THORNHILL, Ontario — Canada's French- and English-speaking Jesuits plan to rejoin into a single Canadian province of the world's largest Catholic religious order of men.
Father Peter Bisson, provincial superior of the Jesuits in English Canada, spoke about the plans at the annual Jesuit Provincial's Dinner April 9. The merger, to be realized over the next several years, first needs approval from Jesuit Father Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Jesuits in Rome.
The new shape of the Canadian Jesuits will challenge English-speaking members of the order to work across one of Canada's most enduring cultural divides and in one of the most secularized societies in the world, Father Bisson said.
"We will be changed. We will be affected. We will be transformed in ways we cannot predict," he said.
With 149 Jesuit priests and brothers and a generally younger profile, the English-speaking Jesuits will become the dominant partner in the new entity. There are 129 French Canadian Jesuits.
During the last decade, the two provinces have shared a common, bilingual novitiate which requires Anglophones aspiring to take first vows to learn French and Francophones to learn English. There are five English-speaking and one French-speaking novices enrolled in the two-year program.
The two provinces have operated their archives in common since 2009. The collections, which date to 1611, are housed in Montreal.
A merger would return Canada's Jesuits to the single province structure they had in 1907 when the Canadian Independent Mission of the Society of Jesus became a full-fledged province. It wasn't until 1924 that the French-dominated Canadian province had enough English-speaking members to justify breaking it into two provinces, although the English-speaking Jesuits remained a vice-province until 1939.
The English province was known as the Upper Canada province until 2006 when it officially changed its name to the Jesuits in English Canada. At that point, the Quebec province became the Gallo-Canadensis Societatis Jesu.
The future headquarters for the order in Canada, elections for a common provincial superior and his assistants and the status of various Jesuit ministries in the two provinces have not been decided.
Jesuits in Canada before Pope Clement XIV suppressed the order in 1773 were missionaries sent from France. This year, the Jesuits are celebrating the 200th anniversary of their restoration by Pope Pius VII at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.