Father Gérald Croteau moved to northern New Brunswick from Quebec after retirement to be near friends and enjoy peace and quiet in 2015.

But instead of enjoying his retirement, he celebrated 61 funerals for the diocese in need of clergy.

"There are a few retired priests but some of them are physically not well, and it makes it difficult, especially on the English side of the diocese. There's actually no one that can replace a priest when one is sick or needs to take some holidays," said Croteau, who is bilingual.

"I was supposed to do the French mass at 11 and that changed because the priest is sick at Holy Family Church  So I'll go replace them today," said Croteau Sunday.

The Diocese of Bathurst has 56 parishes and only 12 priests to serve them. Bishop Daniel Jodoin has even travelled to France in an attempt to recruit young clergy.

Croteau said he was surprised at how many worshippers still show up to church in Bathurst and the rest of northern New Brunswick, where he says masses are more regularly attended than in Quebec.

He is pleased to help throughout the diocese, where he works almost fulltime as a fill-in priest.

"The Lord calls and you answer so I did 25 years. It's my twenty-seventh, actually, this year, of priesthood," said Croteau.

"I need a really clear sign"

Father Croteau's journey to Bathurst is as remarkable as the vocation he found once he relocated.

Shortly after the priest retired due to health issues, his close friend and mentor passed away.  

"I have known that priest when I was a child and he was my counsellor. He passed away August 2014, said Croteau.

He celebrated his friend's funeral mass, and drove home from the service alone.

croteau sunset pic

Father Croteau took this photo of a sunset after asking his late friend for a sign. He says the letters "ITE" can be seen to the right of the photo, signifying "go" in Latin.

"I said Vincent, you have to do something. Ask the Lord where I should go. And I need a really clear sign."

Croteau believes he was sent a sign, in the form of a sunset which he photographed. When he got home, he enlarged the image on his computer.

"I realized there was three letters clearly in the clouds. I realized it was an I, a T, and an E..very distinct. And I said 'I-T-E'...that's Latin. It means 'Go!'"

Father Croteau's friends had been asking him for months to go to Bathurst to live close to them. He called a real estate agent the following day.

Now living in Bathurst, and continuing fulltime work as a priest, Croteau says he is fulfilled, but happy not to have a regular parish. He likes to paint, and is writing a novel.

The masses, though, are a joy for him.

" I was happy to do them," Croteau said "It's not a burden to do celebrations."