Nov 1, 2023
Will you love the ‘you’ you hide? If I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside. And never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found. To reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound. In you and you in me?
The Summons - John L. Bell - 1987
There are those amongst us who choose to bring the word of the Divine Messenger directly to us. It is their spiritual choice to embrace the word of God and select passages from the Bible that they can use to guide us. These Messenger’s messages may be scriptural, theological or moral but they are always designed to challenge us to contemplate.
Recently we lost one of our most important couriers of these messages, a man who fits perfectly the very definition of the word messenger. He rose to the challenge time and time again in many venues here for years and carefully chose passages and crafted words of hope and healing around them. He eventually elevated his status to that of a Deacon within the Catholic Church here because his faith was that strong and his drive to direct his training onto us all even stronger.
It seems that most of his life Deacon Renso Castellarin was, in some capacity, a guide. He chose to attend a seminary for three years after graduating but in the end felt priesthood wasn’t quite the right direction. After achieving a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Calgary his career eventually came to include one year at Isabelle Sellon, then 17 years at Crowsnest Consolidated High School where he was, amongst other things, a teacher, a basketball coach, referee and vice-principal. Another 13 years at Horace Allen School as principal and vice-principal and yet another seven years at Canyon School in Pincher Creek. His service in all added up to 38 years of instructing, mentoring and counseling young spirits in the school system.
In 2008, Renso answered another call by entering the Permanent Diaconate of the Catholic Church. His commitment to this was huge and took four years in which he and Bonnie took weekend classes in Calgary and weekly training sessions in Lethbridge. On September 30th of 2012 he was ordained by Bishop Fredrick Henry at the cathedral in Calgary and embraced his new role whole heartedly. I recall his very first Remembrance Day service a month or so later as Padre (Chaplain) for the Royal Canadian Legions here, a position he took very seriously.
That year he offered a simple prayer. In part it read, “We pray too for the families whose sons, daughters, fathers and mothers are away for long periods of time defending freedom. Give them strength and hope and return their loved ones safely home. We ask you to guide our leaders throughout the world to find peaceful solutions to conflict and work toward justice and peace for all.”
In the years that followed his offerings were expanded to include an invocation, a reading (which was usually a psalm), a homily and a closing prayer or blessing to the crowd. He spent many hours choosing passages and crafting messages and it was in his homilies that he would reach out to us and speak to the moral aspects of Remembrance.
In his 2021 homily, presented at Fantin’s Funeral Chapel under Covid restrictions, he offered the following. “Democracy requires us to defend the rights of all peoples regardless of their beliefs, ethnicity, or culture. It is up to us to teach our children, our families, and communities to love and forgive rather than hate and reject order and law. We need to develop a sense of tolerance and understanding for those who choose a life different from our own. In so doing, we can promote world peace, a place where freedoms do not limit the growth of peoples to live lives without fear and suffering. “ Truly a profound observation and an important one in such a troubling year.
To reinforce that he unequivocally understood the terror of war he shared personal war memories to his varied audience. In 2015, he spoke of his father, Pio, and said, “My father, being a soldier, saw first-hand the horrors of war. He was never the same. He spent months in a military hospital after the war and throughout his life he fought severe depression and nightmares from the things he had to do as a soldier. Today, we would call this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”
In 2018, the following impacts of war on his family were also shared. In his homily that year he said, “In 1915, during World War One, while my dad was sleeping in his bed, as a three year old, a bomb was dropped on his house destroying it and killing some family members. Through some miracle, when the bomb exploded, the blast blew the door off my father’s bedroom on top of him before the house collapsed. After several hours of searching and moving rubble, family members were able to lift off the door. There he was terrified, and unable to speak for three days from the shock.
“Moving ahead some twenty-nine years, two hours after my birth in 1944, again bombs were falling on my town. My mother, with me in her arms, was running for a bomb shelter. For many others, they were not as fortunate”.
Amongst the many boards and committees Renso sat on was the Crowsnest Memorial Society, a group dedicated to the maintenance and enhancement of our cemeteries. He was treasurer and directly involved both in that capacity and work-wise in upgrading and maintaining such things as fencing. This included the new beautiful stone and iron front of the Blairmore Catholic Cemetery. In 2017 he became curious about the war dead buried here and personally visited all nine cemeteries, locating and noting the names on the grey military markers there and saying the occasional prayer over them.
Over the ten years that Renso presided over the combined Remembrance services here as Chaplain he never failed to craft important messages to the gatherings, whether at the high school or at the always cold and snowy cenotaph wreath laying. In 2022, which was sadly his last offering, he once again reminded us all about tolerance and his final words in the homily that year were, “We are grateful that our country cherishes and promotes diversity in ethnicity, religion, customs, and opinion. These are freedoms that apply to all our people regardless of their age. Help us find solutions to addictions, poverty, and homelessness, which plague many of our people including some of our veterans. We ask for your protection and blessings on our armed services personnel and their families. Bless us also and watch over us as we go forth each day.”
Renso’s very last words in his 2022 Armistice blessing were this profound prayer, “May God Be Above you to Bless You; Below you to Support You; Before you to Guide You; Behind you to Protect you; Beside you to Comfort You and Inside you to Give You Strength and Joy”
Anywhere that a special event or occasion needed a prayer offering Renso could be found. Whether it was events like the 105th Hillcrest Mine disaster commemoration, Frank Dunlop gun service or the annual July 1st kickoff you would find him standing by quietly, waiting his turn. He performed countless interments, inurnments, funeral services including my dear sister Nancy’s, Eucharistic celebrations, Baptisms and, of course, assisted at Mass on Sundays. His favourite hymn was called The Summons (Will You Come and Follow Me) a beautiful Scottish Christian hymn composed in 1987.
His words came to us as a Messenger of God. We would do well to consider them and at Remembrance Day services this year, contemplate this wonderful man’s thoughts. There will be a new Messenger to carry on in his footsteps and he will most assuredly continue to reinforce all the tenants of what makes up a hard fought free and democratic society built on the foundation of tolerance!