Father Gilbert Dasna was a victim of a violent evening in St. Paul on Friday. He was shot and killed at the St. Paul rectory building just before 6 p.m.
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Local priest remembered as a 'beautiful soul'
When she was on the phone with him, she didn't know it would be her last chance to speak to a man she considered her family.
On Friday evening at about 5:30 p.m., Patsy Hysell, a member of Saddle Lake Sacred Heart Church, was on the phone with Fr. Gilbert Dasna of the Diocese of St. Paul, discussing arrangements for mass.
“I've got to go. We'll talk after,” Dasna told her. They would speak two or three times a day, so she lightly responded, “Of course we will.”
Instead, Hysell found herself with a deep sense of foreboding as just half an hour later, she would hear reports of shootings in St. Paul. She phoned and texted Dasna but received no answer.
“My heart dropped,” she said, adding she told her husband, “Something's wrong.”
When she finally got a hold of a priest who told her the news that Dasna had been shot and killed, Hysell was hard-pressed to contain her emotions. “I completely lost it,” she said.
The 32-year-old priest was found lying in the doorway of the rectory in St. Paul on Friday night, felled by gunshot wounds. It was a night that would prove a violent one in St. Paul. Three RCMP members were wounded, and one other man died in a shootout that took place just minutes from the time emergency personnel received and responded to a call of distress from the rectory.
According to Pierre Lamoureux, a spokesperson for the Diocese of St. Paul, the employees of the rectory had left for the day on the May 9, leaving Dasna on his own.
It was possible that Dasna, hearing someone at the door, would have – in his role as a priest – responded to provide help or support for the person, Lamoureux said.
Hysell echoed the same sentiments, saying, “Probably Father let him in like he would have done anybody.”
It would prove to be a fatal encounter, as police officers arrived on scene at around 6 p.m. to find Dasna bleeding profusely. According to a note from Fr. Peter Tran on the incident, “The officer said: Gilbert tried to say something but they could not get a word.”
His death on May 9 marked exactly three years to the date he first arrived in Canada.
Diocese of St. Paul Bishop Paul Terrio wrote in a letter to pastors and members of the diocese to confirm Dasna's death as a result of gunshot wounds, saying, “I know only this fact now, but I am filled with grief at the death of this good and faithful priest.”
For Hysell, Dasna was more than just a priest. “He was like nobody I ever met. He was an amazing beautiful soul that allowed us to be who we are and accepted us with love and cherished us.” He called her mom, and she in turn embraced him as a member of her family.
When she moved back to the community of Saddle Lake a while ago, she began taking care of Saddle Lake Sacred Heart Church, helping to clean it and doing odd jobs. She and her husband worried about the low attendance forcing the church to close its doors.
But in the short time since Dasna, who was born in Cameroon, came to St. Paul, he was part of a change in the church, she said.
“Father Gilbert was sent to us, probably, by God, a Higher Power, call it whatever you wish.”
The priest began to become a part of the church's services, and the community's activities, whether it was their weddings, funerals or wakes. “He brought people back to the church,” Hysell said, noting the attendance grew from five to 10 to 40 or even 50 people for services over the last couple of weeks.
The man often preached about loving all people, Catholics or non-Catholics, faults or no faults, she said. When she thinks about what he would have said to her in this situation, she can barely speak.
“Hold on to Jesus and forgive. As hard as it is to forgive, forgive.”
Terrio wrote to congregants that they would celebrate this past Sunday as Good Shepard Sunday, saying, “Let us ask Him to welcome our Father Gilbert into heaven.”
A prayer vigil for Dasna is scheduled to take place on Friday at the St. Paul Cathedral at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend.