By John-Henry Westen

Introduction: “If anyone was prepared to die, it was these two”

BARRY’S BAY, ON, February 6, 2008 ( – Lent began a few days early at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy (OLSWA), a Catholic college in Barry’s Bay Ontario, renowned as one of the most faithful Catholic colleges in the nation.  Two students drowned in a tragic accident after a minivan they were traveling in on a frozen lake broke through the ice. The two who died were the founder and the most enthusiastic supporters of the newly established pro-life club at the college.

On Saturday afternoon, four students drove to a neighboring town, using a shortcut that took them across the ice. The students, who were not locals, would have often seen cars and trucks driving on the lake to get to fish huts.

The minivan broke through the ice and the driver and another passenger managed to escape the rapidly sinking vehicle and scramble to a nearby abandoned cottage. The two remaining passengers, Paul Sanders, 24, of Mitchell Ontario and Janine Lieu, 22, of Vancouver British Columbia, were identified as deceased by local police on February 5th, after divers retrieved their bodies.

The real story, however, is not so much the immediate tragedy, but the impact that these two young people had on their friends, their teachers and the community where they lived out their last days. Their goodness shone so strongly that by their presence they served as a corrective for peers and professors alike.’s interviews with friends and professors, the writings of the students themselves, and local clergy who knew them, all speak to the same conclusion: The students who died were outstanding in their faith lives and their commitment to the culture of life. If anyone was prepared to die, it was these two.

An Intelligent, Holy, and Joyful Pair

Professor John Paul Meenan, who taught the pair daily, describes Paul Sanders as, “A very talented young man, who loved the truth, loved to learn, asked questions, was inquisitive, was always upbeat.”  He was, says Meenan, “A joyful person who picked everybody’s spirits up. He had attractive quirks. The way he dressed was very funky, the way he acted.”

Meenan notes that Sanders was considering the priesthood, and his entrance essay showed his interest in joining the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.  One of the last personal conversations Meenan had with Sanders was with a couple of other students who were discerning vocations to the priesthood.  “Paul was well on his way to holiness,” says Meenan.  “He radiated an attractive quality in the true sense of the word, a purity of soul, a humility.”

Of Janine Lieu, Meenan says, “She’s one of the purest, most prayerful people I’ve ever met.  Quiet, demure, completely faithful to her prayer life, she was in the Church all the time, prayed the office meditated.”  She was also, adds Meenan “very, very talented.” 

“She was so quiet in class that at times you’d wonder what was going through her head,” he says. “But when I got essays from her, or exams, they were stellar. There was a depth there that you could never comprehend. She really did think about things and dwelt on them. She would have been one of our top students – at the top.”

“Everybody that met Janine was touched by her, even though she didn’t say much.

“You had to ask her to speak up in class. She was always so quiet and would talk in a whisper. Yet behind that was an indomitable will and a very deep soul.”

Sanders is remembered by his peers for his infectious joie de vivre.  Rebecca Mombouquette, an Academy student who knew both Sanders and Lieu, told, of Sanders, “I think all of us would just laugh in remembering him, he’s so quirky. He brought such cheer and happiness to everything he did.”

A housemate with Lieu, Mombouquette recalls Lieu as “a beautiful young woman totally filled with love for God.  She profoundly impacted all of us through her example of humility.  She was very shy and quiet but she had a radiant smile and personality that shone forth in everything she did.”

Mombourquette notes that Lieu and Sanders were the motivation behind the beginning of a pro-life club at the Academy this year. “They organized rosaries and speakers and were definitely the power behind this group.”

“They are two prayer warriors, constant in perseverance and trust in God.”

Both Touched Many Lives Beyond Their Family and College

Beyond their families and the college, the pair touched many lives. Even before official reports of his death were published, a Facebook page in honor of Sanders was set up, where friends shared their memories.

Gilles K. Urquhart from Winnipeg Manitoba wrote, “I teach at the Catholic School of Evangelization in St Malo Manitoba, where Paul came for a year. I got to know him then and I think he was one of the most devout and loving young people I have ever met. His holiness shone through as a witness to anyone who met him. He was a man of prayer, faith and love. May we all learn from his example of such great love for Jesus. St Paul Sanders pray for us. We will miss you.”

Rachel Dupuis, also of Winnipeg, wrote, “When I first heard about this, the first thing that crossed my mind was….How can I make him a canonized saint!? But you’re already a saint in my mind Paul. You always were.  . . .  I loved your music and your openness to sharing your faith with me directly from your heart. but I can’t help but be happy for you……..CONGRATULATIONS!! you made it!! you’re only 24, but you’ve already made it to the ultimate goal! You’ve met JESUS! I’m so jealous! you lucky bum. it’s sad that you won’t be coming back to Winnipeg to visit, but I’m expecting you to pray for me always.”

In addition to her studies, prayer life, and work on the pro-life group, Lieu often visited the local nursing home to give comfort and company to the residents. OLSWA student Kelly Sanders (no relation to Paul), a close friend of Lieu’s, accompanied Lieu on many of these visits. “Janine would bend over and hug and kiss the elderly who were too sick to move and talk.”

Students compared Lieu’s spirituality to that of St. Therese of Liseux.  In one description of Lieu, reminiscent of the saint known as ‘the little flower’, Kelly Sanders recalled, “She did the regular Academy chores and cleaned the three bathrooms in the Academy each day. I would often see her with rubber gloves on, a pail filled with cleaning supplies, a garbage bag in her hand, and a smile on her face.”

The Academy President David Warner commented that, “While the college, and indeed, the surrounding community, was shocked and saddened at the news, the sadness at the college is pervaded with a hope and even a joy at the near knowledge that these two souls, so close to God on earth, are bound to be with Him in Glory.”  Warner added, “The support of the local community and churches has been amazing to behold.  Condolences and promises of prayer have arrived from around the world.”

For a Catholic college of this caliber, the faith, and thus the afterlife, is a reality beyond question.   Professor Meenan is not shy about pointing this out publicly: “I’m going to continue talking with them,” he says of Sanders and Lieu.  “I’m going to tell the students they’re more real now than they were when they were alive.”

Conclusion – A Possible Vocation and a Strange Coincidence

Both Lieu and Sanders had spent time at Madonna House, prior to going to OLSWA.  Lieu was, at the time of the accident, on her way to spiritual direction with Rev. Robert Pelton, one of the priests of Madonna House.  Fr. Pelton told that Lieu was planning to enter religious life as a nun.  He summarized his thoughts on Lieu, telling, “She is a woman who is going to meet a Lord she was very well acquainted with.”

  In his entrance essay to OLSWA, Sanders wrote of his parents as the ones who instructed him and endeared him to faith. “They are the ones fundamentally responsible for what I have become (what I am striving to become) in Christ,” he wrote. “To them I am eternally grateful.” 

Several students commented to about the uncanny fact that a day prior to their deaths, the students were in a class discussing just that – death.  Professor Meenan’s class discussed what is known in Catholic teaching as ‘the four last things’.  He recalled giving the example of getting into a motorcycle accident, encouraging the students to think about what would be going through their minds at the time of death. “We have a certain number of heartbeats left in this life,” he recalled telling the students. “For all you know you could die tomorrow.”

Last Wednesday, three days prior to the accident, Catholic author Michael O’Brien was at the local church – St. Hedwig’s – and both Sanders and Lieu were in queue for the confessionals before him.  O’Brien told, “As I was looking at the two of them I kept thinking: these are both very deeply devout Catholic young people and yet their temperaments and their cultures are radically different.  I was really touched by them, the way they went to confession so beautifully.”  There was he said, a “stark contrast yet a unity in the spirit.”  O’Brien concluded, “They were Catholics on fire for the faith, each in their way.”

OLSWA Professor Scott Nicholson was called on to identify the bodies of the victims.  He told that even in death their faces were “prayerful, peaceful and composed.”

  Funeral Information:

Visitation and Mass of Christian Burial for Paul Francis Sanders has been confirmed.

Visitation @ Lockhart Funeral Home Friday February 8 2-4 and 7-9pm

Mass of Christian Burial @ 11am Saturday February 9 St Patrick’s Church, Kinkora

  A funeral Mass for Janine Lieu will be held in Vancouver on February 12 with time and parish still to be announced.

  A memorial Mass for Paul and Janine will be held at St. Hedwig’s church in Barry’s Bay on February 11 time TBA