On July 31, various Jesuit communities celebrated the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and an official celebration was held at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Toronto. On this date, the Jesuit Province of Canada was also celebrating its first official year. On this occasion, three people graciously agreed to speak to us about their experience in the new Province: Fr. Earl Smith, SJ, Superior of the St. John's Jesuits, Scholastic Marc-André Veselovsky, SJ, and Norbert Piché, National Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service – Canada. All three testimonies resonate in the same manner. Indeed, the new Province brought two languages and cultures together, which sometimes resulted in some difficult changes, but over time, bridges have been created. The Province of Canada is now marked by a new fabric of intercultural cooperation and enrichment that serve the mission of the Society of Jesus.
Norbert Piché: Living Together as Two Solitudes
When I think about the creation of the new Province, two solitudes come to mind.
Everyone in Canada knows the expression “two solitudes” that refers to Hugh Mclennan’s novel published in 1945 and which revealed the lack of communication and cultural divide between the 2 founding nations. However, what many people do not know is that Hugh Mclennan borrowed this expression from an Austrian poet called Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke’s intention was quite different, for he was referring to 2 people in a marriage:
The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
Do we take the time to listen to “the other” in a new way? Do we take the time to really get to know him? When I see people from the two former Jesuit provinces taking the time to really listen and get to know each other, I think that the “living side-by-side” which Rilke has described is possible. If I can’t physically travel to see someone, do I try to contact him in another way? Do I take the time to write something to send it to “the other?” Do I take the time to read what “the other” has written?
It is quite rare to witness such cohabitation between individuals or cultures. Usually, there is always one who dominates. However, that is not part of God’s plan. I think that God wishes for people to get along together, fulfilling their potential while “loving their neighbour as themselves.” This new Jesuit Province is filled with breaths of hope that serve as witnesses of this “living side-by-side”, not only for the Jesuits of Canada and those who work with them, but also for other persons and societies in Canada and throughout the world.
There will always be “large divides” between people and cultures. However, is God not present when I am the “guardian of the other’s solitude?”
Earl Smith: A Connection at the End of the Province
Living on the edge of North America we find ourselves easily disconnected from matters that, at first glance, have more to do with Jesuits living either in Quebec or Ontario. That we are now members of a bilingual Province does not make much difference to ‘us’ on a daily basis even though four of seven community members possess a working knowledge of French. We accept our union with French-speaking Jesuits. One of our members is keen to grow in his knowledge both of French and by face-to-face encounters with Quebec-based Jesuits. We are becoming more knowledgeable of French-speaking persons in St. John’s because of contact with French speakers through our parish and nearby Memorial University, a school with Francophone students.
Also, we don’t easily identify with many news items that are emailed to us. Living on an island continues to be a challenge for us. [We’ve a weak awareness of ourselves as world-citizens.] It is not clear how often or by whom ‘Province’ sponsored news is read my community members. Yet it is made available. Several members definitely appreciate it.
However, there are signs of growth in my community membership. We are becoming more engaged in our Province’s national and international ministries/commitments through shared discerned processes. We and our collaborators in St. John’s are given a voice; the sacred voice of God’s Holy Spirit on matters that have potential to change the world for the good.
A positive challenge is our continued expanded work with (very) talented collaborators in working in various Province offices. Workshops including retreat-type presentations, and online materials are readily available to assist an evolving St. John’s based ministries aiming to serve the Church according to the Society’s universal preferences. We in Newfoundland and Labrador and grateful as we are much less able to provide the same alone.
Marc-André Veselovsky: Cooperating in God’s Work
Over the last year, I lived in France where I studied at the Centre Sèvres in Paris. My most official contact with the Province of Canada was my account of conscience with Fr. Oland. I saw very few Canadians; however, I was in contact with the Province through infoletters and emails.
I entered the Jesuit novitiate four years ago and all the novices then were from the English Province. However, we were immersed in French in Montreal and we took courses in French. There was already a bilingual spirit in our community. For example, we experimented at l’Arche in Québec City. There is no great reticence to learn French, but rather a commitment to do so for the mission. This bilingualism is much more rigorous than in the United States where learning Spanish is not put into practice as much.
When I entered the novitiate, Canada already seemed like a province. Since the creation of the new Province, there are sometimes tensions between older Jesuits but one has to realize that they come from two completely different cultural settings. English Canada is more Protestant, the Church has less control there and the Canadian identity simply means to live in Canada. In French Canada, the culture is Catholic, there is a greater cultural identity, a true cultural heritage (music, literature, way of doing) and all of this must be found within the context of work in Québec. Nevertheless, there are also similarities between both cultures. Jesuits are there to “inculturate” themselves, to try and live the faith in a way which makes sense in a cultural setting.
God is at the heart of cooperation. In the Gospel, it is said that we must cooperate to live our Christian life. And it is not only Christians that are called to live this way, but all human beings. The positive aspect of this new Province is to work with people who are different from us and who do not work in the same way. Let’s hope it leads to something new. We are a rich country with very few problems compared to many other countries – we are truly blessed. However, on a spiritual level, we have become very weak and as Jesuits, we are called upon to cooperate in order to deepen our spirituality, that of the Jesuits, but also that of others, by helping them to know God. Everything is done through cooperation. If some things prevent cooperation, they also prevent God’s mission and work.
Building things takes time and it’s normal that there are still a few adjustments to be made in the Jesuit Province of Canada. But as Christ said in a parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32.)