Rachel Gaudreault's living room in her tiny green house in North Bay, Ont., is a testament to her faith. A painted plaster crucifix hangs above her husband Zephirin's favorite armchair and an illustrated Bible adorns the home-made coffee table. For Gaudreault, 44, one of the respondents in The Maclean’s/Decima Poll, spirituality is a fact of life in a community that is about 50 per cent Roman Catholic and traces its early history to Jesuit and Récollets missions. The ruddycheeked Gaudreault and her husband sing in the choir at St.-Vincent-de-Paul Catholic Church, and most often they are performing for a congregation of at least 500. But despite the apparent enthusiasm for church life in her city, Gaudreault says that she is disturbed about the waning interest in religion among many Canadians, particularly the young. Said Gaudreault: “If people lose touch with religion, they lose some of their values.”
Gaudreault is among the 40 per cent of Canadians polled who said that religion was becoming a more important part of their lives. She anticipates that her involvement in religious pursuits will accelerate as other activities in her life dwindle. Right now, most of her energies are absorbed in studying to complete high school.
As well, she babysits part of the week to supplement her husband’s $25,000-a-year salary from a job with a local industrial parts supplier. But Gaudreault maintains that when she finishes school and devotes more time to the church, she will find a new form of spiritual expression. Said Gaudreault: “I would like to accompany the priests on visits in the community and help make the days of old people richer. I believe that the church is just like a home. Everybody has to work at it.”
The church-inspired values that Gaudreault would share with those she visits would be highly traditional. Although as many as 36 per cent of Catholics in the poll said that their church was too conservative on social or moral issues, Gaudreault subscribes to Pope John Paul n’s prohibitions on everything from birth control pills and divorce to homosexuals in the priesthood. Said Gaudreault: “I like the church just the way it is. The only point I disagree with is that I believe priests should get married. Then, when they counsel people about family life, they would know what they are talking about.”
Gaudreault’s difficult childhood caused her to seek refuge in the church early in her life. Born to a seasonal lumberjack who owned a farm in the hamlet of River Valley, 75 km from North Bay, Gaudreault and her two brothers and one sister struggled daily with poverty and violence. Said Gaudreault: “The only prospect of getting out was God.” The family lived in a two-room log cabin without running water, electricity or a telephone. Gaudreault recalls that she was afraid of her mother, who sometimes beat the children severely. And she remembers that other children at school mocked her for being poor. Said Gaudreault: “They made us feel like we had a disease. But the nuns would tell me to offer my hurt to God and pray for those people.”
At 15, Gaudreault left school and home, but remained close to the church. She worked as a housekeeper and babysitter for a local family and watched church services on television whenever her duties prevented her from attending church on Sundays. When she was 21 and living in North Bay, she married the man with whom she had once collided while lining up for confession.
Gaudreault is optimistic that many young people who have strayed from the church will return when they begin to raise a family. In her case, she and her husband talked regularly to their children about God. Said Gaudreault: “When you are bringing up children you want them to believe in something.” The Gaudreaults claim that they have been successful in instilling in their children a belief in God. Lise, 22, a municipal police dispatcher in Ottawa, and Ronald, 20, an employee at a vending machine company in North Bay, say their prayers every night, and Ronald, who lives at home, hangs a plastic rosary on the wall above his bed. Said Gaudreault: “We have lots of fun and warmth as a family and we have God.” Gaudreault is philosophical about the poll’s findings that people like her, with lower levels of education and lower incomes, are more likely to say that religion has acquired a new significance in their lives. Said Gaudreault: “Maybe people who did not get the education they should have had are reaching out to God to fill the void.” But she is worried that too many people who are seeking religious fulfilment are following TV evangelists. Said Gaudreault: “Those evangelists, it is like they are selling something, reaching a poor lost soul by showing him a miracle.” Certainly it would take an extraordinary miracle to dislodge Gaudreault from her choir seat in the church of St.-Vincent-dePaul and the faith that she has held since childhood.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.