Richard Émile Joyal -

Richard Émile Joyal

A Catholic missionary with a giant frame and even bigger heart, he dedicated his life to helping the poor and the hungry

Richard Émile Joyal

Illustration by Team Macho

Richard Émile Joyal was born on Feb. 5, 1951, in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Winnipeg’s historic francophone district. He was the only child of Étienne Joyal, a railroad engineer, and his wife, Marie-Antoinette Gauthier. The family home, staunchly Roman Catholic, was a short walk from Richard’s elementary school (École Provencher) and his high school (Collège Louis Riel).

At the time, both schools were operated by the Society of Mary, a 200-year-old Catholic order inspired by the faith and devotion of Jesus’s mother. Many of Richard’s teachers were Marianist brothers, missionaries who committed their lives to serving the poor and uneducated. “The brothers’ community house was right across the street from both schools,” says Lawrence Lussier, a long-time friend. “He grew up knowing these brothers and was attracted to their life. He was drawn to it.” At 19, Richard made his first vows; five years later, he was “perpetually professed” as a Marianist brother. (Like priests, brothers commit to a life of poverty, celibacy and obedience.)

Richard was a towering figure, six foot four with giant hands and a huge smile. Like the men who inspired him to follow God, he spent his 20s and 30s working as a teacher in Winnipeg, where he coached basketball and organized retreats. “ ‘Joy’ was in his name, and that’s exactly how he was,” says Isabella Moyer, another close friend. “He wasn’t one of these overly holy people that didn’t enjoy the blessings in life. He enjoyed the riches: good food, good wine, and good company. But he was equally happy with the simplicity of a bowl of rice.” Back in the 1970s, Moyer was one of dozens of university students who spent their Sundays at the Marianists’ home in St. Boniface, “praying and playing,” as she says. “Richard was the community disco guru, determined that we would all learn his routines,” she says. “Soon we were all dancing to Saturday Night Fever.” He was especially famous for his giant batches of stovetop popcorn—prepared, with lightning speed, during a single commercial break.

In 1985, Brother Richard was dispatched to India, the beginning of a long journey that took him around the globe. His longest stint, 17 years, was spent in the slums of Bangalore and Ranchi, working with a Marianist organization that provides food, education and job training to homeless children. More than once, Mother Theresa personally asked for Richard’s help on certain projects. He never said no. In 2004, he relocated to the Philippines; again, his primary focus was providing help and hope to impoverished street kids. “When he came back, it was never: ‘Look how much good work I’m doing,’ or ‘Look how holy I am,’ ” Lussier says. “It was always: ‘Look at the views! Look at how great it is here! The food is fantastic!’ ”

After moving back to Canada in 2008, Richard was appointed director of the Centre Marianiste d’Éducation de la Foi in Saint-Henri, Que. One of his only possessions was a new bike—with a frame big enough to accommodate his long legs. “He was a very great man in every sense of the word,” says Father Gérard Blais, the Society of Mary’s regional superior for Canada.

In early 2010, the Marianists purchased two houses near Port-au-Prince with plans of opening a new mission in Haiti. But just one day after they moved in, the earthquake hit, levelling one of the homes and severely damaging another. When the mission finally reopened after 18 months of repair work, the society was struck with a second tragedy: two armed men stormed into one of the houses and assassinated a Haitian brother. “We still don’t know why,” says Father Blais.

Worried about the violence, a local bishop told the Marianists to close their Haiti mission. Richard volunteered for the task. “He was not only willing to go, he wanted to go,” says Richard Thibault, a friend and lay Marianist. “He was aware of the danger, but it didn’t stop him.” Richard left for Port-au-Prince in December 2012, spending the next few months organizing travel visas for his fellow brothers in Haiti. Some were relocated to France and Spain, others to the U.S. and Colombia. “It was a big job,” says Father Blais. “But he was the right man for it.”

On April 25, eight days before Brother Richard was scheduled to fly home, he withdrew $1,000 from a bank in Port-au-Prince. As he left the building, two thieves snatched his bag and sped away on a motorcycle. The passenger shot Richard in the back, hitting him with three bullets. He was 62.

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