Father Oscar Monroy has retired after more than three decades as a priest – the last six years, ministering to office workers, professionals and shoppers at Edmonton City Centre mall.
But at age 72, he has no plans to slow down or take it easy. Father Monroy is working on a website that promotes the New Evangelization – St. John Paul II’s call to deepen the faith of Christians – and offers Father Monroy’s own insights.
“For years, I was trying to work and work on it, and now I have the opportunity,” he said.
Monroy, a native Spanish speaker, has always had a personal affinity for learning languages, becoming fluent in English, French and Latin. Now the Internet – which he calls a “blessing from God” – gives him the opportunity to share the Gospel in a way that’s easily accessible and using language that’s easily understood.
“We have this marvellous opportunity, and we should use it,” Monroy said. “We need to create something that gets the interest of the people. The important thing is, what do you get from the message?”
Father Monroy has been delivering the message of the Gospel for 32 years.
Born in Guatemala City in 1946, Monroy was first attracted to the priesthood after finishing high school and meeting an older priest who suggested it as a vocation.
“One day I said to him, ‘You know, I have no interest.’ And he said ‘Why not, Oscar?’ And I explained a little bit of what I wanted. He said ‘Why don’t you place this in your path? It’s just another possibility.’”
After a few months of reflection and continued discussion, Monroy entered the seminary and later studied at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.
He was ordained in 1986 and spent his early years as a priest in Guatemala and Costa Rica. But it was during a 2002 Conference of Bishops that Monroy felt the call to move to Canada after hearing about its shortage of priests.
Father Monroy considered Quebec, because of his mother’s French heritage, but in 2004 he decided to move to Edmonton instead because of his “immediate” connection with then Archbishop Thomas Collins (now Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto.)
Father Monroy served at six Edmonton parishes, including St. Charles in the north end and Sacred Heart, the spiritual home for many indigenous Catholics. He was serving as chaplain at the University of Alberta Hospital when he was appointed to St. Benedict Chapel at City Centre Mall in 2011.
St. Benedict Chapel was opened in its first location on the third floor of the mall in 2005 by Collins, who wanted to bring the “peaceful presence of the Lord to Edmonton’s inner city.” It relocated in 2014 to a second-floor spot beside a busy pedway.
“It was amazing for me, the faith of the people there,” Monroy said of his ministry at St. Benedict.
While he had the chance to connect personally with patients at the U of A hospital, visitors to St. Benedict only had time for a quick chat before rushing back to work. They were often pulling lunch sandwiches out of pockets as they left.
Over the past three decades, Monroy said his need to share the Gospel has grown through his many different experiences in ministry.
Father Monroy began working on his website in 2013 and plans his first posts to be about the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s council that addressed the Church in the modern world. It’s a topic deeply familiar to him — he gave seminars on Vatican II at St. Benedict Chapel.
Now that he’s retired, Father Monroy hopes to work on his website, visit his family across Canada — and hone his guitar skills. He’s even trying to record songs.
“It’s difficult, I’m a little bit rusty,” Monroy said, laughing.