By Fannie Dionne
Marcel Lapointe, SJ—Jesuit, artist, and teacher—was born in Magog, Quebec in 1928. He studied at Sherbrooke Seminary and Collège Sainte-Marie in Montreal before joining the Society of Jesus in 1952. Ordained a priest in 1963, he enrolled in 1966 at the École des Beaux-arts de Montréal, where he was introduced to the art of printmaking with the help of Albert Dumouchel.
“With Marcel, the man, the artist, and the spiritual came together in one person. And he offered this person very simply to those he met and through his artistic work,” Jesuit-artist Fr. Daniel LeBlond explains. The many writings found in his personal archives also highlight his deep conviction that it was through artistic creation and the teaching of the arts, especially to young people, that he best lived out his religious vocation.
Here are three facets of this Jesuit’s life.
“Marcel was above all an exceptional person who had a gift for deep, attentive listening and an extraordinary capacity for friendship. His vulnerabilities shaped the man and the artist that he was,” writes LeBlond.
Other testimonies also speak to his great sensitivity. “He could experience very strong emotions, but he could also sense the mood of the other person,” recalls Fr. Bernard Carrière, SJ. “I remember that sometimes, when I arrived at his house, he would ask, ‘What’s bothering you?’ because he sensed that something was amiss just by the way I looked.”
He also had a great sense of humour and a rare personal warmth. His very engaging personality led him to form good relationships with his confreres and enabled him to maintain many friendships outside the Society of Jesus.
“The people who had Marcel Lapointe as a teacher still speak of him, even 20 or 30 years later, as someone who marked their lives,” says Fr. Michel “Jim” Lefebvre, SJ. With classical music as a backdrop, Fr. Lapointe taught art classes at Collège Jean de Brébeuf for a good part of his life, from 1964 to 1996.
René Massicotte, a former student at Collège Jean de Brébeuf, agrees: “My memories are still very vivid and indelible. I did not consider Marcel a Jesuit ‘father,’ but an artist and a very talented teacher. His way of teaching, his sensitivity, and his patience were exemplary! Studying at Brébeuf was a unique experience, and having Marcel as my art teacher was an enormous privilege. I will treasure his insights for the rest of my life.”
“Studying at Brébeuf was a unique experience, and having Marcel as my art teacher was an enormous privilege. I will treasure his insights for the rest of my life.”
“He was an absolutely remarkable educator,” notes Lefebvre. “For me, an educator is someone who transcends the subject matter and who, in addition to focusing on the content of the course he is to teach, will be deeply attentive to the student who is in front of him. The students knew that they could count on him when they needed him.”
Indeed, he connected with his students, seeing each one as a unique individual with a particular story. At the end of his teaching career, for example, when his hair had turned grey, a tall young man asked him, “Can I call you ‘grandpa’?” And he responded, “If it makes you happy!”
At the end of his teaching career, for example, when his hair had turned grey, a tall young man asked him, “Can I call you ‘grandpa’?” And he responded, “If it makes you happy!”
Fr. Lapointe was also admired and respected by his students because he was a good teacher and knew how to stimulate and encourage those he instructed in the practice of artistic expression, as demanding in execution as drawing and engraving can be.
But art class did not mean “easy class.” The teacher commanded respect. Students who arrived one minute late were not allowed to enter the classroom. He also insisted that people put their tables in order at the end of the day. If students failed to do so, they were sure to hear about it the next day. These lessons were learned quickly. The Jesuit’s rigour showed students that an art course was as valuable as a physics or mathematics course and therefore was to be taken seriously. This rigour also taught young people, often from privileged backgrounds, the importance of fulfilling certain obligations.
The Jesuit’s rigour showed students that an art course was as valuable as a physics or mathematics course and therefore was to be taken seriously.
“For me, Marcel was above all an engraver and a draftsman. His engravings express his extreme sensitivity and his depth of perspective that enabled him to dialogue with everything around him. Depth of perspective — he particularly loved trees. He drew them for hours. For him, each one was unique. I know now that each tree expressed to him the uniqueness of each being,” writes LeBlond. “The trees and their deep roots represented deep connections,” adds Carrière.
Fr. Lapointe was painting even before he joined the Society of Jesus. After his studies at the École des Beaux-arts de Montréal, he practiced engraving, in all its forms, for more than 35 years, while devoting himself to drawing and graphic design.
Even though he produced a lot, he was seldom in the spotlight. In fact, everyone agrees that he did not like social events and therefore did not exhibit much. This is the paradox of an artist who preferred solitary work and did not seek recognition because he did not feel comfortable in a crowd. But he did share his passion for art with others. Carrière remembers that Fr. Lapointe drew him into the world of the artists whose exhibitions they visited and that he also shared his relationship with nature, which is essential to the painter.
Fr. Lapointe was responsible for the art collection of the French-Canadian Province of the Society of Jesus and a member of the committee to safeguard the religious heritage of the Diocese of Montreal. He also taught at the printmaking workshop of the Centre de créativité du Gesù in downtown Montreal from 1996 until his death in 2008.
LeBlond remembers, “At his worktable, in the twilight of his life, lay a piece of wood in the making. His final creation. A tree. But this time, for the first time, it was gently returning to the Earth. Marcel knew.”