After the French colonial rule, the independence of 1804 and a period of occupation by the United States of America, Haiti welcomed Jesuits from Quebec starting from 1953.
They were called by the Holy See to take responsibility for the Seminary of Port-au-Prince, in order to form a hierarchy of Haitian origin. The number of priests of Haitian origin doubled in a few years, reaching 101 in 1963. They also developed an intense social activity: contributions to the university, theology courses, retreats in religious communities, pre-marriage courses, interventions in parishes, initiation to the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola for laypersons. In 1959, they built Villa Manrèse, on the heights of Port-au-Prince, in order to have a permanent venue for this part of their action. Then, they set up Radio-Manrèse, an instrument of popular education and literacy accessible to all.
This intense social activity attracted the wrath of the dictatorial regime of François Duvalier, in place since 1957. In 1964, under the pretext of danger to the security of the State, all the Jesuits were expelled from the Haitian territory. Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Port-au-Prince. They were only restored with the appointment of Philippe Cantave as Haiti’s ambassador to Canada. The project of Radio-Manrèse was taken over by the Church of Haiti a few years later and Radio Soleil will play a leading role in the overthrow of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the son of the other, in 1986.
Since then, free to resume their activities on the Haitian territory, the Jesuits of French Canada are mainly engaged in the training of priests at the Seminary of Port-au-Prince and the training of young Haitians.
In 2018, the Haitian Jesuits, long under the tutelage of the Province of French Canada and Haiti, reach a new stage of their establishment by the appointment of a regional superior whose role of accompaniment and management of the territory is more important than that of the Provincial Delegate for Haiti in office since 1986. In addition to the thirty or so Jesuits in formation, most of whom are studying outside the country, thirty-five trained Jesuits live and work in Haiti.
Distributed in five residences, including four in Port-au-Prince and one in Ouanaminthe, in the North-East area of the country, on the border of the Dominican Republic, they provide a presence near the works that the Society of Jesus supports in Haiti.
In education, the sixteen “Faith and Joy” schools located in areas where access to primary and secondary schools is unfortunately very limited, mainly serve rural populations. The financial problems are enormous while government resources are not available despite a signed agreement to this effect to ensure the salaries of teachers.
With migrants returning from the Dominican Republic, often without papers, Haitian Jesuits offer legal services and also reception, support, relocation for families and job search help. It is mainly in Ouanaminthe that this mission is carried out with an important team and the collaboration of the Jesuits of the Dominican Republic.
The Spirituality Center, inaugurated in 2002 in Cazeau, became fully available for retreats and days of healing offered to nuns and lay people. Originally, the novitiate shared with them half the available space in this residence. Since 2016, the novices have settled down in Dumay in a magnificent building which is entirely reserved to them.
Several Jesuits work in connection with institutions in Port-au-Prince, such as the State University of Haiti, Notre-Dame University, GADRU, École Saint-Ignace in Croix-des-Bouquets, etc. Their apostolate represents a valuable collaboration between the Church and Haitian society.
The link that exists between Haiti and Canada remains alive and well at the dawn of the founding of the new Province of Canada. Let’s wish the new superior of Haiti, Father Jean Denis Saint Félix, to safely lead home this ship, all prepared to navigate in deep waters.