January 18, 1947 is a date that has been etched in the Rev. Stan Whitehouse’s memory.
On that day, after months of “inner tumult,” he knelt down in prayer; he could no longer ignore the call to priesthood. “I said, Okay God, I’ll do it. But remember, this was your idea not mine,” recalled Whitehouse in an interview. “As soon as I said that, I got up and the burden of indecision was lifted.”
Five years later, on Dec. 21, 1952, Whitehouse was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Last Dec. 16, 86-year-old Whitehouse recounted this story before a crowd of about 200 well-wishers that had gathered at St. Magdalene’s Church in Picton, Ont., to celebrate his 60 years of ordination into the priesthood.
Upon the request of the parish of St. Mary Magdalene, Whitehouse was bestowed the title of honorary canon by the bishop of the diocese of Ontario, Michael Oulton. He also received a congratulatory letter from Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. “I was very surprised and quite humbled by it, really,” said Whitehouse. [Whitehouse had been made a canon during his years of ministry at the diocese of Rupert’s Land, but could no longer use the title when he moved to another diocese.]
As tributes poured in, Whitehouse said all he could think of was how throughout his ministry, “the Lord and I have walked together, and I’m thankful for that.”
He has been “very fortunate,” said Whitehouse, recalling that throughout his ministry he’s only had to call in sick once. In fact, Whitehouse is still an active cleric at St. Mary Magdalene, where he conducts Holy Communion services on Wednesday mornings. Whitehouse, who is a World War II veteran, also officiates funerals for many veterans well into their 90s.
What has kept him going is his “living relationship with the Lord,” said Whitehouse, adding, “We may feel at times that we are alone, but we are never by ourselves.” In his remarks at the celebration, Whitehouse also paid tribute to his wife, who died in 1993. “When I felt called to ministry, she was affirming. She had no doubts,” he said.
Whitehouse has also been strengthened by one of his favourite Bible verses, 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Among his cherished possessions is a wooden crucifix that serves as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice. He had salvaged the crucifix from a local funeral parlor when he was a young priest facing challenging times in his parish. He hung the crucifix on the wall and says that whenever he felt down, he would look at it and think, “If that’s what happened to the Lord, I think I can handle my own bits and pieces.”
Robert Mercer, who has known Whitehouse for 80 years and was instrumental in requesting Oulton to bestow the title of honorary canon, describes him as “an absolute prince.” Both had attended Sunday school at The Church of the Transfiguration in Toronto; years later, Whitehouse married Mercer’s sister, June.
“People just love him [Whitehouse],” added Mercer. “He wouldn’t harm a soul and he never says a bad word about anybody.”
Apart from serving in Winnipeg, Whitehouse was also a priest in the diocese of Ottawa’s Bell Corners parish, The Church of the Resurrection in Toronto, and Christ Church in Woodbridge, Ont. He also became padre of the Royal Canadian Legion and padre of the Air Force Association in Picton, Ont.
He was also priest-in-charge for the Anglican churches in Glen Miller and Frankford, which required long trips from his home in Waupoos, southeast of Picton in Prince Edward County, to churches north of Trenton. “In all that time, he took no remuneration and paid all his expenses from his own meager pension,” noted Mercer.
Whitehouse is heartened that people have valued his ministry because all his life, he said he has lived by St. Frances de Sales’ urging to “love people into holiness.” He has been mindful that as a priest, he is there to “represent the Lord in our midst” and he has tried to be “as appealing as he is.”