Maurice was born on the 14th July 1931 in Chicago in the United States. He was not yet one year old when his parents moved back to Canada and went to live in Sudbury, Ontario. It was there that he grew up and went to school. After primary schooling in St. Joseph’s Sudbury, he entered the Sacred Heart College for his secondary school education. On the 6th August 1953, he began his Spiritual Year at St-Martin de Laval, near Montreal. He studied Theology in Eastview, near Ottawa. He took his Missionary Oath on the 22nd June 1957 and he was ordained priest on the 1st February 1958.
During all his years of training, it was noted that Maurice had a very strong will, and he was also hands-on and enterprising. He acted with implacable logic leaving no room for compromise. Once he had decided on a course of action, he did not abandon it easily. He was a tireless, relentless and dogged worker. He worked with all his strength to accomplish the task on hand. His character was marked by its firmness and uprightness. He was very attached to his missionary vocation and had a deep and personal piety. He was also very reserved; he did not like large groups or long conversations. On first impression, Maurice could appear to be shy and uncommunicative, but when one got to know him better, one could see that he communicated easily enough in small groups where he felt more at ease.
In September 1958, Fr. Charpentier went to London, England to study for a Diploma in Education. In 1960, he left for Tanzania. He learnt Swahili at the Training Centre in Karema. He spent a couple of months as curate in Kigoma before being appointed science teacher at the Teacher Training College at Kajunguti in the Diocese of Bukoba. In 1967, he was appointed to teach science in the Junior Seminary of Katoke in Rulenge Diocese. Five years later, he became Rector and he served in that capacity for eight years. Every five years, Maurice returned to Sudbury in Ontario for some months of rest.
During his home-leaves, Maurice did not spend much time travelling or visiting. Sometimes he spent many weeks doing pastoral work in one of the parishes of Sudbury. He was noted for his zeal for regularly visiting sick people in the hospitals or retirement homes for the elderly in the region. All these sick people and their families keep a memory of Fr. Charpentier as a priest who was close to the little people and showed a great deal of compassion for those suffering a lot and those who felt abandoned.
Maurice was appointed to Kabanga in the Diocese of Kigoma in 1983. He taught professional ethics at the Nursing School and acted as chaplain to a Formation house of a congregation of African Sisters. When the Nursing School closed, Maurice’s time as a teacher for 25 years also came to an end. At 53 years of age, he now had to learn the job of a bush missionary as he said himself. He went to Mabamba, a rural parish in Kigoma Diocese where he found himself in community with two other Missionaries of Africa. The Parish Priest helped him to get organised by providing him with a pick-up truck, a Mass kit, and a sleeping bag. The other confrere initiated him into the apostolate among the Baha. Thanks to their help, Maurice felt very happy in this type of work. Everything was new to him: teaching catechism, preparing catechumens for Baptism, helping young people to prepare for the Sacrament of Marriage. He celebrated the Sunday services in the outstations while also participating in the joys and sorrows of the parishioners. What he preferred as he said himself was to “visit people in their homes, listen to them, comfort them in their faith and talk to them about Jesus Christ. What a change from my previous pursuits of teaching physics and chemistry in laboratories.”
Maurice was repatriated urgently to Canada in 1992 suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. He was treated in Sherbrooke and spent some months convalescing in Moncton, New Brunswick. A year later, he returned to Mabamba Parish and served as curate until 2002. He had to return to Canada for treatment and stayed at our house on rue St-Hubert in Montreal. Two years later, he was appointed to Toronto to work with two other confreres in ministry and missionary promotion in the Sacred Heart Parish.
In 2008, Fr. Charpentier began to have serious health problems and he was appointed to our community at Sherbrooke. He was suffering from prostate cancer with secondary tumours in the bones. Maurice was fully aware of his condition and often mentioned that he just wanted nature to take its course. After a number of hospitalisations, he was admitted to a specialised Nursing Home at Asbestos where he died on the 9th March 2017. The funeral, in the presence of his ashes, took place in the Chapel of the Missionaries of Africa in Sherbrooke on the following 15th March.
Maurice was a man of great simplicity. He always dressed simply. He welcomed one and all who came to see him. As curate in the parish, he took the time to meet people, especially at the market in the village always finding the right word to encourage them. In Toronto, he liked to go out and meet the itinerants and the homeless at a park in the Parish. He did not hesitate to share a bowl of soup with them which was given out by a local charity. He had no interest in being a Parish Priest always preferring to serve as a curate. He accomplished great work in this role and he was appreciated both by the parishioners and his confreres. He was not a leader but a man of relationships.
Finally, Maurice had a deep faith in the Christ whom he met and served in the poor and unimportant people. He also had great devotion to the Virgin Mary. In Sherbrooke, when he still had reasonable health and could get out, he liked to pray and sing a Marian hymn before the statue of Our Lady near the pond in the grounds of our house. Always a zealous and faithful missionary, Fr. Charpentier now rests in eternal peace and enjoys eternal happiness in the heavenly Kingdom.
Michel Carbonneau, M.Afr.