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  • 1 Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

    Founded in 1534 by Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the Society of Jesus (or Jesuits) is the largest men’s religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. Known for their widespread missionary work and commitment to education, Jesuits are characterized by a combination of discipline, academic rigor and religious zeal. A marked devotion to the papacy is another distinguishing feature of the Jesuit order. Jesuits first arrived in present-day Ontario in 1634 when they followed the route established in 1615 by Récollet missionaries (and Champlain soon thereafter) that led from Montreal to the south shores of Georgian Bay via the Ottawa and French rivers. In 1639, they founded the mission-village of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons near present-day Midland. There they hoped to develop a Christian community comprised of both Europeans and aboriginals. The village, however, was a casualty of the Iroquois Wars and its residents were forced to burn and flee the mission in 1649. Eight Jesuit missionaries who died during the Iroquois Wars have been canonized – including Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, Gabriel Lalement, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier, Noël Chabanel, René Goupil and Jean de la Lande. Despite events at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, Jesuits continued to establish missions throughout present-day Ontario. As the region’s Catholic population grew, so did Jesuit institutions within it. The first major Jesuit outpost to be established in the province after the fall of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was the mission of the Assumption at La Pointe de Montréal (Windsor). This mission served both the area’s sizable French-speaking population and Huron who had relocated there after the Iroquois Wars. It became the Parish of the Assumption in 1767 and is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in Ontario. Bowing to pressure from secular European rulers, Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuit order in 1773. This decision hampered Jesuit activity in Upper Canada until well after the society’s restoration in 1814. There remained, however, a Jesuit presence in the region because Bishop Briand of Quebec decided against informing the Jesuit pastor at the Assumption (Father Potier) of the order’s disbandment. In the mid-19th century, Jesuits resumed operations in the province and established a number of missions in remote communities, including Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island in 1844, Sault Ste. Marie in 1846 and Fort William (Thunder Bay) in 1849. They were also the first order to serve Roman Catholic Germans in the Waterloo region. Throughout the following century and a half, Jesuits founded missions, parishes, schools and seminaries throughout Ontario. In 1924, the Jesuits of Ontario gained a large degree of administrative autonomy with the creation of the Jesuit Vice-Province of Upper Canada. At the time, the order had 30 missions, nine parishes and six colleges under their direction. Often working in close co-operation with diocesan clergy and religious women’s orders – as well as other Christian denominations and secular organizations – Jesuits have continued to play a key role in the education of countless Catholic youth and in the development of many of Ontario’s social institutions.

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