What’s happening with the Gesù, which is located right in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles? This venerable building in downtown Montreal that brings together a church, a creative centre, and a Jesuit community is now surrounded by tall condominium towers whose construction has affected the structural foundations of the church. But even if the physical structure of the Gesù has been destabilized, the spirit of renewal that animates it has not wavered.
The Avenir Gesù project (formerly, Projet Nouveau Gesù) is moving forward, explains Daniel Simoncic, director of the Gesù-Centre de créativité, while still leaving space for discernment. “As we work on the building’s structural problems, we’re able at the same time to reflect on the future of the Gesù.” The project—carried out collaboratively—is rooted in the specific context of downtown Montreal and its entertainment district, but also responds to the universal search for meaning and peace.
What is the status of the Avenir Gesù project?
The project is progressing, and we are now in a period of reflection, a time of healing even, in order to determine what we would really like to do with the amphitheatre and what its link with the church would be. Indeed, the church is important: the reason people come to the Gesù is not necessarily because of the amphitheatre but because it’s a spiritual place. However, the connection between the auditorium and the church is physically challenging, with narrow staircases, a passageway near the restrooms… I think we really need to change this situation.
What is the connection between the chapel upstairs (which can accommodate up to 1,100 people), the amphitheatre and the Jesuit residence? How can we get all these different groups of people involved? Responding to these questions is the goal of the project.
Avenir Gesù’s aim, of course, is to bring these three areas together in a way that is consistent with the objectives of the Jesuits of Canada—as discerned in the Universal Apostolic Preferences and embodied in Pilgrims Together—with art and spirituality, as well as education.
What are the next steps in the Avenir Gesù project?
The next steps, beyond raising awareness, are difficult to assess because in many ways, we’re limited by the extensive work that must be done in the transept of the Gesù that amounts to millions of dollars. So this is what we must address in order to achieve our mission. Everything happens for a reason: maybe we need more time to reflect on the project.
That said, we have a vision for the future, with art and spirituality as the driving force. For example, we’d like to create a festival around these themes. We are, after all, at the Place des Festivals! There is a jazz festival, a comedy festival, but people also want to encounter something that awakens their sense of spirituality. I’m not talking about a conversion festival, obviously, but an event that invites people to go deeper, to discover who they are, and to find peace. With 2,000 new neighbours in the condo towers, I think we have something unique to offer in a spiritual space where art and spirituality can come together in an expression of liberation and passion.
Who are you working with to bring this project to fruition?
We work in collaboration with many people: the board of directors, the employees, but also with our neighbours and others, such as the provincial Erik Oland and members of the Gesù Jesuit community.
And I personally am working on it because I believe it’s a magnificent project. For 157 years, the Gesù has been Montreal’s leading cultural institution. It’s the first theatre, the first platform for artists. It’s one of the driving forces of cultural energy in Montreal and Quebec.
We’re confident that the Spirit will show us the next steps to take.