North to Canada

Tomorrow I will fly to Montréal, Canada for two meetings. The first, and the primary purpose of this trip, is the annual meeting of the religious conferences of the Americas. Each year one of the conferences acts as host, and this year’s honors fall to the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC). In addition to CMSM (Conference of Major Superiors of Men) and LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) we will be joined by CLAR (Conference of Latin American Religious).  Both Canada and Latin America have one conference each that represents both men and women religious; though it would be more proper to say CLAR actually represents the individual religious conferences of the countries that make up Latin America.

As I understand it the US model of separate conferences for men and women religious is not followed in much of the rest of the world. Actually, for historical reasons, there are now two conferences representing women religious in addition to LCWR, there is also the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). However, this group will not be participating in our gathering next week.

Besides the usual reports of what is going on in each of the respective conferences, and religious life in general, I suspect much of our time will deal with the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, and the response of religious to that tragic event and what needs to be done as we move forward. To a lesser degree the same questions may be raised about Chile, though the earthquake that struck there did not have the same impact given the poverty of Haiti.

Following this gathering I will also attend most of the Canadian Religious Assembly that will run from May 27 – 31. Their theme this year is Seize for God the energies of love; choose to live the vowed life. The keynote speakers will be Fr. Sidbe Sempore, OP, and Sister Elaine M. Prevallet, SL.

I am actually going to Canada a few days early to give me an opportunity to spend time with our SCJ brothers in Montréal. We have a community house on Boul. Gouin est that I know very well. During my 12 years on the general council I would make annual visits to the community. For most of that time it was the French Canadian Province, but in June of 2002 they merged with the English Canadian Province to form the SCJ Region of Canada.

Boul. Gouin runs along one of the rivers that make Montréal an island city. At present the Montréal SCJ community has seven members. Several of them are retired including Fr. Reinier van Leeuwen, SCJ, who served for many years in Indonesia. Originally from Holland, he found Canada to his liking when it came time to retire given its large number of Dutch SCJs who first came to Canada after World War II to assist the Dutch immigrants moving to Canada.

While Dutch SCJs are responsible for our current presence in Canada, and the Germans for the United States, this June the Canadian SCJs will host the 100th anniversary celebration of the arrival of SCJs to North America. Fr. Dehon, our founder, sent several French-speaking SCJs to the great plains of Alberta to minister to French Speaking Canadians who had migrated west from Quebec.

During his studies in Rome, Fr. Dehon met a number of North American seminarians, including Louis Nazaire Bégin, who later became archbishop of Quebec City, and Emile Legal, who in 1902, was named bishop of St. Albert in Alberta.

Fr. Dehon was looking for new apostolates and through his on-going correspondence with these friends in Canada, he began to explore the possibility of a presence there.

In 1910  Fr. Dehon sent four SCJs to Alberta and was given pastoral charge of Wainwright, a village on the edge of the Diocese of St. Albert near the Saskatchewan border.  Shortly after their arrival, the founder visited Canada on the occasion of the Eucharistic Congress of Montreal.

Gradually, SCJs took up ministries on various points along the railroad, from Edmunton to the Saskatchewan border.

These first SCJs in North America ministered primarily to French-speaking Catholics.  As the face of western Canada changed, ministry to the French-speaking diminished.  In 1940, the SCJ presence in western Canada ended and the congregation’s focus moved to Ontario and Quebec.

The celebration date is set for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 11th, in Ottawa. Why Ottawa? It is the current headquarters for Canadian SCJs with Fr. William Marrevee, SCJ, the current regional superior. I will return to Canada to participate in the celebration. That visit will be short as the US SCJs will be getting ready to hold their election assembly starting on Monday, June 14th.

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