“Pops” celebrates 15 years of ministry to street kids

On Dec. 8, 1988, Fr. Emmett Johns and a few volunteers parked a second-hand van in the middle of downtown Montreal and started serving hot dogs to street kids. This year, the ministry celebrates its 15th anniversary and, given the growth of his ministry, there’s a lot to celebrate.

Fr. Emmett Johns, known to Montreal’s street kids simply as “Pops”, founded Le Bon Dieu Dans La Rue (The Good Lord on the Street) after suffering a depression in his 36th year as a priest. Unable to return to parish ministry, he set out to discern where God was calling him. He heard about a project for street kids in Toronto and thought that it was something he could do in Montreal as well.

It wasn’t long before the priest had everything he needed to set up his ministry. “Everything just fell into place,” he said.

On the night of Dec. 8, 1988, Fr. Johns set out on Montreal’s streets with a used van, offering hot dogs, compassion and friendship.

It wasn’t just coincidence that Fr. Johns set out on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. “Mary and I are good friends,” he told the Catholic Times (Montreal). “I wanted to start on the good side,” he added with a laugh.

“I was scared at first,” admitted the 75-year-old priest. “I didn’t know what to expect. But the Lord has been good to me.”

The street ministry grew incredibly over the last 15 years. In addition to the van that offers food and friendship to countless youth, there is also a 20-bed emergency shelter; a day centre and a school, called Ecole du Bon Dieu, which currently offers the courses required for a high school diploma to 56 street kids. Some of the kids have even gone onto college, said Fr. Johns.

“We started without a nickel, and now we have an annual budget of $2.5 million and a healthy endowment fund. That didn’t happen because of my great management skills,” he told the Catholic Times (Montreal). “It happened because God stood by a deal that we made years ago.”

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