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December 6, 2019 – Fr. Julien Harvey, SJ, was a great Jesuit intellectual from Quebec. Though he passed away in 1998, his ideas and ways of proceeding — refusing simplification, listening, dialoguing and concrete proposals — have
proven to be prophetic. He spent his whole life trying to bridge the
gaps between faith and social justice, national issues and an openness
to others and a concern for the fragility of the Quebec nation and the need for solidarity with newcomers, whether refugees or immigrants. While born out of a specific context, these preoccupations still resonate today.   

where did these preoccupations come from? Before he was named as
Provincial Father of the Jesuits of French Canada (1974-1980), Julien
Harvey was a professor of theology and a biblical scholar. Then, in
1975, came the turning point in his life: the 32nd
General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. First and foremost, this
occasion proved important because of the degree issued by the
Congregation which suggested that “the mission of today’s Society of
Jesus is service to the faith, of which the promotion of justice is an
absolute requirement.” Then, Harvey was further touched by the words of Pedro Arrupe,
then Superior General of the Society, who told him: “Julien, after your
provincial mandate, you should go and live with ordinary people. You
don’t need a car or a vacation overseas. You could stop smoking and join
a small community… Your experience with immigrants is going to be very useful.” Following the advice of Arrupe, Harvey did
not return to university life after his provincial mandate. Instead, he
moved to a working-class neighbourhood, began working with the magazine “Relations” and became one of the founding members and the first director
of the Centre for Justice and Faith. Through this work, he thus began a
long reflection on the connections between poverty, social exclusion,
the place of immigrants and the cultural communities in Montreal and
across Quebec. All this while a pastor in a parish, close to other

Social justice  

While studying the demographic composition of Quebec, Harvey
realized that the society was profoundly inegalitarian. Only 54% of
Quebeckers lived in growing areas, leading to social disintegration in
many regions across the province. In 1988, Harvey and the team from “Relations” hence published a powerful article, entitled “A Quebec Split in Two,” which struck out against regional underdevelopment in the province. This
article was the beginning of a longer reflection on the economic and
social divides evident between the province’s thriving urban centres and
the more peripheral regions, which had been devitalized and abandoned
by the state and subjected to the whims of the market and neoliberal
capitalism. Harvey wanted the government to recognize this divide and
work toward
fixing it. In many other articles, he thus campaigned for a responsible
society, the redistribution of wealth and more inclusion for the
weakest members of society (the poor, the excluded and the generally

Openness to cultural and religious diversity 

In 1992, Harvey published an article in “Relations” magazine entitled “Secular Schooling for Quebec.” Opposing, among others, several Quebec bishops, in this article he argued that the majority of
teachers and students were non-believers and that confessional schools
therefore marginalized religious minorities. Secularism, he wrote, did
not mean hatred of religion. On the contrary, he suggested that
non-confessional schools should encourage their students to learn about
the diverse religious traditions at the heart of Quebec society. Such a sensitivity towards other cultures was part of Harvey’s wider thinking on this subject. 

Harvey had already realized the importance of welcoming people of all
origins to Quebec and building a friendly society with them. Even more
importantly, however, he understood that he would need to engage with
the population of Quebec to make them understand this reality. But how
to go about this? The answer was to work together to develop a “communal
public culture
.” This concept, first put forward by Gary Cadwell,
emerged during the 1990s. This communal public culture sought to ground
itself in the heritage of Quebec’s people, while paying attention to
the new demographic composition of the province and the contributions
made by newcomers. Such a culture would allow everyone to identify with
Quebec, without erasing the cultural traditions of minorities.  


Finally, the third theme close to Harvey’s heart was nationalism — here
meaning the desire for an independent Quebec. This nationalism,
however, was not one based on exclusion, as is the case for many
modern-day groups. Rather, this version sought to welcome newcomers
warmly, since they were now themselves also Quebeckers. To achieve his
vision of nationalism, Harvey put the protection of the French language
at the forefront, created a new sector of the Centre for Justice and
Faith (today called "Vivre ensemble"), denounced the exclusion
of immigrants and proposed a communal public culture as a form of
social connection.  

Harvey’s openness and reflections on the poor and excluded still resonate today, especially in light of the economic injustice, insularity and mistrust of the other which exist among a large part of the population today. His
hope that a social and political struggle could make our society fairer
continues to be inspiring. Not only did he denounce injustices, but he
also offered concrete solutions which, though not always perfect, were
made with a real desire to change things. 

To find out more about the work of Julien Harvey, you can read “Social Justices, Openness and Nationalism in Quebec. Reflections from Julien Harvey” published under the direction of Elizabeth Garant at Éditions Novalis.  


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