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Brother Bernard Hudon, SJ

“The best week of my life was spent on a canoe-camping trip with the Pioneer Scout. We paddled a hundred kilometers, we only had five minutes of rain, and it was extraordinary,” said Brother Bernard Hudon, a Jesuit from Quebec, after I had asked him to share some of the moments of deepest consolation that he had experienced during his life. Nature and connection with others, especially as an educator, were key elements of this interview that makes one want to immerse oneself in nature.

Here is the story of a Jesuit who calls himself “one of God’s biologists”

How did your relationship with nature influence your spirituality and guide you to the Jesuits?

I was shaped by the Scout movement, as a youth and as a leader. The idea of social awareness and contact with nature marked me a lot. Then I became an instructor at a summer camp. I felt as comfortable sitting on a log as I did in a La-Z-Boy recliner. I lived my spiritual experiences in the forest, being close to young people.

In fact, once I became a Jesuit, I discovered that the Scout prayer was a Jesuit prayer and that the Society had launched the Scout movement in the French-speaking world. So, basically, I discovered that my spirituality was indirectly shaped by the Jesuits.

Then I did my studies in the city. I have a diploma in science, a bachelor’s degree in biology. But every summer I would go back to the forest, and the idea of vocation would always come to mind. In the winter, I would try to fight against it by studying. After graduating, I found a job as a teacher in a program for wildlife conservation officers. Two months after I started teaching, the vocational question returned. So, at that point I figured I really had to address “this problem” before I could go any further.

Brother Hudon (right) celebrating 25 years as a Jesuit

I had heard about a house that belonged to the Séminaire de Québec where we could continue our work or our studies while reflecting on our vocation. I ended up spending two years there while studying for a teaching certificate. One thing led to another, and while I was on an Easter Triduum retreat, it seemed that everything spoke to me of the Jesuits, even from the very first meditation. I had made a vocational retreat at the Jesuit novitiate the previous Christmas and had discerned at that time to become a priest at the Séminaire de Québec…so I was a bit taken aback. Even though I thought I had made my decision, I had to start discerning again!

Then, with the encouragement of the superior of the major seminary, I contacted the Jesuits again and became a candidate.  I still had some teaching left to do in order to get my teaching certificate, which I wanted to have before entering the Society to make sure that if it didn’t work out, I could find a job as a teacher. I entered the novitiate on February 1, 1992.

So for you, the relationship with nature is not only essential, it’s a source of consolation.

Yes, my first spiritual experience took place when I was out in nature as a counselor at a summer camp. It made a big impression on me. I was sitting, leaning against a tree, on the shore of a lake. It was an experience of feeling God’s love, in a personal way, and also in a communal way, because I had to take care of a group of young people.

On another occasion, still at camp, I woke up before sunrise, even though I’m not a morning person. I could hear the birds waking up, too, one after the other. At the end of August, there is always a morning fog that hangs over the lakes, and so I didn’t yet know if it was going to be rainy or sunny that day. Everything was all gray. And when you are a counselor for 24 young people, a rainy day can be a real challenge. I took a canoe and went out on the lake as the fog began to slowly lift. Finally, a blue sky appeared, and for me it was a revelation that life is stronger than death; that the light of day can break through the fog of our lives.

It was amazing just to feel the life that I had begun to experience in the morning as more and more birds started to sing, one species after another.

For me, it is absolutely essential to go out into the woods at least once a month. For the record, when we do our admission interviews before entering the Jesuits, we meet with four Jesuits separately to speak about our vocation. I shared with one of them that I really need to spend time regularly in the forest, where I find considerable spiritual nourishment. He answered: “Ah, you’ll see, we have a log cabin right next to a lake. That should be just what you need.” So, from my first month in the novitiate, I went to see our small villa in Saint-Michel. And when I saw the log house near the lake, I was really impressed.

Were you able to continue your connection with nature even after you joined the Jesuits?

During the novitiate, we have to do a long internship. I worked with the journal Relations. I put together a special report on forest management in Quebec. And then, during my 30-day retreat, it was clear to me and to the novice master that I was called to continue working in the field of ecology, so I was encouraged to stay as up to date as possible in the field. I participated in the annual conference of biologists almost every year. And then I did a master’s degree in ethics at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, and I did my thesis on the forest industry in Quebec.

Brother Hudon at work at the Gesù

After that, I spent my regency working for the Canadian Religious Conference where I created an environment committee and sat on the social justice committee. I also put together a brief on the environment issue that I presented to the National Assembly regarding a project to reform the Forest Act.

After my theology studies, I worked with the Centre justice et foi. I found the research and writing for Relations to be very stimulating. And I am now a bursar and an accountant, because in the meantime I earned a certificate in accounting!

In other words, your work in the Society of Jesus combines social justice with ecology.

For Jesuits, social involvement through the combination of faith and justice is essential. Social analysis is very important for me; working on structures, for example, when we offer input to the National Assembly (where I present three times) on behalf of people who are poor and marginalized. What motivates me is my love of nature.

Ultimately, my spiritual experience has found its expression in my love for creation and creatures which has led me to love the Creator.

Your mission is obviously also deeply spiritual, for example, through the retreats you offer at Villa Saint-Michel.

We use the natural sciences in our contemplation of nature. We go out into nature to observe the plants and trees and to learn how to identify them. Plankton is harvested from the lake and examined under a microscope. This allows us to discover a whole world at the base of the lake’s food chain that people hardly know anything about. Ultimately, the goal is to contemplate nature. You have to love nature to appreciate it and give thanks to the Creator.

When we do the evaluation at the end of the retreat, people say that they have changed or learned a lot and that this experience has made them more aware of loving nature and the creator. This gives me great joy. To be able to offer these sessions, given that I still have the vocation to be a teacher, really nourishes me.

Spiritual Exercises
Les Exercices Spirituels

La mission du Centre Manrèse est orientée par les Exercices Spirituels d'Ignace de Loyola, adaptés pour les personnes laïques qui veulent par exemple prendre une grande décision, choisir ou réformer leur style de vie, approfondir leur relation au Créateur. Cinq cents ans plus tard, l’interprétation des Exercices a évolué, mais ils ont toujours une profondeur spirituelle et psychologique qui les rend pertinents à des personnes de diverses confessions ou sans appartenance religieuse. Les Exercices sont un trésor pour aider les gens de notre époque, abattus par le stress et en quête de boussole, à progresser vers la croissance intérieure. Plus que jamais, les Exercices spirituels s’adressent au peuple de Dieu tout entier, au-delà de des frontières culturelles et religieuses.

Le centre en chiffres

• Formation en accompagnement spirituel
   (les trois cycles) : environ 60 personnes par année 
• Exercices spirituels dans la vie courante ou Retraite de
   30 jours : environ 40 personnes par année
• Ateliers (méditation zen, journal créatif, etc.) : environ
   70 personnes par année
• Accompagnement spirituel personnalisé : environ
   30 personnes par année

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