A 100 Year Old Treasure in the Novitiate

Villa Saint-Martin.

The move of the Canadian Novitiate from its down-town location in Montreal to the Villa Saint-Martin, on the outskirts of the city, was complex and it involved significant changes to the space available for the community there and for the novices joining it – changes not yet complete.

The members of the Villa community – with a few exceptions – became members of a new community which shares the mission of receiving and interacting with the novices, formally in the case of some members (e.g. novice director and socius), informally in the case of others.

Fr. Rocheleau at work in the grounds of Saint -Martin.

One of the members of the old community may have seemed to some redundant to the work of the noviciate, but because of his age a move was inadvisable. As it turns out he is an invaluable part of the formation of our novices. He does not have to give courses or spiritual direction. All he needs to do is to be his unassuming self and live his own quiet life. Recently he has celebrated his 100th birthday.

His name is Jean-Marie Rocheleau, SJ. He worked mainly in the ministry of retreats, and in the course of his many years in the spiritual apostolate he gave 70 long retreats, in the older preaching style. His eyesight and hearing do not allow him to do this now, but he keeps busy and useful by working on our extensive grounds. Two to three hours many days a week he shovels, manicures, cleans out dead branches.

He has always kept physically fit. He manages stairs with relative ease, and takes part in most community functions. He is a happy man, grateful to have had such a long life, yet ready to go whenever the Lord calls him.

Fr. Rocheleau at Mass.

Conversation can be a bit of a chore, but he puts in his hearing aids, and with good enunciation he hears well enough to respond, with words that are generally short, wise, to the point, inviting the novices to be their authentic selves. And he starts conversations of his own.

We were surprised when visiting US scholastics started asking him questions in English, to which he gave simple answers in English, and even more surprised when he said, in good Shakespearean fashion, “not once, not twice, but thrice.” No one knew that he could handle English like that.

This is an invaluable experience for our novices – and for the rest of us. A life well handled, a solidly rooted wisdom, and a Jesuit experience – vocation and ministry – he shared with us in one of our meetings. His vocation was akin to that of many older Jesuits: you made up your mind, you joined, and you never looked back. And here he is, a Jesuit for over 80 years.

Fr. Rocheleau and Jesuit Novice Oliver Capko making pizza.

Two of us in the community, former provincials (Jean-Marc Biron of French Canada, Jean-Marc Laporte of English Canada) are well on the glide path towards the same destiny which is his. In my case, having an energetic 100 year old around means that I cannot use with the same impunity the excuse of “you’re getting old, you are entitled to loll around and do little.”

No matter how long he will treasure us with his presence, he will have left an indelible impression and for our young men a precious connection to Jesuit roots otherwise inaccessible to them.

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Photos courtesy of Jean-Marc Laporte, SJ.

Jean-Marc Laporte, SJ lives in Montreal where he is the socius to the novice director for the Canadian Jesuits.

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