Preacher and protector
SOCIETY. Before he was «Pops», Father Emmett Johns was priest at Bishop Whelan High School and the parish priest at the Church of the Resurrection in Lachine. He died on January 13 at 89 year-old and since his passing, there has been an outpouring of gratitude that has followed him to his rest. His devotion to his mission inspired people from all walks of life, as demonstrated by the peers, public figures and street youth present during his public funeral.
At the age of 60, when most people look to retire, Father Johns believed that his ‘calling from God’ had not ended. Even after nearly 40 years as a parish priest, he felt drawn to reach out to the city’s at-risk youth. “It just kind of came to me I should be with the kids, I should help them,» he was quoted as saying.
"It was the way he pursued his calling that inspires me the most. When God called him to serve differently he never hesitated. He left his parish, took out a loan, bought a motorhome and hit the streets,» explains Epiphany Church’s Reverend Brian Perron.
That motorhome became the base of operations for the Le Bon Dieu dans la rue and the legend was born.
THE GREAT TRANSFORMER
It began at Resurrection parish with the blessing of Bishop Leonard Crowley. Father Emmett was relieved from Pastorship to begin organizing his street ministry. "Resurrection parishioners helped to revamp the Winnebago, the St. Vincent de Paul Society-lachine donated hot dogs and buns, and parishioners / C.W.L. members made mountains of sandwiches and cookies," remembers retired pastor Father John Kennedy.
Pops began parking the motor home at the hangouts street kids would frequent, offering warmth, food, coffee and his attention. Panhandler or prostitute, Pops treated everyone he met as a person.
The first days were a challenge trying to break through to the toughened teens, but Pops did it. Within two years, more than 100 people would eat every night. Since 1988, Dans la rue has grown with an emergency shelter known as “the Bunker”, opened in 1993, and the Chez Pops day centre on Ontario Street a few year later.
"I welcomed a minor into my home as a foster parent in the fall of 2017, a youth from Nigeria abandoned at the Dorval airport. He ended up in downtown Montreal, alone and vulnerable. Le ‘bon dieu dans la rue’ sheltered him in the ‘The Bunker’ where he was safe at night until social services could find a longer term solution," David Lefneski, Minister and Community Leader in Southwest, Verdun recalls.
Today the organization has a team of 65 employees and over 135 volunteers.
The organization’s evolution will always be guided by Pops’ philosophy of dedication, empathy and respect.
Father Emmett Johns receiving the Ordre National du Quebec as a Grand Officer in 2003.