Fr. John Baxter, the pastor of Villeray’s Holy Family Parish, received the 2016 Bishop Crowley Memorial Award for his outstanding commitment to youth ministry for more than half a century.

Awarded Nov. 11 at the 18th Catholic Community Rally, Fr. Baxter was recognized for his 51-year ministry to youth through a parish- and camp-based leadership program. He is the 32nd recipient of the award since its first bestowal in 1983.  

Presented by the English Speaking Catholic Council (ESCC), the award recognizes "distinguished service in the English-speaking Catholic Community of Greater Montreal, by an individual or organization."  

In conferring the award, ESCC president Diane Lemay said: "Fr. Baxter has devoted a lifetime to developing, encouraging and inspiring Christian youth leadership. He has been instrumental in providing not only the English-speaking Catholic community but also the wider community with generations of young leaders committed to serving others, inspired by Gospel values."  

The success of his ministry revolved around a weekly sports-leadership program, which has operated on Friday evenings since the mid-60s. The parish venue provided a natural place for youth to gather on a regular basis to play sports (primarily floor hockey) and to build fellowship. In the process, the youth were given the opportunity to develop leadership skills, "were taught the value of team work," and were encouraged to grow in their spirituality and "discover new things about God and themselves," the ESCC citation noted.

  In conjunction with the parish-based program, Fr. Baxter also spearheaded the establishment of a summer boys camp and has been at the forefront of its operations since 1965. Its inaugural site opened in Sherbrooke, followed by a move to Camp Kinkora in 1966. By 1972, Fr. Baxter had purchased a permanent site located near Mont Tremblant, known as Camp Caritas. The camping experience complements the Friday-evening program and is still offered each summer.  

In addition, Fr. Baxter transformed his parish church at Holy Family into a retreat setting, suitable to welcome visiting groups, especially adolescents from Montreal schools.  

Now 83, Fr. Baxter continues both to maintain the camp through considerable fundraising as well as to carry out his mission to youth, while serving full time in parish ministry.  

"I just always tried to remain relevant," Fr. John Baxter explained upon receiving the award, an approach he found was key in both outreach to upcoming generations and parish ministry.  

More than 3,000 youths from the Greater Montreal area and beyond have received Christian leadership development and training under the direction and mentorship provided by Fr. Baxter and his team of Friday-evening leaders and camp staff.  

The award is named after the late Bishop Leonard Crowley, Montreal's third English-language auxiliary bishop.  

The rally was held at La Plaza Hotel in downtown Montreal on the second evening of the three-day Parish Vitality Conference, organized by the Office for English Pastoral Services of the Archdiocese of Montreal. Up to 51 Catholic-affiliated groups participated in the rally.