By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register
[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – People well acquainted with Fr. Frank Salmon, OMI, know connecting with him via phone, especially during warmer months, is a bit of a difficult proposition.
That’s because the Oblate missionary is fully immersed in serving and conversing with people of the Binche Whut’en, Nak’azdli and Tl’azt’en First Nations bands that live around Fort St. James, B.C.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Salmon hops on his bicycle and tours the area and stops to have socially-distanced, face-to-face conversations.
The pastor of Our Lady of Snows Parish in the Diocese of Prince George would tell you that he doesn’t have a pre-planned design of his activities whenever he leaves the parish for these outings.
“I say a prayer to myself whenever I leave the house to start the day,” said Salmon, who has been in Fort St. James since 2002. “I ask Him to let God guide me where I need to go. I wouldn’t know what I would be working on or who I would be visiting that day.”
His activities could range from helping someone with day-to-day tasks like mending nets, providing counsel to couples and families having a difficult time, celebrating Mass and presiding over funerals, to dropping in for light social visits.
Salmon’s willingness to surrender to God’s will, and his desire for social interaction, are two of the reasons Catholic Missions In Canada (CMIC) has tapped him as this year’s missionary recipient of the St. Joseph’s Award. The 75-year-old will be feted in a ceremony led by Cardinal Thomas Collins during CMIC’s virtual Tastes of Heaven Gala April 29.
Since being ordained at St. Jude’s Parish in Vancouver over 48 years ago, Salmon has devoted the vast majority of his years of service working with First Nations peoples in Duncan, Fort St. James and along the west coast of British Columbia.
Salmon’s mother “couldn’t decide if she would name me after Francis of Assisi or Francis Xavier, so she named me after both of them.” He’s learned from each.
“Xavier did real work in India and in the missions, and he made a real effort to learn the culture of the people he was speaking to by doing the Mass in their language and, to some extent, their tradition. His and the Jesuits’ effort to learn culture really impressed me. One of my contributions was to learn the culture.”
Interestingly, just like Xavier, Salmon toured different parts of India to serve the Lord. He credits that experience over four decades ago as formative for his life now.
Salmon modelled Francis of Assisi by not growing anxious about where his next meal would come from. He said he exhibited this spirit in Duncan, during his time with the coastal missions and now in Fort St. James.
Salmon received a great taste of how impactful his 48 years of missionary service has been during a Zoom celebration to celebrate his 75th birthday earlier this year. Each of the dozens of guests delivered a two-minute tribute.
The greeting from Louis Frank, who mentored Salmon during his time with the Ahousaht on Vancouver Island, was special. Salmon said the relationship melded into a brotherhood between the two. Frank expressed that sentiment.
“We are more than friends, we are more like brothers. I always appreciated that you accept us as we are and at the same time invited us to be part of your way of life and way of prayer without giving up any of our ways.”