Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Bad picture, Good man

This week the Sepia Saturday challenge is to find a photo which ignores all the golden rules of photography - focus, perspective, composition. I think what makes this week's challenge even more interesting is the fact that such photos are still around!! You'd think we would toss them out, but we forget in the days before digital, film was expensive and even if the photos were bad, they may have served to trigger memories of significant events. The bad photos survived in spite of themselves. 

I found this photo dated Dec. 23rd, 1967. Bad as it is, I could never throw it away. The occasion is my cousin Maurice's ordination as a Catholic priest. Somebody had a polaroid camera and shot this scene probably from a seat in the first row. Maurice, the subject of the photo, is the face - well, the partial face between the candles on the right. The empty chair accidentally became the focal point of the picture. The upright cross bisecting the altar cross distracts the eye. The ladder-like metal work in the rear makes you look twice. What is it? The white altar cloth is indistinguishable from the white robes. Maurice may be the most least important figure in the composition. To add to the confusion, the whole thing is barely in focus; only the centrally featured chair achieves a bit of clarity. It's a bad picture of a very good man.

Maurice has led an exemplary life. At first, he chose the contemplative religious life and was a Trappist monk for many years. He served in "Our Lady of the Prairies" monastery in St. Norbert, Manitoba living in silence, poverty and prayer.

If you're interested in the monastic life, regardless of what you believe, this web site of the order is a very pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. A virtual museum, it gives details of the daily rituals of the monks. There are six Cistercian abbeys left in Canada and only a few hundred nuns and monks, many of them senior citizens. Still, they manage to subsist selling hand-made specialty food products and hosting retreats. Some of the abbey communities  have been very successful in business and the subject of articles in business magazines such as  Forbes. Here's a link to one of them:

Looking backwards for a minute, here's Maurice and I as children nestled in my father and grandfather's legs. Who would guess one would have so much faith and the other, me, would end up with so little?

Later Maurice became a parish priest and was honored with the title of Monsignor, which in the parlance of the church means he has served in a distinguished manner and has been honored by the Pope for his service. In 2007, his parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, celebrated the 40th anniversary of Maurice's ordination.  This photo of him is so much better:

Because I've lived in the U.S. for decades and rarely visit Canada, I've seen little of Maurice over the years. Whenever a relative died, Maurice said the funeral service and I'd see him briefly. Pastoring a flock of his size is very demanding...even if you consider just the weddings and funerals, he has little time left over for the quiet life he once led. When we were burying my mother, he strolled around for a short while in the cemetery pointing out the many "residents" for whom he said funeral masses. Even though he has all the gravitas you'd expect from someone in his position, after a few minutes together, the years vanish and I feel towards him just as I did when we were little kids sitting on the steps in Letellier, Manitoba together.

I enjoy reading his notes (see below) in the parish paper of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, because he writes so openly and honestly. His earnestness and modesty amaze me. Because he always loved skating and hockey, it makes me smile to think he still skates with the kids at the parish school.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my Sepia friends!

For more delightfully bad photos, grab your polaroid and rush over to Sepia Saturday


It is important to note that the feast of the Immaculate Conception will be celebrated on Monday the 9th because the Advent Sunday has the power to displace the Virgin’s feast. This is only a liturgical displacement. Mary has been important in my life and will still keep that privileged place as Mother. When still in university I was invited to chair a group of students who met once a month to study and try to appreciate who Mary was and is for us. I really did not know much and went through the motions of chairing meetings. Then when I entered the monastic life, the name of the Abbey was/is Our Lady of the Prairies…and the influence of St. Bernard with his love for Mary made some head way into my life, but not enough. I am barely getting to know Mary and learning to appreciate her presence. I am shoveling my way through debris and snow during this Advent season to rediscover how much I am in need of renewal of honest devotion to Mary and my other friends enjoying the festivities of heavenly parties. I am writing these few lines on a beautiful snowy winter evening. The tractors are out buzzing around trying to disturb the peace and quiet I enjoy so much. No doubt that I have seen many a winter night with snow blowing and playing around my head, yet I never tire of the beauty and marvel it brings to my consciousness of the presence of God. Someone told me all snowflakes are different, one from the other. I believe it. Then I consider all the persons twirling in my life and I marvel even more at the love and tenderness of God…each one different, and I have no difficulties in realizing that…but I have to remind myself that God created them in His image and has chosen to live right there, in them, so close to me. Now, only a silent thought can fill the awareness of tender love. "

"I tend to look back at the many years of trying to become a pastor, and tend to dare look ahead and measure the length of days I should keep on skating with the grade 2 students at St. Charles school numbers are piling on and add up, one year at a time…and yes, I wonder in awe at the beauty of the passing days of life…knowing that only more beauty and more love is the destination we need to keep in sight, and to know God’s power manifested in tenderness and forgiveness so as to pass it on effectively. Lord let me see you in my experience of the snow, the people around me, the deep yearning of fulfillment expressed to me by so many of your friends. ~ Msgr. Maurice Comeault "


  1. Anonymous2:43 PM

    There's always room for a good person whether we share the same faith or not. Very interesting.

  2. That photo wouldn't have been quite so bad if the chair hadn't been there.

  3. Someone's good intentions were upstaged by a chair.

  4. With that empty chair, It looks as if someone important was missing from the ceremony. a great photo for this week's theme and a lovely profile of your cousin - I especially liked the childhood photograph..

  5. The chair is guilty, I tell you, guilty!

  6. Interesting post, I really enjoyed reading it.

  7. He sounds like a lovely man, and writes well too. I'll bet his eulogies and sermons are interesting.

  8. Only you could turn a blurry photo of a chair into such an interesting story.

  9. An excellent choice that demonstrates that even bad photos can have value because of their context.

  10. I love to think of him skating with the kids.

  11. Lovely memories you have, thanks for sharing them and the photos.

  12. I like your take on this Helen; starting with a blurry photo (why can we never throw them away when they have a special meaning?) and leading us on to a nice pen portrait of Maurice.

  13. A nice tribute to your good cousin Maurice. Hope you show it to him.

  14. Chair or not, it is a precious treasure!

  15. I like your heading. Indeed, a good man.
    The photo of you both as children is charming.