First Canadian Assumptionist
Achille Therrien was born January 3, 1898, in Saint-Adrien d’Irlande, Quebec, Canada. He received his elementary education with the Sisters of Saint-Louis de France in Saint Adrien. After his secondary education with the Brothers of Christian Schools in Thetford Mines and at the minor seminary of Quebec (1914-19), he entered the Assumptionist novitiate in Saint Gérard, Belgium, where he received the religious habit November 4, 1921, under the name of Brother Pierre-Célestin. At the time, there was no Assumptionist novitiate in North America. Annually professed March 19, 1923, he was sent to the house of studies in Louvain for theology (1923-27). Perpetually professed in Louvain June 24, 1926, he was ordained a priest July 24, 1927, thus becoming the first Canadian priest in the Congregation.
Upon his return to North America, Fr. Pierre-Célestin was assigned to Assumption College in Worcester (USA) as a teacher. In 1930, he was appointed to the important position of Dean of Discipline. Equal to the task, he knew how to combine strength with esteem, as well as respect for authority with fatherly joviality, as he worked to educate the students. From Worcester, he was transferred to pastoral ministry at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in New York City in 1933, where he was a curate until 1948 and, for a time, treasurer of the community. In 1935, he rested for six months after experiencing heart problems. In 1946, Fr. Pierre-Célestin went to Mexico for a few months to improve his knowledge of Spanish.
He was still in New York when, in 1948, he was called to begin the new foundation in Beauvoir, Quebec, where he gave fully of himself. He soon became a popular preacher and made many friends for this well-known pilgrimage center. Though he did not always speak in a classical style, he knew that his listeners understood what he was saying. As the first superior of the new community in Beauvoir, he was exercising an intense apostolate when sickness struck him.
Sickness and death
Frequent heart problems obliged him to make several visits to the hospital. Hospitalized for a few months in Magog, next in Sherbrooke, he was constantly monitored by the doctors and received very devoted care from the Daughters of Charity of the Sacred Heart. On several occasions, the doctors warned the religious that Fr. Pierre-Célestin could die suddenly.
He succumbed to uremia on July 14, 1951, in Magog at the age of 53. His funeral, presided by the Provincial, Fr. Wilfrid Dufault, took place at Beauvoir on July 17, in the presence of a large crowd. The novices from Sillery assured the singing. The congregations of Assumptionist Sisters were also represented: the Religious of the Assumption, the Little Sisters of the Assumption, and the Sisters of Saint Joan of Arc. After the funeral, the casket was brought to Sillery for burial. On the way, a Libera was sung in the church of Saint Alphonse in Thetford Mines where, after leaving Saint-André d’Irlande, some of the members of the Therrien family had gone to live. His body was placed in the community’s small cemetery in Sillery, next to Frs. Pierre-Célestin Régnier (1866-1921), Albert Catoire (1869-1945), and Pierre-Rodolphe Martel (1901-1947).
Fr. Pierre-Célestin did his philosophy at Laval University (1919-1921). He was a curate and assistant treasurer at Esperanza (1932-1933).
Closer to the Sacred Heart [Le Messager, Sherbrooke, July 28, 1951, p. 12]
Fr. Therrien is no longer with us. News of his death surprised everyone, even his own family. He had not taken too seriously the seriousness of his illness, even though his nurses were worried as well as his doctor. Furthermore, his regular joviality camouflaged the signs of his pain and his attachment to the shrine kept him at his post. He wanted to prolong his active service to the Sacred Heart but the Sacred Heart was already preparing his reward.
Fr. Pierre-Célestin Therrien was last seen publicly at Beauvoir on the feast of the Sacred Heart (June 1, 1951) and, in the days that followed, spoke a few times to groups of pilgrims. He was more tired than usual but didn’t want to show it. He went to Cap-de-la-Madeleine the evening of the 12-13 of June where he could no longer hide his pain. Two days later, he had to return to the Magog hospital, he thought for 10 days, but in fact, it was to die there. He was again seen in Sherbrooke, Newport, Thetford in early July. On July 12, he was expected at Beauvoir for dinner; he didn’t show up because of an indigestion. The next day, July 13, his illness took was clearly diagnosed: generalized cancer. The Superior of Beauvoir was urgently called to the hospital to administer Extreme Unction and give him the Viaticum. Father offered his life as a sacrifice to the Sacred Heart, spent a good night, and waited for Saturday dedicated to the Virgin to pass into eternity. Fr. Pierre Therrien died at La Providence Hospital in Magog, Saturday, July 14 around 9:30 a.m. That very evening, his body was transported to Beauvoir in a coffin, hands joined, silent, and eyes closed. The one who had preached so often at the shrine, directed so many holy hours, met so many pilgrims, and had helped people know and love the Sacred Heart during the three years he had been there at Beauvoir would speak no more.
Fr. Therrien was very outgoing by nature. He had many devoted friends that he brought gently to the Sacred Heart. When he preached, he smiled. In the confessional, he loved the penitents. By his conversations and letters, he brought joy. Many religious souls will always remember him as : “ the good Father Therrien” as they called him.
It is at the feet of the Sacred Heart, whom he approached in his death, that Father Therrien’s friends will best remember him. He will be a link between the Beauvoir of the earth and the Beauvoir of heaven. How beautiful it must be to see the Sacred Heart for the one who contemplates Him face to face!