My connection with the Jesuit property in Guelph goes back 60 years, when I walked through the door marked St. Stanislaus Novitiate and met my novice master, Fr. Len Fischer. With 23 others I was entering into a traditional novitiate, on a sizable farm, mostly devoted to the fields where apples and other fruits, vegetables, and farm animals provided sustenance for the over 100 inhabitants (at the time some 50 novices, 25 juniors, and many priests and brothers.
The priests were staff for the young men in formation or assigned to other ministries, the brothers looked after the house and the barn. As much as possible this was to be a self-sustaining operation, which significantly cut down the need for outside purchases.
Leaving the property was seldom necessary, though occasionally novices would venture into town for an apostolic activity, and into the countryside (Guelph city itself was off limits) for villa day.
Little by little the numbers in formation dwindled. The juniorate (a two year programme after the novitiate) was closed, and in 1994 the novitiate moved to St. Paul MN. There were fewer brothers to look after the property. The property remains, but it has been transformed in the light of new purposes. That transformation in itself is an interesting and complex story which I will not recount.
I am back in Guelph as a guest retreat director after some years of absence, and looked for the features of yesterday which I remember with fondness. The dam and its swimming hole is gone. Now the trails are numerous, well developed, and marked. Many of them are new, many have been re-rerouted, because a good chunk of the property on the east side of the highway was sold for development.
The property is just as beautiful as it ever was, but its beauty is now more accessible. Loyola House, originally a traditional retreat house, did not exist when I was a novice. Now it is the headquarters of the whole Guelph operation. Like most religious communities at the time, we saddled ourselves with white elephants, which included a 1960 building which very soon became surplus. Now this new building, and the original institutional building it expanded, are totally rented out under the rubric of Orchard Park.
The mainstay activities of this site — formation and farming — remain, but in a repurposed form.
Formation is no longer the first years of the classic Jesuit formation of the 19th and earlier 20th century. It includes the preparation of persons who can do spiritual direction and direct various forms of retreat.
Some of them are Jesuits, but most of them, in accord with the policies of our recent Jesuit congregations in Rome, are lay and non-SJ religious, mostly women. Partnering with others in our spiritual ministries is part of the 21st century Jesuit pattern.
And, of course, doing a retreat in one form or another is a formative activity which leads to transformed perspectives and ways of living.
And the land itself is an integral part of the formation that goes on here, a formation not only for those who come for various programmes but also for the general public, especially of the Guelph area, who are invited to walk the trails and work the land, especially in the garden plots they can rent.
Jesuits today are concerned not only with our relationship with God, with one another, but also with the earth. Ecology is not a frill, and this is abundantly the case at Ignatius College / Loyola House. The farm operation continues, but it shows those who come here to share the work how to farm in a way that respects the land and promotes its sustainability. In few words, organic farming and formation.
On the other side of the highway, the land is destined for an old growth forest that will make pristine nature available to the local population for centuries to come. Because of all these activities, we are much more present to the overall Guelph population.
Let me finish with two images: the first is that of well kept and productive apple orchards. When I was a novice we had apples and applesauce and apple pies coming out our ears (which we still enjoyed), and occasionally other fruit preserves which we hoping would be fermented. The production of apples and the maintenance of the orchards has been curtailed.
That image is becoming a vestige. The other image is that of mosquitos buzzing around your ears and keeping you on the alert. They continue. Kill one, and a thousand come to the funeral.
But the integral Jesuit character of this operation also continues. That is the main point. This results in a more solid grounding to my hope for our future as Canadian Jesuits and their partners.