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Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Life And Death Of A Canadian On March 11, 2011

What the heck... it's a year and half after Japan was rocked by a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011, that triggered a massive tsunami that battered the hell out of the north eastern coast of the main island.

While I was busy covering the ensuing events from the safety of Canada, I failed to do the typical Canadian media thing and report on any deaths of Canadians during the event.

To be honest, it was so brutal an event that I assumed people from many countries died under the tsunami. And they did, alongside the Japanese.

Apparently only one Canadian died on March 11, 2011. Born in 1934 in Saint-Jacques-de-Montcalm, Quebec., a town about 65 kilometers north of Montreal, Andre Lachapelle was a 76-year-old Roman Catholic priest from Quebec who was working as a missionary in Shiogama-shi (Shiogama City), Sendai-ken (Sendai Prefecture).

Nicknamed "le Japonais", Lachapelle worked with the Quebec Foreign Missions Society when the earthquake hit, and was traveling in his car to his parish.

Now, here reports get sketchy.

He either made it and had a heart attack from the excitement and then was swept away when the tsunami hit his vehicle OR, he was still traveling en route when his car was swept up by the tsunami and before drowning, suffered a fatal heart attack.

Another report says he was found lying in the road at his destination - having had a heart attack - and it was unknown if he had been touched by the actual tsunami.

Three articles, three differing stories. There's journalism for you. Of course, the panic going on at the time made reports coming out of Japan unreliable.

I suppose I could actually contact the Quebec Foreign Missions Society, but how he died is really not as important as how he lived. Apparently, he lived well.

Lachapelle had been living and working his trade in Japan since 1961 - a year after he was ordained, but did return back to Canada every couple of years.

For 50 years, Rev. Lachapelle dedicated his life to missionary work in the Miyagi region, teaching high school and writing religious books in Japanese for his students.

Just before he died, he became the parish priest in the coastal area of Shiogama and also ministered to prisoners in Sendai, hearing confession and just talking with them.

In 2010, he received a certificate from the Japanese justice department thanking him for 25 years of service at the Sendai prison. He had also written three books in Japanese.

On March 11, 2011, Lachapelle was at a cathedral in Sendai when the earthquake struck. Uninjured, he got in his car and headed to Shiogama 17 kilometers away.

According Florant Vincent, a fellow priest who had worked with Lachapelle for years: "His colleagues advised him to stay in Sendai and not to go. But he left anyway. He said, 'I have to be with the people there.'"

Television and other communication was already out, so he had no way of knowing that he was driving towards a tsunami.

Andrew Joseph

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