We should not let this part of the year 2011 pass without observing an important anniversary. Four hundred years ago, on May 22, 1611, Pentecost Sunday, two Jesuit priests, Father Pierre Biard and Father Enemond Massé arrived at Port Royal in Acadia, at what is now part of Canada. This was the first presence of the Society of Jesus in this country, and the beginning of a prominent missionary and priestly presence. To accomplish his missionary task, against great opposition, Fr. Biard had had to purchase part ownership in the ship that brought them here. They encountered serious resistance from other French settlers, but were successful in their vocation of getting a Catholic community established.
Now, 400 years later, we still recognize and extol the works of this Society across the nation. Over the many years, that order founded numerous missions and parishes, schools and colleges.
My own university career was marked by the teaching of Jesuits, at university of Sudbury College, which dates back to 1913, and continues, in the long tradition of rigorous scholarship. Little did I realize that my own travels would take me, in January of this anniversary year, to an establishment intimately connected to Catholic Missions In Canada (CMIC), namely, Anishinabe, on Anderson Lake in the Manitoulin region in Ontario. Anishinabe is a well constructed complex of log and wooden buildings with chapels, meeting circles, gathering spaces and residence accommodations. There, with the help of CMIC, four Jesuits conduct a program of training in ministry, to enable First Nations Catholics to animate their own spiritual and pastoral works and catechetical projects. There, they foster the sharing and closeness in the Spirit that become true communities of Christians. These priests also go out to celebrate the liturgies weekly and daily at several native parishes in their circuit, on and off Manitoulin Island.
In addition, CMIC has been assisting the ministries of several Jesuits in various parishes across the country. Recently, we have helped a Jesuit in charge of ministry to the deaf in Winnipeg, and also the priests continuing their vital presence in Thunder Bay diocese.
Of course, we are aware of the heroic witness to Christ of the Jesuit Martyrs at the present sites near Midland and New York State, where the priests and companions were slain to show the courage of their faith convictions to those who misunderstood their motives. They rank as the “protomartyrs” of the Catholic faith in Canada, and St. Jean de Brébeuf with St. Gabriel Lalemant and Companions are claimed as our own first saints and martyrs.
Catholic Missions In Canada remembers the contribution of the Society of Jesus to the Canadian Church, and prays for its continued growth. We offer our prayers for Jesuit seminarians and novices, for those soon to be ordained to the priesthood, and also for the many who are working in houses of theological formation and further study to instil the ideals of their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, in the present and future generations.
We hope also that the presence of the Jesuit order remains visible and strong in our country and in our missions, preaching to the people the truth of Christ’s presence in His sacraments, and showing us how Christ is alive in one another, and how strong His presence can be among our First Nations.