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Friar in deed

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Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2005 7:26 am | Updated: 8:28 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

April 2, 2005

Deacon Hervé Lemire’s 19-year passion to serve the poor in Guaymas, Mexico, burns bright enough to be seen in Rome. The Scottsdale man has worked with the Franciscan friars of the Casa Franciscana mission in Guaymas, delivering supplies, teaching summer school, raising funds and sharing pastoral duties.

His efforts in the Sonora city caught the attention of the Franciscans’ minister general in Rome.

Brother Jose Rodriguez Carballo has named the 62-year-old permanent deacon at St. Maria Goretti Church in Scottsdale an "honorary friar-brother." In the proclamation, he was cited for distinguished service in ministry in the St. Barbara province based in California and the Brother Junipero Serra province, based in northern Mexico. It also included induction into the Order of Friars Minor. Lemire was given the brown habit and hood of St. Francis in a celebration Feb. 19 in Guaymas. In May, the friars of St. Barbara will hold a private celebration for him at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley.

Ordained in 1975, Lemire began working with the poor in south Phoenix, feeding and clothing people and establishing a worship center. He then served briefly as deacon director of the diocese before being transferred to St. Maria Goretti in 1981. A teacher since 1971, he has conducted a reading clinic at his home. "I chose very early not to gain my salary from the church, to earn my keep." Lemire now teaches theology at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix.

In 1986, Lemire reconnected with the poor when he contacted an acquaintance, Friar Marty Gates, while searching for a place for his daughter, Renee Contreras, then 18, to study Spanish in Mexico. While visiting their daughter that summer, Lemire and his wife, Marianne, discovered a great need in Guaymas. By the end of the summer, they and Gates had begun to dream about what the Guaymas mission could become.

"I knew I would have an excellent gospel vision for people, and it had (St. Maria Goretti’s) name written on it," he said. "Marty had no money, and I was in a rich parish with a lot of good people who were willing to share."

Lemire energized the parish with the blessing of the Rev. Jack Spaulding, the pastor. Volunteers lent their skills in plumbing, carpentry, nursing and other work. Lemire assisted the friars with pastoral ministries. He and Contreras took advantage of their clown training and taught messages of the Gospels in an entertaining manner to children. "I learned how to be a missionary," he said. He and his daughter gained understanding living in the Fatima barrio that summer.

"We had no food, we were eating peanut butter and crackers, or tuna," said Contreras. "We ate lunch at the (Meson de Jesus) soup kitchen. We learned that we needed to raise money to run the program."

Lemire insisted on living as the poor did and became very sick from the parasite that had also claimed the lives of 25 children in one month. He was hospitalized for three weeks after returning home.

"I came close to death," he said. "I lived in absolute squalor, and my body wasn’t used to it."

He and his daughter returned with a team the following summer to launch a summer school program, teaching reading, creativity and self-confidence to 80 children in two classrooms.

In the years that followed, Lemire brought many volunteers to Guaymas who donated their talent and muscle. He raised significant funds to build chapels, a large soup kitchen, a children’s club and even a few homes. He and Contreras improved the summer program to reach more children. Lemire raised funds to enable as many as 1,000 children to attend school. The funds covered notebooks, pencils, shoes and clothes needed to attend.

"They made it possible for people to go to school with dignity," said the Rev. John Peterson, former co-pastor of the mission.

Lemire conducted weekend retreats for youth and others for adults in Guaymas to assist in painting, cleanup and demolition to remodel and enlarge the Asilo.

In 1993, Gates suffered a stroke, losing his ability to speak. During Masses and funerals, Lemire began speaking the words for his friend while Gates performed the motions of the sacraments. Gates died in 2001, serving Guaymas until his last day. In 1994, Saint Barbara recognized Lemire with the Franciscan service award and in 1998 made him a member of the province "by affiliation."

Peterson requested that Provincial Minister Melvin A. Jurisich of Saint Barbara recommend the honor to Rome. "He has always been a member of the Friars Minor," he said. "We’re just making it a reality."

Hervé and Marianne "have shared the dreams, hopes and pains and walked with us," said Peterson. "(We felt) it would only be proper that they be united with the friars in an extra special way through membership in the Order of Friars Minor."

Jurisich forwarded the recommendation. "As a true Franciscan, he not only became actively involved in the ministry (in Guaymas), but he also was not afraid to become a beggar for the Casa Franciscana. We thought that it was right to grant him full affiliation to the order. It is an honor that he justly deserves."

"His evangelical testament is that he’s committed to going beyond what the church is asking," said Fray Javier Gomez, provincial of Junipero Serra, which took over the mission two years ago. "He is a Christian convinced that the love of Jesus Christ is expressed in the sincere caring of the people regardless of nationality, religion or social status."

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