Father Franjo Sprajc has two reasons to celebrate, but with mixed feelings – it is his 50th anniversary as an ordained priest and it is also his retirement.
For the past eight years, he has been the parish priest at St. Joseph’s in Port Elgin and St. Patrick’s in Southampton.
On June 23rd, more than 300 people attended a special celebratory BBQ at St. Joseph’s parish hall to say goodbye to Father Sprajc, who will officially leave on Thursday.
Born in Croatia in 1943, it was during a time when Croatia was becoming one of the six republics of Yugoslavia. Despite communist rule and persecution, people still attended church. Father Sprajc attended seminary in Zagreb but his studies were interrupted when he had to do the required military service of 18 months. “At the time, it was just something normal that everyone had to go through.”
As atheism began to take root however, all religious materials were forbidden in Yugoslavia. Father Sprajc and others he had studied with however, developed the first Catholic newspaper with bulletins brought into the country, often reading late at night by flashlight under bed covers and going into the woods for prayers and confession.
“These activities actually provided strength for all young men who were on the path to becoming priests,” said Father Sprajc.
He was ordained on June 29th, 1969 and was a assistant pastor for one year and then a pastor for two in Croatia. Having studied French for two years in University, the church sent him to Nice, France to provide pastoral care to Croatian immigrants who were fleeing over the Alps. During that time from 1973 to 1977, Yugoslavian police were spying on Croatians and a friend and colleague of Father Sprajc was killed in a car bombing.
Then, in 1977, he was sent to Canada under the assumption that because he spoke French he would “fit in”. He laughed recounting that he was “… sent to Hamilton where few if any spoke French!” He was associate pastor at Holy Cross Croatian Parish for nine years and then as pastor from 1986 to 1993. From there he went on to serve in Kitchener, Durham, Markdale, Guelph, Cambridge and, finally, to Saugeen Shores.
It was an emotional goodbye as Father Sprajc was presented with a Papal certificate from His Holiness Pope Francis for his long service to the church.
Father reads the Papal message
Father Sprajc will be retiring to St. Joseph’s Villa retirement home in Dundas, Ontario. Before that however, he is traveling back to Croatia to where he was baptized for a family celebration of his retirement.
While he is retiring, Father Sprajc says that he already has had several approaches to undertake various works. “We shall see,” he smiles with a twinkle in his eye.
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