assembly, remembered Meeus for the help he extended to both communities in the early 1990s.
“It was around the time that suicide really started happening around this region,” said Ugyuk, who was working with the territory’s department of Social Services at the time.
“He was very supportive to people that were grieving, and trying to reach out to the youth with his faith.”
Non-Catholics like herself often attended his services on special occasions, Ugyuk said, adding that Meeus was also active in the communities through his guitar-playing and gospel singing.
The priest’s death came just days after the passing of Father Louis Fournier at age 91, Nov. 26.
“We’re grieving,” said Reynald Rouleau, Bishop-emeritus with the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay — which covers Nunavut.
Like Fournier and other priests of his generation, Meeus was “deeply rooted in the culture of the North,” the bishop said.
Meeus, who gave services in both Inuktitut and English, “was very enculturated” to northern peoples, and in tune with “the conditions of the North, with the events, of the people with their families, with the Co-op. He was very much involved with all these realities — social and political,” Rouleau said.
Like Fournier, Meeus was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Most of these missionaries “were very close to the social reality of Nunavut.”
“It’s a kind of painful experience,” Rouleau said of the deaths of Meeus and Fournier. “These are deans, in a sense. They are like the elders of our organization.
“And they were very dedicated people. It’s kind of like a generation going away.”