Adam J. Lalonde, SJ
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
- Learned and practiced the art of spiritual direction.
- Participated in a 28-day journey in canoes with a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous paddlers from the Shrine of the Canadian Martyrs (Midland, Ontario) to the Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha (Kahnawake Mohawk Territory), encouraging truth and reconciliation.
- Met the people of God in different cultures and languages all over the world.
Will continue working on a Licentiate in Sacred Theology and a Master of Theology at Regis College, while doing pastoral ministry part-time.
Adam J. Lalonde, SJ, was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario. By the age of 16 he felt a calling to minister in the church after a mission trip to Guyana. He first encountered the Jesuits through his high school chaplain. She thought the Society of Jesus would be a good fit because of his interests in social justice, spirituality, and his love of learning. He attended the University of Toronto (St. Michael’s College) where he completed an undergraduate degree specializing in Mediaeval Studies with a minor in Christianity and Culture. After graduation he worked for two years in administration at the University of Ottawa before finally deciding to enter the novitiate. As a novice, Adam visited isolated elderly people, taught catechesis to children, gave communion at the hospital and spent five months working in Belize. After taking vows he was sent back to the University of Toronto for two years of philosophy at Regis College. Working at a soup kitchen and with refugees during the academic year, he spent a summer getting into retreat ministry for the first time and another learning Spanish in Venezuela. Adam was then sent to Loyola High School in Montreal, where he taught grades 7, 8 and 11 in geography, history, religion, contemporary world issues, and philosophy. For a third year of regency, he worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There he was responsible for the secondary education program at Masisi Base, supporting schools and students in and around refugee camps in an insecure region. After this experience Adam was sent back to Toronto to complete a Master of Divinity at Regis College. Highlights of those years include completing training as a spiritual director at Loyola House in Guelph, Ontario, and doing the Arrupe Month with the scholastics at the Ateneo de Manila in the Philippines. He is currently completing a Master of Theology and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at Regis College focusing on medieval historical theology, while doing pastoral ministry part-time.
Honours Bachelor of Arts, Mediaeval Studies, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto; Diploma of Philosophy, Regis College, University of Toronto; Master of Divinity, Regis College, University of Toronto; Bachelor of Sacred Theology, Regis College, University of Toronto
Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
One of my favorite saints is Thomas More. I first encountered him through Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons.” I have always felt that that Bolt captured something of the essence of Thomas’ holiness even though he was more concerned with Thomas as a humanist. Had Thomas lived to see the rise of the Society of Jesus in the decades following his execution I think he would have appreciated both the Society and its founders. He was a man of deep learning, but he was not puffed up by it. He took on high office and responsibility when asked, but he did not seek honours nor confuse them with his identity. When the king suddenly declared himself as head of the church in England, Thomas had everything to gain by following the vast majority of magnates and clergy and accepting the king’s decision. He chose to lose everything instead. His resistance was nonviolent. He chose to give up everything the world tells us most valuable — wealth, power, reputation — for what he knew was right. He held to this to the end with dignity and tranquility.
There are many Jesuit saints who also died for their faith in England and elsewhere in the centuries that followed, but there is something captivating for me in the steadfastness of this man who was not a priest or a vowed religious and still chose God over the world. That also makes him a model for a world where we vowed religious and priests are fewer and fewer. It is increasingly in the hands of the laity to take leadership in the work of standing up for the Gospel values of justice, mercy and love.
At the same time, Thomas’ example is not only about remaining steadfast but responding in tranquility — fully confident that all will be made well in Christ. That seems to me like a good remedy to reactionary movements in the Church that respond to threats to a life of faith out of fear, manifesting a prideful stance and angry replies. In the process of doing this we end up building a fortress around ourselves as if we are a “chosen few” and as if God did not want us to continually reach out to our brothers and sisters who are lost. If we are truly confident in the Holy Spirit, we will follow the example of Jesus and walk toward the cross in sadness, but also in peace and hope, founded on rock-solid faith that resurrection lies beyond it.
What’s one interesting fact about yourself not everyone would know?
I get very caught up in the beauty of nature and find God in it most easily. It makes me a terrible person to go on a walk with through the woods. Most people I walk with seem to like to enjoy the exercise of a good walk and scenery as it goes rushing by. I enjoy stopping frequently and getting lost in the beauty of a particular scene, so you can expect me to drag my heels. There is something about natural beauty that plays on my affect to make me suddenly feel alive and aware in a new way and deeply aware of God’s presence. While I often enjoy a good walk with someone to get deep in conversation, I regularly need other walks alone simply to enjoy beauty. I never miss the opportunity when I am in Montreal in the summer, for example, to visit the vast botanical gardens there where I will spend a whole day wandering from spot to spot, taking in the beautiful displays and learning about the various plants, their history, and roles in ecology.
For this reason, one of my favorite initiatives in our province is the old growth forest we have committed to restoring on our land in Guelph, Ontario. Although I am not nearly as committed to ecological imperatives as I ought to be (we do have some men in our province who really inspire me in their commitments to this), I am captivated by the image of humanity as stewards of creation. There is the important question of environmental science here too (in which I have no expertise), but for me it is the affective experience of stewardship, seeing the beauty of the complex interactions of life, and how we can foster these webs of life that is important. This is where I learn something profound in what it means to be human. It speaks to the harmonious ordering of an inner life. When I have been in dangerous and stressful situations it has been this contemplation of beauty that somehow gave me the ability to see God around me and manage the turbulence within.
What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
One of the most important moments in my formation was the pilgrimage experiment as a novice. I went out for weeks begging my way for food and shelter to get to the shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré (which is about 30 km north of Québec City) from the novitiate in Montréal. I made it, and then ended up all the way in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which involved its own adventures (not on foot, though!). With no plans made, I was relying solely on Providence. I have previously told others that before that experience I had an intellectual acceptance of Providence. Afterward Providence became an integral belief through a deeply etched experience. For once in my life, there was just me and God and a total reliance on God for survival. Walking every day through the sometimes-hilly terrain, going a little further back into a cold spring as I headed north, putting up with injuries, there was a quality of solitude with God that was different than even on the 40-day experience of silence in the Spiritual Exercises. There I had a warm shelter and meals prepared for me as I contemplated in silence all day. In the pilgrimage my body was as in need of God’s help as much as my spirit, and nothing was guaranteed.
On the journey I felt a profound connection to the voice of God within guiding my way. I met wonderful people — lay, secular clergy and fellow religious — who helped me along the way. But the encounter always seemed mutually beneficial: an older couple who had never realised how profoundly Christian they were; a bed-and-breakfast owner who needed prayers for a son whose life had been derailed; a young man encouraged to see a novice in a society he thought had no more use for religious practice. … I could go on. The priests and religious I encountered were often delighted to see a young religious since I was only 25 at the time. Most orders in Québec have not seen a vocation in decades and even diocesan vocations are few. I marveled and was deeply moved by a diocesan priest in his 80s who took me in one night. He still managed (what used to be) three parishes in a large region all alone in rural Québec because there was no one younger to take his place.
I don’t think I’ll ever know what God was doing in the lives of the people I met or how the encounter helped them. That is their story. But I believe it was there. For myself it was one long school of the spiritual life. It gave me insight into a phenomenon I would witness often in the next 10 years: the depth of faith in those who have little material goods and little power. Working in the developing world, it is rare to come across someone with no faith whatsoever. There is joy even in the midst of suffering. In contrast the developed world seems to suffer from this spiritual illness even as it drowns in comfort and security. Increasingly we shun not just religion but faith itself. Even as people feel increasingly unhappy, disconnected, or even clinically depressed, we fail to see the connection. I came to realize that when we are stripped of everything, we can no longer fool ourselves that we are in control of anything. We are forced to be attentive to the fact that all is gift. With that comes gratitude to something greater than ourselves.
What brings you joy?
My moments of joy in the Society have been moments of encounter with God in others. Like most Jesuits I have learned out of necessity to manage myself well enough with large events when this mission requires it, but I think my joy comes in the quiet and hidden work in the vineyard of the Lord. This is the kind of work which often goes unnoticed but provides fruit in abundance. For me the one-on-one work of seeing a soul grow in relationship with God is where I find my true joy.
This comes to me primarily in the privileged experience of spiritual direction. I have always taken Ignatius’ directive in Annotation 15 as of paramount importance: Let the creature deal directly with the Creator and the Creator directly with the creature. My role then is a facilitation of this encounter wherein I become more and more invisible as the person before me develops in their relationship with God. It is humbling to be invited into the inner life of others, and I treat those holy moments with great reverence. This can take a great deal of energy, being as attentive to God speaking to me in the moment as I am to the sharing of the person before me. But there can be great spiritual joy in this even as it can be exhausting at times.
Along with that has been the privilege of being invited into the world of people that surround me. In the spirit of the first Jesuits, the road has been my home over the past decade. The journey of formation has taken me all over the world: various parts of Canada and the U.S., Belize, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Spain, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines. This, too, can be fatiguing at times, but I find joy in the encounter of people in their own lands, cultures and languages. I am a great lover of learning these things because greeting another in their language or sharing something of their cultural identity is honouring who they are and the unique ways in which they know God. This in turn becomes not just a window, but a door into working with others.