Ostler’s work went beyond church
May 30, 2008
Rev. Gary Ostler is being remembered today as a Catholic whose Christianity extended far beyond his own parish.
Alexandria-Cornwall Diocese Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher saw this immediately in Ostler, who passed away Thursday from a massive stroke at the Ottawa Civic Hospital.
“One of the first times I met him he invited me to supper. He loved preparing a wonderful meal, and taking the time with the people around the table,” Durocher said.
“This was true in his ministry. He was a man who really loved preaching, for explaining scripture, for making it come alive.”
Ostler’s humanity also made him a mentor for the younger generation. “For many years he would direct the vocations of young men in their personal journey, to help them shape themselves for this ministry,” Durocher said.
Ostler served most of his priesthood in the city and area after his ordination in 1972.
While many Catholics hearkened to his ministry, his faith also touched thousands of Christians of other denominations as a longtime Canadian Armed Forces chaplain.
“In a sense, (the parish) was half of his life, the other half was the armed forces,” the bishop said.
“He was a real stand-up guy,” said Master Warrant Officer Jim Devine of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders.
“He was never afraid to get dirty with the troops; he had a knack of making the troops feel at home,” Devine said.
“I judge all other padres by how I know Gary.”
Devine said Ostler, who retired as a major, wasn’t content to just say Mass.
“He screened a lot of us for overseas service: he was the psychologist, the social worker, the psychiatrist, the marriage counsellor.
“If your head space wasn’t right you’d talk to Ostler, or he’d talk to you.”
Ostler eventually became the head chaplain for 4,000 Ontario-based soldiers.
It is expected that about 50 chaplains from across the country will attend the funeral.
Ostler endeavoured to extend Christianity beyond the church, believes Rev. Stephen Silverthorne, who succeeded him as chair of the Cornwall Christian Council.
“He was good at stressing that it was a church’s responsibility and privilege to be serving the community,” said Silverthorne, the pastor at Christ Church Anglican Parish in Long Sault.
“It can be easy at times to focus inside the church walls, but there’s a whole world out there to serve and love as well.”
Silverthorne said his colleague recognized churches can work hand-in-hand with secular organizations.
“Churches raise issues with secular leaders and provide service if people don’t want to access it (from government sources).
“Some people feel a stigma around their poverty so they won’t get assistance.”
A Cornwall native, Ostler was born in 1946 to the late Allen Ostler and Frances Gaudet. He studied at the University of Ottawa and St. Paul’s University, graduating with a Masters in Education.
Ostler’s first posting was at St. Raphael’s in 1976. It was there he started that parish’s Galarama, now one of summer’s most anticipated country festivals. He then served his first of two stays at St. Columban’s from 1983 to 1994. He served at St. Francis de Sales from 1994 to 2005, when he returned to St. Columban’s.
A quick scan of the Standard-Freeholder during the past few years alone clearly exhibits Ostler’s community involvement:
Earlier this month, he led a memorial service for Battle of the Atlantic merchant marine servicemen
He commented last March on the new sins proclaimed by the Vatican, including abusing the environment. He said this awareness should provoke people to think about issues in a moral context.
“That’s the worst thing in the world: to have a conscience that no longer tells you what’s right and wrong.”
Ostler spearheaded the recognition of two local priests with the unveiling of a plaque on Remembrance Day 2006. Msgr. Donald Kerr and Rev. John R. Donihee had been inadvertently left off the St. Columban Roll of Honour for Second World War veterans.
In March 2005, Ostler organized a special service at St. Francis de Sales to help people cope with massive job layoffs.
He will be resting at the Wilson Funeral Home 822 Pitt Street, from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m., Saturday.
The body will be transferred Sunday to St. Columban’s, and lie in state from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m., and on Monday at 9 a.m., followed by funeral mass at 10 a.m. Presiding will be Bishop Durocher.
He is survived by two brothers, John of Pickering, Ont., and Rev. David of Phoenix, Ariz. and sister Gail Lee of Calgary.
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