Father Denis PION passed away on Friday, December 9, 2022 at the Residence Notre-Dame de Richelieu, where he had been living since 2009. He was 88 years old. His memory loss, which he suffered from in his early years at Richelieu, was greatly accentuated following a road accident that caused him a violent cranial shock. He gradually lost his ability to communicate and his physical mobility. He passed away quietly in his sleep.
Denis was born on August 8, 1934, in Acton Vale, near Drummondville. He did his secondary and college studies at the Seminary of Saint-Hyacinthe before entering the novitiate of the Society of Jesus on August 14, 1955. After taking his first vows, he followed, for two years, the course of classical studies at the Jesuit juniorate, while being registered for a Master of Arts at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Montreal. He did two years of regency at Collège Garnier in Quebec City before studying philosophy at Weston College in New England Province. He graduated from Boston College with an M.A. in 1963 with a thesis on “Philosophical Aspects of Camus’ Work. He then did his third year of regency at St. Ignatius College in Montreal. In 1964-1965, he attended the Faculty of Letters at Laval University and obtained a degree in Modern Letters. At the end of his third year of theological studies at the Faculty of Theology of the Society of Jesus in Montreal, he was ordained to the priesthood in the Church of the Immaculate Conception on June 8, 1968, by Bishop Valérien Bélanger, Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal. As soon as he completed his theological studies in 1969, he enrolled in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Nice, in order to obtain a doctorate.
Denis stayed in Nice for two years (from 1969 to 1971). He began writing his thesis, but was unable to complete it before being asked to teach religious studies at the University of Sudbury. His acceptance of this request from the Society’s authorities was for him a radical change in the direction he was thinking of giving to his professional life and his apostolic commitment. He saw himself “teaching in a faculty of letters while collaborating in an interdisciplinary committee or in a faculty of theology that would be interested in the problematic of contemporary literature. This is what he had expressed to the provincial at the end of his theology degree. He took a few weeks of reflection and prayer before accepting the position offered to him without any reservations. After two years of teaching in Sudbury, he was able to finish writing his thesis on “Les images de la Mort chez Camus” which he defended brilliantly at the end of June 1975. His long association with the literary work of Albert Camus and the privileged access he had to his abundant correspondence influenced him in the choice of subjects he subsequently tackled in his teaching. Denis was able to highlight in his courses the links between faith and unbelief. He was also interested in the forms of expression of popular religion, as can be seen in articles he published in various journals.
From 1974 to 2001, he taught Religious Studies at the University of Sudbury, while holding many other positions that were entrusted to him by the University of Sudbury authorities. He was also, on several occasions, superior of the Jesuit community at the university (1974-1980; 1985-1990 and 1996-1998) and provincial consultor (1980-1986; 1988-1994).
Father Kolvenbach, the Superior General, noted in his 2005 letter to him on the occasion of his jubilee of religious life: “In Sudbury itself and in the region, you have been in contact with several generations of students and have awakened them to an enlightened faith, especially through your well-prepared courses. Spiritual direction was a natural extension of your academic career after it ended. Through your good humor and your sense of human relations, you ensured the cohesion of the Jesuit communities and encouraged and stimulated your colleagues in teaching.