In every season, an evergreen tree outside of Nicolle Hall at Saint Michael’s College serves as a windsock for Father Paul Couture, S.S.E. If the branches are swaying too vigorously, it is not the day to go outside for some exercise. He attributes his longevity, mobility and memory to staying active. “It’s not just about muscles, but our brains benefit from regular exercise,” he said. “It helps with memory. There is some kind of movement everyone can do.” Days filled with skiing, football, baseball, bowling, tennis, jogging and even hockey are gone now but Father Paul, 91, still bikes five miles around St. Michael’s College campus and Fort Ethan Allen a couple times a week in the warmer seasons. Fellow Edmundite Father Stanley Deresienski said Father Paul is a true motivator. “He looks forward to each day, to physical exercise, to private and communal prayer and to study and learn. He is truly a remarkable mentor and friend.” Father Paul is known for his scholarship in scriptural studies and was the founding director of the Summer Theology Program at St. Michael’s College where he served as Chairman of the Theology Department. “The program was more than just an academic endeavor since it also created a community where faith and reason was celebrated in an intentional way,” Father Brian Cummings, S.S.E. said. “It was a wonderful program that benefited the Church in the United States and Canada.” The program attracted students from across the nation and several other countries. Many internationally known scholars came to teach including Father Wilfrid Harrington, Monika Hellwig, Father Dermot Lane, Father Gerald O’Collins, Pheme Perkins, Father Godfrey Diekmann, Sister Sandra Schneiders and many others. The program wrapped up recently after 50 years in existence.
“When I think of Father Paul, I remember my first year at St. Michael’s and how he was a wonderful teacher,” Father Brian said. “He is a prolific reader who absorbs various nuances often hidden in biblical articles and writings on Christology. He is extremely generous in sharing his life’s work and knowledge with others on a daily basis.” Society of Saint Edmund Superior General Father David Cray said Father Paul “has great intellectual curiosity and is humble and grateful.” He has known Father Paul since his student days at Saint Michael’s College in the 1960s. In addition to having taught in the seminary and at Saint Michael’s College, Father Paul made himself generously available in retirement by conducting well-attended Biblical studies programs in parishes in the greater Burlington area. “People comment on his ability to communicate his knowledge in ways that make the Scriptures accessible to ordinary people,” Father David said. For 16 years, Father Paul led a bible study at St. John Vianney. Now he leads a group at Our Lady of Grace in Colchester that is keeping him connected to the community he ministered to for more than a decade. Father Stan said his friend empowers people. “He truly believes that the Church is still developing,” he said. “He shows by his words and actions the importance of prayer and good liturgy. He is a good example of living the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.”
The culture and influences in which Father Paul grew led him to a devout life. Religious organizations and communities, like The Society of Saint Edmund, ran most of the schools and activities of daily living north and south of the U.S.-Canadian border in 1929, the year he was born. His family was Catholic and dozens of his first cousins straddled the border. Three became priests. One major influence on the decision for Father Paul to enter into Religious life was his Uncle Damase Couture, a Catholic priest who often visited Father Paul in Vermont by dogsled. He was missionary to the original inhabitants of James Bay in Canada. Another influence was his Aunt Corinne Beaudoin, a nun who spent years on mission in China. Her religious name was Soeur St. Olivier and she was a member of the Missionnaires Notre Dame des Anges. “It was a point of pride to have a vocation in the family,” Father Paul said.
Father Paul's decision to join was also influenced by the humble respect and worship modeled by his parents. This led to his choice to enter into a life of Catholic ministry. He remembers quiet times of deep reverence in his childhood home that went hand and hand with hard work. They recited the rosary together and when he was not in school, delivering newspapers by bicycle or milking cows, his mother, Laura (Beaudoin) Couture, had him memorizing catechisms in French to recite aloud. She was a teacher for a short time in a rural school. His father, Flavien Couture, bought a dairy farm in Barre and worked in the granite industry to supplement farmer’s wages. He eventually started his own granite business. Father Paul went to grade school in Northfield and then high school in Swanton where the Society of St. Edmund had an apostolic school, also called a Juniorate. He also attended St. Monica’s School in Barre for a short time. He studied language and philosophy at St. Michael’s College before heading to Rome for four years at Pontifical Gregorian University, and then two years at Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He became fluent in German, Greek and Hebrew in addition to English and French. He taught for a few years to obtain a final degree in Biblical Studies at both the Gregorian and the Biblical Institute. In all, he was in Rome for 8 years. Religious life is one way of living in that kind of world of loving God and serving others, Father Paul said. “The Society of Saint Edmund is small but that has an advantage. We all know each other and can help each other,” he said. As to why the number of those seeking a religious life are down from the multitude they were when he was a boy, he said, “I am a priest partly because there was a predisposition in our culture at the time. We are in different times now with strong secular influences in this culture. The atmosphere was different when I was a youngster.” When asked if he had anything else to add he said, “We are meant to leave the world that is distorted in its views and values, but not to leave the world of mercy, the poor, the old, infants, ecology and environment—the world of correctly using creation as Pope Francis has emphasized. Do not leave that world. Get involved in it.”