We are not alone: the Canadian inter-novitiate

Our current Canadian Jesuit novices do some formation with novices of other communities. This was not the case for older members of our province, nor is it for our fellow novices from the four U.S. novitiates, whose courses are mostly in-house.

The novitiate of the English Canada province moved to Montreal in 2008, becoming the joint bilingual novitiate of the then two Canadian provinces. This meant the opportunity to collaborate with other Montreal area novitiates in forming our novices.

The inter-novitiate has been a hurdle for some of our novices, still in the process of learning French, but this challenge makes sense because we were en route to – and now have become – one Canadian S.J. province with members able to work – as proficiently as they can – in both languages.

This means shared courses on many subjects: Christology, the vows, the history of religious life, community life, social justice, cultural analysis, liturgy, scripture, psycho-affective maturity. Each community will have its own perspectives and emphases, to be dealt with in individual formation. Religious communities are struggling in the province of Quebec: many communities are in effect closing shop, and novices are few, especially from the francophone sector.

There are usually Jesuits and Dominicans, the latter generally older men, and a number of religious communities of women send us their novices and young religious from the third world. An inter-novitiate in Quebec City is currently not functioning for lack of novices.

The formators are lay or come from a variety of communities, and they enjoy working with whatever novices the Lord sends to our communities.

What do our novices think about this experience? When struggling with French, and learning to deal with different accents, day-long sessions are tiring and challenging. But they are becoming aware of the need of Jesuits to work collaboratively in the field of ministry: a very important plus.

And there is learning how to deal with the mix of personalities with their differing perspectives, whether novices or their teachers. Indeed with a larger group there is a wider range of differences – of men and women, of older and younger novices, of newer more charismatic communities with colorful habits and older more laid-back communities.

The broadening experience of many cultures is essential in our world. Courses that were mentioned as especially significant dealt with social justice, the analysis of cultural differences, and growth towards psycho-affective maturity.

Indeed with our dwindling numbers, we religious cannot afford to be competitive, like Jesuits and Dominicans of old (thank God our traditional controversies are now relics rather than irritants).  We need to know one another and work together, to be the body of Christ together as men and women, to learn how to perceive the Spirit at work in others as in ourselves.

And Montreal presents a special challenge. The Church is struggling, with some people deeply committed and active, seeking to stir the embers of those whose link to the faith is rudimentary and disappearing. Learning to work in this secular context will become more essential in whatever part of Canada or of the world we will have pitched our tent.

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

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