Before our interview, I had been told that Fr. Marc Rizzetto, SJ, was very funny, very deep, and also…very busy… Nothing I learned in the interview that I finally managed to have with him did anything to dispel these rumours. As a hockey player, photographer, comic book reader (his last read was Gender: A Graphic Guide—“Not just a feel-good read,” he told me, “you really learn something.”), and lover of fast food, this Jesuit has a lust for life combined with a real attentiveness to people of all ages. He represents well the Jesuit value of openness, with the conviction that God is already working “in all things.”
Life isn’t just about youth; it encompasses everything. So, for me, being able to move between different age groups and environments has given me a certain versatility, even as I remain aware that I am in a particular stage of life myself, though I’m not stuck there.
What led you to work with young people?
It was perhaps a bit of an accident. I find it easy to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds. Mostly that means making jokes, but I’m equally at ease when talking about church matters to people in clericals while disguised in my own clericals. (laughs)
In fact, what happened was that at a certain moment in my Jesuit formation, I asked to take a step back from the community. I knew that my community was going to take care of me until the end of my days. But at the same time, I wanted to be hired for my talents and not because I was a Jesuit. During my noviciate, all my friends had to work and do their own shopping, cooking, laundry… And then there was me, who had wanted to take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience but found myself the richest of all the gang. It seemed to me that we were giving a counter-witness to society.
Marc, the photographer
One of the richest and most exciting facets of Marc Rizzetto is photography. His creative eye knows how to capture the deeper meaning behind both everyday and extraordinary moments.
Then I started a job, and it was very, very enriching for me as a Jesuit. Given that I was living in a community, I knew that it would take care of me for the rest of my days. If I were to decide to stay in the community and function as a typical Jesuit, my future would be secure. I would have an infirmary, clothes, a roof—no worries! But at the same time, what I really wanted was to be employed for my own talents and not because I was a Jesuit.
So, over the course of a year that turned out to be critical for me, the job as a spiritual life and community engagement facilitator confirmed my choice and my ability to live outside the community, if I were ever to do that. Community life can become a bit mind-numbing: you don’t do your own grocery shopping or cook your own meals, and in some communities, you don’t even do your own laundry, and you call someone to change the tires on your car.
At the same time, that wasn’t the daily reality of my friends. So, I asked myself what it really meant to want to follow the good Lord, to live in community, in poverty, chastity, and obedience, even though I happened to be the richest guy in the gang, quite literally. As someone for whom poverty and community life are important, I found that we were giving a counter-witness to society. A critical part of my life choice was the desire to be fully engaged with the population in various capacities.
Tell us a little about this apostolate.
The world of school is not the same as the world of the Church—it’s the aspects of social engagement that the students find most stimulating. I asked ethical questions, but always in a playful way that would lead to more meaningful questions. My work was more about forming the students as well-balanced citizens rather than as Catholics per se. I tried to adapt my teaching to the students. For example, going to prepare food in a shelter for the homeless is often an important experience for secondary school students. When they wonder where homeless people come from and realize that they could come from among their close friends or relatives, there’s a certain challenge that emerges.
You also worked in France for two years.
Yes. I was sent to Paris for my studies, and I worked as a chaplain in a secondary school called Collège Lycée Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague, or “Franklin” for those in the know. Much of the student body included the children of bankers, ministers, and political figures. As for me, I ended up as the chaplain for the secondes, the equivalent of Secondary III. Sec-III is when you’re a bit silly; you have long arms and legs, and you’re not quite sure of who you are. It’s a fantastic but awkward age.
I helped prepare many of the kids for the sacrament of confirmation. It was informal; there was a book that we read together, we went to visit a mosque and some Buddhist temples—lots of things to provoke conversation. There was also a pastoral dimension, the preparation for the sacrament with a team of parents.
It was really interesting to interact with them. As far as I was concerned, I was the weird one—I was tall, I was fat, I made jokes, I spoke “funny,” according to them, I had a denim jacket—but somehow, we clicked. So, for the two years that I was in Paris to study, I continued to work with adolescents.
One of the parents of the kids in the preparation group for confirmation was a man called Brunor who made comic books. He had one series called Les Indices Pensables. He was a nice guy, really interesting. I got the chance to work with him and his wife. We were “coordinators.” They were the ones in charge, I was just the third wheel who lent a hand, the Jesuit in service, but with a whole team of parents who wanted their kids to experience something interesting for their confirmation.
The kids asked questions: “My parents are so annoying, they’re making me get confirmed, but they don’t go to mass. Why the contradiction? Why am I doing this?” I wanted them to make the decision themselves and not their parents, so I may have stirred up a few arguments in some Parisian apartments. One has to be coherent; the kids aren’t obliged to be confirmed if they don’t want to be. They have to make the decision themselves.
You were also a military chaplain from 2011 to 2014.
At the moment, I celebrate mass at the Valcartier military base, and I bless military marriages, but I used to be a chaplain for the armed reserves. I did my training in 2012, which could sometimes be pretty intense. I learned a lot about myself, about group cohesion, and about how to create objectives and stick to them.
I did it because the Canadian Armed Forces is one of the best places to do pastoral work and to meet young people. It allows us to be in contact with many people and to accompany those who are returning from deployment as they go through their reintegration process.
I recognized the importance and scope of this work.
What place do the Jesuits have in the lives of young people today?
I think that you have to find your own sense of equilibrium before going to see others. Imposing your faith on others stops them from having freedom of choice, As Jesuits, we try to help people make their own decisions and discern the values that are important to them. It takes longer, but at least the decision is better informed.
But you are also close to older Jesuits, why?
During an experiment in my noviciate, I was asked to go to the Jesuit infirmary. It allowed me to get to know my older brothers. It was a way of learning more about their work and the evolution of the Church and the community. These people prayed for us daily, so it still gives me great pleasure even today to stop by to hear their news, to listen to them and share a bit of what I do.
It also allows me to take pictures of them since I tell them that I need photos for the yearbook, haha! People know that when they are in Richelieu, the next step is the cemetery. They understand that it’s a normal part of getting old.
My way of giving back is being interested in who they are.
Do you have time to take a vacation?
This year, I am going to experience my third Love Boat (a reference to a TV show from my childhood). Some cruises look for priests to conduct masses in exchange for cabin and board. We do like a draft and apply for three cruises. (laughs)
It’s a way of taking some vacation time. There’s the mass but also all the conversations with people who speak of their pain, joy, hopes, and even politics. I find it fun to be able to see the world in a different way.
“I’m looking forward to learning more about myself,” concluded Fr. Rizzetto. “Such a big mandate in so few words—I hope I’ve accomplished my mission!”
His favourite Jesuit joke?
A Jesuit is taking part in a conference dedicated to the religious vow of obedience. Someone asks him: “Your order places a lot of importance on the vow of obedience. How do you make sure the Jesuits stay faithful to this vow?”
In reality, it’s simple. Our superiors first ask us what we like to do, then they give it to us as our mission, in that way we never have any problems with obedience.
But the audience member insists:
“Yes, but don’t you have any brothers who don’t know what they want to do? And if so, what do you do with them?”
“We call them superiors!” the Jesuit responds.
SOCIETY OF JESUS, COMMUNITY SUPERIOR: 2013–PRESENT
DIOCESE OF QUEBEC, PASTORAL LEADER FOR YOUTH AND VOCATIONS: 2015–2019
COLLÈGE SAINT-CHARLES-GARNIER, SPIRITUAL CARE AND GUIDANCE AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT ANIMATOR: 2015–2019
COLLÈGE JEAN-DE-BRÉBEUF, SPIRITUAL CARE AND GUIDANCE AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT ANIMATOR: 2008–2013
FRANKLIN—SAINT LOUIS-DE-GONZAGUE, CHAPLAIN: 2006–2008
COMMISSION SCOLAIRE DES AFFLUENTS, SPIRITUAL CARE AND GUIDANCE AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT ANIMATOR: 2005–2006