Father André CHARBONNEAU died on Sunday, December 4, 2022 at the Jesuit residence in Ouanaminthe (Haiti), surrounded by members of the novitiate community who had watched over his health and cared for him during the last weeks of his life. He was 93 years old.
André was born on May 6, 1929, in Montreal. He did his secondary and college studies at Saint Ignatius College in Montreal and entered the novitiate on August 14, 1948. His older brother, Lucien, had preceded him by two years. He died prematurely at the age of 42. After the first stage of his studies (juniorate and philosophy), André did his regency at Jean-de-Brébeuf College (from 1956 to 1959) where he demonstrated his teaching abilities with his young students. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 21, 1962 by Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, in the church of the Immaculée-Conception parish in Montreal, after having completed three years of theological studies. He did his third probation, immediately after his fourth year of theology, in 1963-64, at the formation house in Saint-Jérôme, where the tertianship had been established since 1960. His companions, who had lived with him for several years since his first years in the Society, saw him as a model in his behavior: faithful to the demands of religious life, assiduous at his work, esteemed and respected by all.
André had shown an interest in spirituality while he was a theology student. However, the superiors were thinking of sending him to Rome to pursue studies in Sacred Scripture in order to teach at the Major Seminary of Port-au-Prince, which the Jesuits of French Canada had been directing since 1953. After their forced departure from Haiti in the fall of 1963, the provincial superior at the time thought it best to maintain the planned orientation for André without specifying where he would teach. André had very good memories of his years of study in Rome, from 1964 to 1967: “I had the extraordinary good fortune to spend three years at the Biblical Institute. I met extraordinary professors there who gave me a taste for the Word of God.
Upon his return to his province in the summer of 1967, the provincial superior of Montreal, Fr. Irénée Desrochers, asked him to be the spiritual father of the philosophy students in Trois-Rivières and to teach the New Testament at the university study center, which would become the UQTR (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières) in 1969. He remained there for 26 years. According to his testimony, they were very good years. Among his students were future priests, religious men and women, and also “ordinary” Christians, who greatly appreciated his courses. Ten times he accompanied students and pilgrims to the Holy Land to the most important biblical sites. When he was about to retire from teaching in 1995, the bishop ofTrois-Rivières expressed the desire that he remain in the Holy Land and become his representative to the religious of the diocese. But the provincial superior had thought of another mission, which would take André to where he was to be sent at the end of his studies in Rome.
André arrived in Haiti at the age of 66. He lived there for almost 28 years. It was the longest mission he ever completed and it lasted until the last moments of his life. The common thread of his years was the formation of young Jesuits as they entered the Society. He himself testified, some years ago, that he felt he belonged there, even though he lived “in a world of great suffering and poverty.” Without being appointed to the position, he acted as a prefect of studies and spiritual advisor to Haitian Jesuits in formation. The proof of this is that he wrote, on several occasions, texts for the provincial superiors on the course of studies and the components of intellectual and spiritual formation to be favored. It is the novices whohave benefited most from his presence and his teaching, since he spent more than 20 years in the novitiate community. He was also a reference for seminarians, young priests, religious men and women, in terms of spiritual accompaniment and formation.