Fr. André Poilievre uses recognition and awards to bring awareness about work of STR8 UP

The University of Saskatchewan honoured the public service of Fr. André Poilièvre during the USask Fall Convocation Nov. 8 in Saskatoon. The university’s highest award was presented to Poilièvre for his lifetime of contributions to the community. He has worked for decades helping young men and women find healing and leave behind the gang lifestyle through STR8 UP. (Photo by Dennis Will)

By Jonathan Perez

As much as possible, diocesan priest Fr. Andre Poilièvre tries to keep a low profile, despite being known for his contributions to Saskatoon’s community, especially through STR8 UP, a non-profit organization helping at-risk individuals, those in prison and on the streets, to get out of gang life.

Poilièvre co-founded STR8 UP in Saskatoon in 2002 after two men sought his help to leave gang life behind. Since then, the organization has helped hundreds of young men and women make changes in their lives and take “10,000 Little Steps to Healing” as described on the STR8 UP website.

In November, Poilièvre was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Saskatchewan recognizing “the extraordinary impact” he has made over many decades to the communities he has served. The top award from the university is the latest in a list of awards, including the Order of Canada, presented in recognition of his impact.

RELATED: Celebration and collaboration with Fr Poilevre at St. Thomas More College (LINK)

According to Poilièvre, what he has done to help others for decades is a duty that every person has towards others. “I do not define what I did as priestly ministry. We must care for one another that is what our Lord Jesus said: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was in prison, and you came and helped me,” said Poilièvre, citing Matthew 25:35-36, which reveals that whatever we do to take care of others, we do to Jesus Christ.

“I don’t care if you are an atheist, agnostic, born again [Christian]. That has nothing to do in a sense of being human. I don’t work on labels,” added Poilièvre.

The 87-year-old priest said he has never completely retired and spends time in the fitness room and pool at his seniors’ residence each day to keep himself in shape. He says his regimen has allowed him to continue working with STR8 UP.

Poilièvre still conducts educational sessions for STR8 UP staff and members. He is also working to finish an eighth book to help the organization educate and inform everyone of what to do to help others on their healing journey and how to walk with them as they do the hard work needed to change their lives for the better.

Fr. André Poilièvre (Photo by Jon Perez, Catholic Saskatoon News)

The youngest of three siblings, Poilièvre was born and raised in Prud’homme, Sask. After graduating high school, he went on to earn a baccalaureate in theology, and later completed adult education courses in Paris and Toronto. He was ordained a priest for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon in 1962. Poilièvre spent six years with Arctic Cooperatives Ltd., in the former Northwest Territories (now Nunavut), where he developed and implemented training programs for Inuit and Dene management trainees in Indigenous-owned co-operative enterprises. In addition to serving in parishes in the diocese of Saskatoon, and at the diocesan Catholic Pastoral Centre, he taught at St. Paul and Joe Duquette (now Oskāyak) high schools, and also served as a chaplain at Saskatoon City Hospital and the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.

Excerpt from news release


Poilièvre said that about 10 years after he was ordained, he was searching for meaning and how to make a difference in the world, rather than “saving the saved.”

“All the people I baptized, married and buried  — these are good people,” said Poilièvre, describing his longing to do more. “I want to be the Good Shepherd and try to find one that is lost.”

And by some divine intervention, while serving as pastor of St. Michael Parish on 33rd Street, he was awakened by a knock on his house on Idylwyld Drive. He opened the door to find a young Indigenous man, who asked for his help, an incident that would dramatically change his life.

“I was looking for something that I could do that was relevant. I said, ‘I have to find who these people are.’ I did not know the Native people back then,” said Poilièvre, who grew up in the village of Prudhomme, northeast of Saskatoon..

“Indigenous Peoples were just there and we just sort of ignored it. They were just in the shadows, I knew if I stayed in Saskatoon, I would never find out where they were. I knew that I had to leave Saskatoon.”

He used his adult education background to begin working with Dene and Inuit communities in the north, and came to learn more about Indigenous Peoples’ lives, cultures and traditions. He said he worked as a training coordinator, never mentioning that he was a priest and that he never preached.

“I have attended four universities; I got a BA, a Masters in Theology, and I went to Paris and Toronto to specialize in adult education. I wanted to work with adults. The only people who knew that I was a priest were those who hired me,” he added. “I am not a missionary. You must have total respect for the people. You share and you learn from them.”

That vision of respect is also part of STR8 UP.

“In STR8 UP we say never preach, seldom teach, always share. Share your knowledge, information, experiences, successes and failures.”

Poilièvre said growing up in a rural village shaped his present as he believes that if one wants to know the kind of person one is today, one must go back to where you were born and remember the first 15 years of your life, reliving the moments of successes and achievements.

He is also “not much into” the awards he has been give. For instance, he was at first reluctant to receive the Order of Canada, stressing that he was just doing what every human being should do to live harmoniously in this world. However, he came to realize that such awards also are a way to shine a light on the work and accomplishments of the young men and women in STR8 UP.

“Somebody had said, ‘You got to do it for STR8 UP. If you won’t do it, people won’t know about STR8 UP.’ These young men and women who come from a life of hell, and have turned their lives around, that convinced me that I needed to accept it,” Poilièvre said.

“I just did it because it is helpful for STR8 UP. Because of that [the awards and recognitions], STR8 UP is now known across Canada and not me. Knowing that there were some young [people] who have killed, raped or have been raped, and who thought the world is against them one hundred per cent, and then they turned their lives around, that is what’s important.”

Fr. André Poilievre with a STR8 UP resource. (Photo by Jon Perez, Catholic Saskatoon News)



Jonathan Perez is a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.