By Daniel Simoncic
In early 2019, Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ, unveiled the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) that guide the actions of the Society of Jesus for the next decade. The result of a communal discernment process, the UAPs are articulated as follows:
- Showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment;
- Walking with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice;
- Accompanying young people in creating a hope-filled future; and
- Collaborating, with Gospel depth, for the protection and renewal of God’s Creation.
This new context places the Gesù-Centre de créativité within the Canada-wide network of Jesuit works and communities as an important and meaningful hub for the Jesuits, who want to increase their presence in downtown Montreal.
Located in the heart of the Ville-Marie borough, the Gesù is strategically positioned—bordering the Quartier des spectacles, the Centre-Ville, the business district, and the universities—to reach potential collaborators or partners for the development of projects and also to reach the most vulnerable populations. Indeed, this area is characterized by:
- Widespread poverty—in 2016, 42 percent of the working population aged 15 and over earned less than $20,000; and 38 percent of the population was inactive (students, homemakers, retired persons, or those who are unemployable);
- A high concentration of immigrants (32 percent) as well as non-permanent residents (14 percent), and Indigenous people (0.8 percent); 36 percent of its population identifies as a visible minority (2016); and
- The largest presence of homeless people in the territory (2015 report) and, according to the municipality, homelessness in Montreal has doubled during the pandemic.
As a result of the changes, a development agreement was reached on February 28, 2020, between the Maison du Gesù and the Gesù-Centre de créativité, entrusting the latter with the completion of the New Gesù Project (NGP). The project stipulates the implementation of the UAPs (as defined above) and the creation of four new areas of activity:
- Spirituality and liturgy,
- Arts and culture,
- Education, and
- Social justice.
All this will support the apostolic and financial sustainability of the Gesù to carry out the improvement of the entire built and spiritual heritage of the square by upgrading the infrastructure of the building, which will be carried out in conjunction with the restoration work to rectify the damage caused by the works adjacent to the building. In order to facilitate the development and implementation of a business plan, the Gesù building has been leased to the Gesù-Centre de créativité.
Finally, there is a proposal to change the name of the project to Avenir Gesù (there have been too many versions of the “New Gesù Project” over the years), thus marking the beginning of a new era that brings together the church and the Centre de créativité, as well as highlighting the change in the mission of the Centre de créativité, which will now encompass the development of the four hubs of activity (mentioned above) through which the UAPs will unfold.
The Church of the Gesù (inaugurated in 1865) is an important building that bears witness to the return of the Jesuits to Montreal and their involvement in education. The amphitheatre, which served as an academic auditorium, was built under the chapel, a place of worship for the Collège Sainte-Marie. Jesuit education—which promoted the study of the literary arts and the art of the spoken word through theatrical practice of oratory, poetry recitation, and the staging of plays by classical authors—gave birth to many poets, writers, actors, directors, and musicians who made their first public appearances there. The stage became public in 1923 and has since served as a springboard for many actors and theatre groups. Thus, over time, thanks to artists, thinkers, teachers, and audiences from all walks of life, the Gesù has become a mythical, cosmopolitan, and timeless artistic space.
After a process to rethink its future and the renovation of the premises, the Gesù became, in 1993, the Gesù-Centre de créativité, thus highlighting its change of orientation. In addition to being a performance venue, the Centre de créativité became an organization that offers artistic residencies and produces multidisciplinary and multiethnic events (such as its Arts sacrés et Rencontres interculturelles).
Its mission is to offer citizens and artists experiences that inspire and fascinate and to provoke encounters and dialogue, all with the aim of encouraging expression and accessibility to art. A desire to create links between the various cultural communities that come together around art and creation is uniquely combined with heritage, performing arts, visual arts, and literary arts. The Centre de créativité stands out because of the diversity of its annual program that includes hosting the Festival Accès-Asie, the Festival du Monde Arabe, the Festival Présence Autochtone, and the Festival Nuit d’Afrique. More than 400 activities take place each year, ranging from music to theatre, dance, comedy, and storytelling, not to mention exhibitions, workshops, conferences, symposiums, and roundtables.
Le Gesù-Centre de créativité has built a unique cultural legacy where art, heritage, reflection, spirituality, and entertainment meet and blend perfectly with modernity. This new agreement between the Maison du Gesù and the Gesù-Centre de créativité will encourage the implementation of innovative activities and artistic experiences because it represents a natural convergence of our respective activities. The Centre de créativité has all that is necessary to take up the challenge, implement these new activities, and invite new partners to participate in this new adventure that is Avenir Gesù.