By Colleen Hogan
Born on the South Shore of Montreal into a non-religious but loving family Louis Félix Valiquette experienced a desire for something more as a teenager. He followed this desire to the local Catholic church, beginning a journey of faith filled with joy, doubt, service, and love—ultimately leading to his job as the new campus minister at Loyola High School in Montreal.
You received the sacraments when you were 15, without the support of your family. Did anyone help you begin to navigate faith and spirituality?
I wanted to be accompanied by someone on my spiritual journey. The diocesan pastoral coordinator—who knew me from my catechism classes—asked Claude (Hamelin, who at that time was the vicar general and is now the bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil) if he would accompany me. He is now like a father to me. In him, I saw that faith is something you can live daily, happily, by helping others. I have beautiful memories of taking walks with Claude. As soon as we saw a homeless person sitting on the ground, he would get on his knees and talk with them, just chatting, as a normal human being.
Initially, the only thing I understood about faith was that it was a spiritual, inaccessible, mystical thing. But Claude taught me that faith is not just saying prayers and going to Mass. It’s about what we do, how we live the teachings of Christ with our brothers and sisters, the most marginalized.
[Faith] is about what we do, how we live the teachings of Christ with our brothers and sisters, the most marginalized.
How was your spirituality rooted in ecology?
I was going through a difficult time when I was 18. I was profoundly unhappy, living with a lot of anxiety. I had no purpose. I went to live at Ferme Berthe-Rousseau, where I met one of the most influential people in my life, Martin (Couture), a founder of the farm. The farm’s mission is to host people who are facing difficulties. And Martin received everyone with the same love and respect. He gave more than 100 percent of himself to everybody there.
In Martin, I saw the most important part of faith: simplicity. He is a farmer. He works with his hands in the soil. He eats what he grows. I lived at the farm for four months. I wanted to spend time among the crops, with the animals. I felt that call inside me. I saw that faith can be lived in the natural world. You cannot trust and believe in God if you don’t take care of God’s creation. That was extremely important for me. It was a time of discernment about what kind of faith I wanted to develop.
How has Ignatian or Jesuit spirituality been a part of your faith life?
I attended two retreats at the Villa Saint-Martin. Those retreats were the first time I had experienced Ignatian practices and conversation. The Ignatian tradition is so rich and has powerful teachings, but more importantly, its spiritual practices are simple, practical, accessible, and easy to learn.
One of the things that I’m happy about at Loyola High School is that every day we start with prayer, and on Fridays we start with the Examen (a “spiritual check-in” akin to how we might reflect on the highs and lows of our day). Also, during the two-week preparation time for all the faculty and staff, we have nonstop spiritual conversations. All faculty and staff participate, from the maintenance crew to the principal and the teachers. We sat in small groups to reflect on the Gospel and our mission. This is something that I hope we will do with every student. I hope that these tools will be helpful for the students because too often faith seems complicated. But these Ignatian tools show us that faith is a simple thing that requires regular practice.
These Ignatian tools show us that faith is a simple thing that requires regular practice.
Service has been an important part of your spiritual journey. How are you integrating that with your work as Loyola’s campus minister?
We have the Christian Service Program (CSP), and right now, the students can volunteer in places where they can help the poor and the marginalized. One of our objectives is to make this program essential in their Jesuit formation and to make sure that it is truly Christian, which I think means doing what Christ has asked us, as laid out in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25.
We also have the campus ministry teams, which are mainly student-leadership groups. We are looking to encourage these teams to become more pastoral, which for me means focusing on answering Christ’s call in this school community. What are the school’s needs right now? Are there any groups in the school that are in need of our support? It’s the first year the school has welcomed girls, for example. What could we do to make them feel completely at home in our community?
What is something you hope to impart to your students this year?
I was at World Youth Day. There were multitudes of people from everywhere, and I thought: Isn’t this what God wants for our countries? To be multicultural, to be full of people from everywhere, from all orientations, all colours, all faiths? To understand that whoever we are, whatever our history or difficulties or disabilities or beliefs or way of loving or lifestyle, we have the same God-given dignity. We have been created by the same God, we’ve been loved by the same God, we’ve been accompanied by the same God, and we are walking with him. He awaits us at the very place we are.
Christ asks us to do in Matthew 25 is to give people shelter, to visit them in prison, to give them food, to give them clothes when they’re cold, to love them. That’s the only job we have. The rest is God’s job. I hope that as the campus minister I can show people that I’m ready to accept them and journey with them.
Founded in 1896, Loyola High School provides a Jesuit, Catholic education forming students to be intellectually competent, religious, loving and committed to promoting justice. Loyola High School accompanies young people of all backgrounds, beliefs and traditions, to cultivate their unique talents, nurturing a sense of compassion for others and active participation in the community.