On the Road Towards the New Jesuit Province of Canada
Was it possible? Could it be possible to create a Jesuit Province that would bring together the “two solitudes”, Jesuits from the French Canadian Province and Jesuits from English Canada, who would form not only one administrative unit but also an apostolic body at the service of Canadians a mari usque ad mare? Quickly, objections and obstacles were brought forth, from the Jesuits themselves as well as from observers from outside.
We remembered the years during which the Quebec nationalist movement, clearly supported by a large number of Jesuits living in Quebec and by their magazine, Relations, was not at all well received in the ROC (Rest of Canada).
There were also decades of non-communication between francophone and anglophone Jesuits living in the same city, Montreal, each group never crossing the sociological barrier between the West Island and the other neighbourhoods. And what about this feeling on the francophone side – well rooted in reality – that they always had to speak the other language to be understood?
However, the Society of Jesus is a « universal » body. The Superiors General, for more than 30 years, have insisted on this dimension, bringing to light that a Jesuit must be ready to serve wherever he is needed, without putting conditions to his availability because he entered in one specific “Province” or because he is part of a geographical area or belong to a particular ethnic group.
Indeed, demographic realities also helped to open the eyes and to encourage the dismantlement of walls. When Father General Adolfo Nicolás specified to the whole Society of Jesus what are the conditions for a Jesuit Province to fully exercise its apostolic mission and to grow, it became clear that in French Canada, 50 years after the “Révolution tranquille”, the future was only possible in alliance with others. Rome then clearly supported the opening of a constructive dialogue with our companions from English Canada.
To be honest, we were not starting from zero. Along the years, there were a number of opportunities to meet, to share, and a few occasions to collaborate. For instance, I remember that in 1984 I was representing the French Canadian Province in the preparatory committee for the visit of John Paul II to the Shrine of the Canadian Martyrs, in Midland. I was the guardian of the bilingual character of the pope’s visit to this “Jesuit territory”.
At that time, as well as later, there were meetings and workshops for scholastics of both Provinces; I had the opportunity to facilitate, with a companion from English Canada, workshops in audio-visual production and communication.
Since the beginning of the present century, regular meetings have been formally held, first of all between the « consults » (a kind of “board” to assist the Provincial, whose members are chosen by Father General) and between the treasurers of both Provinces.
But the most significant step was certainly the opening of a common noviciate for the two Provinces, in Montreal, in 2008, with Erik Oland as Master of Novices. Erik is now the present Provincial for French Canada and will become, within a few months – when Father General will make the official announcement – the first Provincial of the new Jesuit Province of Canada.
In 2009, there was the inauguration, in Montreal again, of a common work for the two Provinces: the Archive of the Jesuits in Canada, offering bilingual professional services to many scholars and historians interested in the Jesuit presence in Canada since the epoch of Jean de Brébeuf.
The sharing of human and material resources of the two Provinces, in these two instances, allowed the creation of something new: it became clearer and clearer that rapprochement and active collaboration could indeed insure a better apostolic influence than the continuation of isolated ways of doing or getting involved.
Soon enough, from 2010 on, Jesuits felt it quite natural to celebrate, regularly, together. It was the case to commemorate in 2011-2012 the 100th anniversary of the first arrival of Jesuits on Canadian land. They did it in Port-Royal (Nova Scotia) in 2011, and then in Quebec City in 2012. They did it for their gathering on St. Ignatius Day (July 31st), alternately between Pickering and Montreal; or to celebrate the Canadian Martyrs, in September.
They also learned to pray together, especially during an annual summer “bi-provincial retreat”. This spirit of “coming together” was also clearly expressed in a bi-provincial gathering of Jesuits with collaborators involved in Social and International Ministries, in 2013. This was another opportunity to realize that the calls we hear in today’s world, the needs of the poor, the injustices we fight, all this is quite the same wherever we are located in Canada or even elsewhere in the world.
Along the years, little by little, Jesuits were called to serve in works of the other Province. The fact that the younger ones have all integrated the essential bilingual character of the “being” of a Canadian Jesuit in the future, since the opening of the common novitiate, promotes mobility and availability, essential characteristics of the Order founded by Saint Ignatius.
All this led the Provincials Jean-Marc Biron and Peter Bisson to set up in 2014, with the support of their consultors, a special committee to help open up the trail towards the creation of the Jesuit Province of Canada; it is called Comité CAN Committee. Two Jesuits from each one of the present Provinces are members: Winston Rye (coordinator) and John Meehan on the one hand, Marc Rizzetto and Pierre Bélanger, on the other hand. This organizational wheel is dealing with a variety of tasks: first, it supports and helps the Provincials, but it also seeks to help all their fellow Jesuit companions – not to mention, according to the circumstances, their collaborators – to enter into the spirit of this new era, starting in the summer of 2018.
Without decision-making authority, since decisions always go back to Provincial Superiors after discussion with their consultors, the Comité CAN Committee has worked on several issues. It paid close attention to the preparation of a linguistic policy for the new Province; it made suggestions for thematic gatherings and the bi-provincial retreats.
It fostered the organization of joint meetings of Superiors and Directors of works. It was very active in the design of the process for the choice of a future Provincial for the new Province, taking into account the requirements of the tradition of the Society of Jesus, the suggestions of the General Curia of the Jesuit, in Rome, and the best ways to encourage the participation of the Jesuits in the process.
The committee paid also attention to some delicate topics; for instance, it opened opportunities of dialogue and sharing with some Haitian Jesuit companions. In fact, the French Canadian Province does include Haiti where a strong group of young Jesuits are taking the first steps towards an integration in a future Jesuit entity in the Caribbean, but will continue to be part or to be in direct relationship with the new Province of Canada.
And there were the long discussions about the location of the future Provincial Curia. It will be in Montreal, in the building now know as La Maison Bellarmin, for practical reasons of course, but also as the conclusion of a discernment process involving cultural, symbolic and geographic components.
The path towards the creation of the new Jesuit Province of Canada is not marked out only the Comité CAN Committee. Other people have been involved, most of all the teams of the Treasurers’ offices and those who are looking at the legal aspects of the project.
What comes out of all the work done is a feeling of peace and hope, felt by the majority of the Jesuits in Canada. They have learned to go beyond their fears, and, enriched by experiences of relevant encounters, can now look forward. They understand that, touched by the strength of the Gospel and Jesus’ presence at their side – this Jesus they chose to walk with as companions – they will be able to serve better all the people who are looking for accompaniment.
They want to serve wherever these people live in Canada, wherever they live in regions or territories that will be under the pastoral care of the Jesuit Province of Canada, wherever it might be in the world the Province of Canada will send them.
Is it possible to create this new Province? Yes, it is, with faith – a faith that carries mountains but, mainly, breaks down walls – and with the confidence and hope of men who offered themselves to serve ad majorem Dei gloriam.