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Father Emmett Johns « Pops »

Reaching out to homeless youth

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.″

“Pops” founds Le Bon Dieu dans la rue

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.”

The continuation of an essential work

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 70 employees and over 150 volunteers. Pops passed away peacefully on January 13th, 2018 at 89 years old. Dans la rue’s mission remains strongly rooted in Pops’ philosophy of dedication, empathy, and respect. His enduring legacy is one of acceptance without judgement and this legacy will continue to inspire and to guide the staff and volunteers at Dans la rue as they carry on his important work.

Highlights and honours

2016
  • Commander – Ordre de Montréal
2013
  • Honorary Member – Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec
2012
  • Recipient : Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
  • Montrealer closest to sainthood – Montreal Mirror ”Best of Montreal readers’ poll”
2011
  • Recipient : Contribution to Humanity Award – Montreal Intercultural Dialogue institute
  • Special concert in his honor by the MSO
  • Recipient : Prix de la tolérance Paul Gérin-Lajoie – Fondation de la tolérance Paul Gérin-Lajoie
  • Montrealer closest to sainthood – Montreal Mirror ”Best of Montreal readers’ poll”
2010
  • Montrealer closest to sainthood – Montreal Mirror ”Best of Montreal readers’ poll”
2009
  • Most trusted public personality – Magazine Sélection Reader’s Digest
2008
  • Biography published “Appelez-moi Pops”
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award
2006
  • Documentary film on Pop’s life called “Notre Père” launched
  • Certificate Honorary Member – Canadian Pediatric Society
2005
  • Honorary Doctorate Honoris Causea – Saint Paul University
2004
  • Recipient – Reader’s Digest Hero of the Year award
  • Carrier of the Olympic Flame
2003
  • Honorary Doctorate Honoris Causea – McGill University
  • Recipient – Medal of the University of Montreal
  • Grand Officer – National Order of Quebec
  • Honorary certificate – HEC Montreal / Commerce Magazine
  • Prix de la Santé et du Bien-être social – Ordre des psychologues du Québec
  • Honorary Doctorate Degree – Université du Québec à Montréal
2002
  • Golden Jubilee Medal – Canadian Governers General
  • Simon McDonaugh Humanitarian Award – United Irish Societies of Montreal
  • Bishop Crowley Award – English Catholic Council
  • Great Montrealer – The Academy of Great Montrealers
2001
  • The Rights and Freedoms Prize – Commission des Droits de la personne et des droits à la jeunesse
2000
  • Communications & Leadership Award – Toastmasters International
1999
  • Award of excellence – Montreal Urban Police
  • Annual Desjardins Prize
  • Member to the Order of Canada
1998
  • Humanitarian Award – The Association of Quebec Psychiatrists
  • Anne Greenup Citizenship Award
1997
  • Honorary Doctorate Degree – Concordia University
  • 12th Honor Roll of Excellence – Maclean’s magazine
  • "I felt at ease with him from the very beginning. He saw me in all kinds of states and he never judged me. There’s everything on the streets : drugs, all kinds of emotions. One day you laugh, the next day you cry. Pops was always there to listen. At the time, someone listening was a lot of help for me, especially someone honest."

    Chantal, former street kid
  • “It’s hard to establish that first contact with youth on the street. There are two secrets that helped me make friends with them. First, like everyone else, they like to eat. Once they start coming for the food, even when it’s something as simple as a hot dog, they warm up to you. The other secret lies in creating an environment where they feel they can trust you. We’ve always reached out to them without getting into any of the details about their past or what they were involved in before they got here. We never judge.”

    Father Emmett Johns "Pops"
  • "Pops is like no other. As soon as I enter his van, his face lights up. He's happy to see me. I know I have nothing unique as he loves us all. He takes the time to salute every youth that comes his way. I close the door behind me and he says, ′′Come in, there's room. Settle down there. I'm glad to see you. Are you hungry? Do you want to eat something? How are you today? I feel he is sincere. For the first time in my life, I feel loved and respected by an adult."

    Isa-Belle, Saint-Sauveur
  • “My heart is full of hope for these youth."

    Father Emmett Johns "Pops"
  • “He’s the kind of man who would give you anything, even his shirt. I myself think no one could wear his shirt, figuratively speaking. No one can be like him.“

    Mike Fifi, former street youth and volunteer of Dans la rue
  • "When I leave, all I hope is that there will be people in this world able and willing to take care of the most important thing on Earth: our children"

    Father Emmett Johns "Pops"
  • “Young people were coming from all neighbourhood [to have access the Van]. There were too many. I knew what to do: find them a place to stay.”

    Father Emmett Johns "Pops"
  • "I know very well that there are limits to what I can do. I can’t save them all. But when I think of Lise, Johnny, Molly and so many others, I realize that after every dark and difficult night - even the worst ones - there is a new day and a morning filled with hope.”

    Father Emmett Johns "Pops"
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