Frontier Apostolate marks 60th anniversary

When one volunteer ventured to Prince George from Ireland in 1986 to drive a school bus on the wrong side of the road in the middle of winter, it changed his life.

Terry Murphy heard the call-out for volunteers to come to the Diocese of Prince George and thought he'd stay for a couple of years and go back to Ireland richer for the experience but when he came back from 1990 to 1991 to serve again he knew this could be the place to settle down.

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The volunteer effort was started by Bishop Fergus O'Grady, who established the Frontier Apostolate in 1956.

Over the next 35 years more than 4,000 people came from all over the world including places like the U.S., England, Ireland, Wales and across Canada.

They volunteered as cooks, teachers, bus drivers, maintenance men, secretaries, grounds keepers and nurses.

Back then volunteers had room, board and a small weekly stipend provided to them.

"In the early days there'd be nurses who worked in the hospital in Burns Lake and they would get their cheque and they'd hand it to the bishop and he'd hand them back a voluntary stipend - and that's the kind of people that volunteered their time and their money in the early years," said Murphy.

At the time the government did not provide funding for parochial schools and it was up to the church to provide all that they needed.

"I just wanted to do something different," said Murphy about his traveling from Ireland to northern B.C. to volunteer as a bus driver.

"But think about me coming from Ireland to northern British Columbia who had never driven on this side of the road and never driven a school bus in my life and then they give me the most important cargo of all - the students - and then the snow comes.

"And I'm thinking 'are you guys crazy?' and yet it's the way of life here and we all just have to get on with it."

Murphy decided to stay when he met his wife Christine, who came from Edmonton as a volunteer teacher.

Many of the volunteers met their future spouses while volunteering all over northern B.C., added Murphy.

Since 2016 is the 60th anniversary of the start of the volunteer movement it was decided by a small organizing committee to host the reunion in Prince George starting this afternoon and going through Sunday with a variety of activities on the schedule.

The committee expected about 50 or 60 people to attend, said Murphy.

Once the call was put out to former volunteers the event soon took on a life of its own with 240 people registered to attend from all over the world.

"The volunteers from the '60s and '70s are those who are mostly coming for the reunion," said Murphy.

"They're all having little pocket reunions around P.G. right now and the event starts with a reception registration Friday from 4 to about 8 p.m."

The event is being held at the Domano Renewal Centre, 6500 Southridge Ave., and everyone is welcome to attend.

"On Saturday morning I'm offering two tours of the city at

9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.," said Murphy, who will reprise his volunteer role as bus driver.

Saturday evening is the big event that starts with a 5 p.m. mass at St. Mary's, 1088 Gillett St., and everyone is welcome to attend.

The already sold-out banquet is scheduled to follow.

The Frontier Apostolate members will then be invited to go on a walk at Forests for the World Sunday morning and then Sunday night there will be a closing ceremony at the 7 p.m. mass at Immaculate Conception, 3285 Cathedral Ave.

The public is welcome to attend that as well.

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