By Gilles Mongeau, SJ
This past August 15th the Jesuit infirmary in Pickering, Ontario, celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was on the 15th of August 1970 that a Jesuit infirmary opened for the first time at Regis College in Willowdale, under the leadership of Brother John Olney SJ. Six years later, the infirmary was moved to Saint Catharines, Ontario, where it resided for four years. For the past forty years, it has been settled in Pickering, on the grounds of Manresa Spiritual Centre. 321 Jesuits have been cared for over the fifty years of the infirmary’s existence; more importantly, these same 321 Jesuits – along with those Jesuits in the infirmary in Richelieu, Quebec and its predecessor in Saint-Jérôme – have received the mission from the provincial superior orat pro Societate et Ecclesiae, “to pray for the Society of Jesus and the Church.” Saint Ignatius attached great importance to this ministry of prayer. It is listed second in the means at the Society’s disposal for participating in Christ’s mission, just after the authentic witness of a Jesuit’s personal life: “Likewise, the neighbour is aided by desires in the presence of God our Lord and by prayers for all the Church…. They should also pray for friends and benefactors, living and dead, whether they request these prayers or not; and likewise for those for whose particular benefit they and the other members of the Society are working in diverse places among believers or unbelievers, that God may dispose them all to receive his grace through the weak instruments of this least Society.”
Fr Erik Oland, the provincial superior of the Jesuits of Canada, is just as certain of the significance of this ministry of the Jesuits in our infirmaries: “It gives me great confidence in God’s help, when I am trying to make an important decision, to know that Jesuits are praying with me; I have experienced how important it is that the Jesuits in our infirmaries pray for me daily.” On at least two occasions, Fr. Oland has asked the Jesuits in both infirmaries to pray for specific needs of the province at difficult times.
Bryan Manning, a Jesuit novice who worked at the infirmary in Pickering through the recent COVID-19 epidemic there, says “I see this ministry of prayer as an intensification of Jesuit mission; these ‘grand masters’ of prayer were working with us in our efforts to care for them. There was a real and mutual collaboration of care.” Marc-André Veselovsky, another of the young Jesuits missioned to the infirmary this past spring, agrees: “It is beautiful to see that these men who are living with limitations are nevertheless still generous, no matter their state of physical health, with true Jesuit greatness of heart that never ceases helping us help souls.” Adam Pittman adds: “While living through COVID-19, these men were in isolation…. Imagine living down the hall from your brother…. And not being able to walk over to say goodbye. But they prayed for each other in the most beautiful way. They stayed true to their mission, even in heartbreak and isolation.”