"Pops" celebrates his 85th birthday

2013-04-03

Emmett Johns was born on April 3,1928 to Irish parents and grew up in Saint Agnes Parish on the Plateau Mont-Royal.

After graduating from high school, as the war was ending in 1945, he found that his original dream of becoming an air force pilot was no longer an option, so he followed his other dream and entered the seminary.

At the age of 60 and after nearly 40 years as a parish priest, Pops was inspired to reach out to the city's at-risk youth. "It just kind of came to me,″ Pops says. "I should be with the kids, I should help them.

So in 1988 Pops founded Le Bon Dieu dans la rue. He borrowed $10,000 from the Caisse Pop, bought a used motorhome and took to the streets, working long, sometimes lonely shifts from 9 pm to 3 or 4 am. "I was kind of scared sometimes, driving that big van around downtown late at night.″ But Pops and the Van very quickly became fixtures of Montreal's nightscape, known to street kids as a safe place to get a bite to eat and warm up. In 1989 Bishop Crowley named Pops "official chaplain of the homeless."

Dans la rue has grown since its creation in 1988, with the opening of the Bunker overnight shelter and the Chez Pops day centre. Today the organization has a team of 65 employees and over 135 volunteers. The organization's evolution has always been guided by Pops' philosophy of service, friendship and respect.

"There are three words you'll hear often at Dans la rue... service, friendship and respect. Service is what we do on the Van, at the Bunker or in the Day Centre... it's the hot dogs and the long johns. I also ask everyone to treat the kids as friends. The secret weapon is respect. These kids rarely get respect from anyone. The respect means the world to them." - Father Emmett Johns

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