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In Memoriam

Father Roland Turenne passed away peacefully in the early evening of Saturday, December 9, 2023, in the infirmary of the Résidence Notre-Dame de Richelieu. He had been suffering from heart failure for some time, due to his advanced age. He would have been one hundred years old in February 2024. He was the last FrenchCanadian Jesuit to work in Ethiopia. In 1945, Pope Pius XII entrusted the Society of Jesus in French Canada with the mission of running a public secondary school in Addis Ababa, at the request of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie. Father Turenne had devoted all his years of apostolic life to the mission of Ethiopia, though he did not limit himself to the field of education. He had expressed to the Provincial of East Africa his wish to end his days in his native Jesuit province. He had been living in Richelieu since the summer of 2017. He had celebrated 80 years of life in the Society on August 14.

Roland was born on February 14, 1923, in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba. He studied for six years at the Jesuit college in his hometown before entering the Sault-au-Récollet novitiate (in Montreal) on August 14, 1943. After taking his first vows, he spent two years studying classics at the same place as the novitiate. He was then sent to El Paso, Texas, to study science for a year with the scholastics of the Mexican Province. He then returned to Montreal to study philosophy, from 1948 to 1951. When he began his regency, he was surprised to be chosen to teach at the secondary school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which the Jesuits had just taken over. He remained there for three years (1951-1954). From then on, Ethiopia became his second home. He returned to Montreal to complete the first year of his theological studies. He then moved to West Baden, Indiana, to the theologate of the Province of Chicago, where he completed his theological training. There, on June 16, 1957, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Schulte of Indianapolis. As soon as he had completed his theology, he did his third year in 1958-59, in Mont-Laurier, Quebec.

It was with great joy and apostolic desire that Roland returned to Ethiopia in 1959, having completed his training. He remained there from 1959 to 2017. If we add the three years of regency, his stay in this African land lasted more than sixty years. Here is the account he gave of his missionary years to the editor of Le Brigand magazine, when he was in his eighties:

From my half-century of missionary service, I feel great gratitude to the Lord for the work I have been able to accomplish with health, courage and much happiness… Now closer to the end of my days, I feel fulfilled. In May 1945, at the end of my novitiate pilgrimage, I arrived in Quebec City, on the very day that Father Lucien Matte bade farewell to the students of the college, before going on to inaugurate the Canadian Jesuit mission in Ethiopia. Quoting the poet Charles Péguy, Father Matte said: “I don’t know if I’ll be great, but I promise you I won’t be small.

Today, I dare to make that prophecy my own: I didn’t have the potential to be an eminent university professor or writer, but I was resourceful enough to adapt to four different careers, depending on the needs of the Ethiopians: 18 years of teaching, 15 years of development work with a French NGO, then with JRS, 5 years as a hospital chaplain, and finally a good dozen years at Centre Galilée, that little oasis of rest and spirituality where Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants come to refresh themselves.