Fr. Jerome Lavigne
Soli Deo Gloria!
“Oh Lord, if it be Your will that I speak no more, and my voice be still – as it was before… I will speak no more, I shall abide until I am spoken for, if it be Your will…
If it be Your will that a voice be True, from this Broken Hill – I will sing to you. From this Broken Hill, all your praises they shall ring, if it be Your will – to let me sing…” Amen
Written by Sharon van der Sloot on July 11, 2013 (Memorial of St. Benedict)
Born: Hull, Québec August 2, 1974
Raised: Calgary and Canmore, AB
Ordained: Calgary, June 19, 2009
Associate: St. Albert the Great Catholic Parish, Calgary 2009
Associate: St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Calgary 2009-2011
Associate: St. Albert the Great Catholic Parish, Calgary 2011-2012
Pastor: St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Calgary 2012 – present
June 19th, 2009 was an important date in the Catholic Church for several reasons. Not only was it the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, but it also marked the first day of the “Year for Priests,” a celebration declared by Pope Benedict XVI in honour of the 150th anniversary of St. John Vianney. In his letter proclaiming the Year for the Priest, Pope Benedict wrote, “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.”1 It was especially fitting, then, that June 19th was also the day that Fr. Jerome Lavigne set aside his past life in order to “give up his will and take up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.”2
I first heard of Fr. Jerome when I read a notice in the diocesan bulletin announcing his ordination. Although I had taken little interest in past ordinations within our diocese, for some reason this announcement caught my eye. I felt a strong urge to pray for this ‘soon-to-be’ priest, and I began to offer up my daily Masses and rosaries for him. Delighted to learn that he would be assigned to our parish, I was present on the night that he received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The following morning, I headed to St. Mary’s for Saturday morning Mass. Already running late, I was annoyed to find that there was no place to park. I hadn’t realized that that morning was also the occasion of Fr. Jerome’s first Mass – celebrated on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I could only marvel at what the Holy Spirit had in store for someone who God had chosen to favour with such an auspicious beginning.
When I reflect on Fr. Jerome’s call to the priesthood, I can’t help but think of the Old Testament story of Hannah. Hannah had not been blessed with children, and deeply distressed, she went to the temple. There she vowed that if God would bless her with a son, she would give him to the Lord all the days of his life. In due time, she conceived and gave birth to a son who she named Samuel – which means, “God heard” – because she had asked the Lord for him. In a similar way, Louise Lavigne also longed for a child, and as the years went by and her prayers remained unanswered, she decided it was time to make a bargain with God. Louise went to her nearby parish where she lit a candle. There, like Hannah, she made a vow. If God would bless her with two sons, three years apart, she would give the first to God. Soon thereafter, Louise’s first son, Jerome, was born. Her second son, Simon, was born three years later. No more children were born to Louise and Leo Lavigne, and there was no doubt in their minds that their sons were an answer to prayer – special gifts from God.
Born in Hull, Québec in 1974, Jerome moved west with his family in 1982 – first to Calgary, Alberta, and a few years later to Canmore. It was there that the seeds of his love for nature – for hunting, fishing, and the outdoors – took root. Social by nature, he also loved to go off alone – to sit on the berm overlooking the valley – to reflect on the meaning of life. But after graduation, as his classmates settled in to predictable paths of work and study, Jerome struggled to find his niche. Driven by a desire for personal and financial success, he bounced from one thing to the next. From operating heavy equipment to selling cars, he explored many different avenues. But somehow things didn’t unfold the way he expected; he always felt strangely empty and unfulfilled. He knew nothing of the promise that his mother had made before he was born.
The day came when Jerome realized that he needed to take some time out to find peace and a deeper sense of purpose in his life. He returned to his family home in Canmore where at his mother’s insistence, he agreed to attend Mass with his parents. Upon walking into Sacred Heart Church, he was filled with an overwhelming sense of peace – so much so that the following week, he went on his own. As he was exiting the church, the priest said to him: “You and I, we have to talk – how about next week after Mass?” Seven days later, he asked Jerome, “So tell me, when did it start?”
The possibility of a vocation to the priesthood had never entered Jerome’s mind. Louise, however, was not surprised at all. She knew that God had come to claim her son. She told Jerome about the promise that she had made, and with that knowledge, an entirely new dimension entered into his search for peace. But no decision of such importance comes without its struggles. Before Jerome was ready to do battle for the Lord, he first battled with the Lord. Ten years would pass before Jerome walked down the aisle at St. Mary’s to make his own promises to God: promises of obedience, celibacy, and praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
Today, the first thing that you notice when you meet Fr. Jerome is that he is filled with energy, passion, and an irrepressible zest for life. Friendly and outgoing, he has a wonderful sense of humour and puts everyone at ease wherever he goes. As my son once put it, not only is Fr. Jerome pretty ‘buff’ (the consequence of his life-long love for weight lifting), he is also ‘cool’. Fr. Jerome ‘gets’ people, and he is as comfortable hanging out with young people as he is with seniors. He has a profound understanding of human nature, as well as of faith and Scripture. He digs deep – then even deeper – to discover what the Lord wants to reveal through him. He goes over every homily before the presence of Our Lord in the Tabernacle, and when you listen to him speak, you always come away feeling challenged and inspired. Fr. Jerome has a way of unpacking the mysteries of the spiritual life in a way that is as down to earth as it is unmistakably orthodox. He wears a gold band on the fourth finger of his right hand that his father gave him just before he died. It’s a sign of his father’s honour – of his having lived out his marriage vocation with faithfulness to the end. In passing it on to his eldest son, it has become a sign of Fr. Jerome’s faithfulness to his vows as a priest.
I have come to think that it is no accident that the anniversary celebration of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, should have coincided with the day of Fr. Jerome’s ordination. At first glance, St. John Vianney might appear to have ‘only’ been a simple country priest. Yet, near the end of his life, he spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the Confessional, instructing and counselling up to 20,000 people a year – bishops, priests, religious men and women, people from all walks of life. It should come as no surprise, then, that Fr. Jerome sees the gift of his priesthood as being inextricably linked to the time that he spends in the Confessional. It is there that we encounter the face of Christ. It is there that we empty ourselves in order to be filled and transformed by the Holy Spirit. “The Confessional is the litmus test of who you are as a priest,” he says. “The day I spend most of my time in the Confessional will be the day that I know God will have finally shaped and moulded me into His instrument of mercy and reconciliation. For in the Confessional, we truly do have an encounter with the risen Lord.”
1 Pope Benedict XVI, Letter Proclaiming a Year for Priests on the 150th Anniversary of the “Dies Natalis” of the Curé of Ars, June 16, 2009.
2 Cf. Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue.
St. Gregory once said – “Our Eternal Salvation depends principally on embracing the state to which God has called us.” For the person who makes a mistake in their Vocation mistakes the way that has been set out for him or her by God to attain everlasting life…
Through those words, one can’t help but get a sense that the longer we travel down the wrong path in life, the more distance we place between ourselves and the perfection of God’s will being accomplished. In the words St. Augustine, “You run well, but on the wrong road…” In the end, only time will tell if we will have come to live out our lives following the right path. But as of this moment, one thing is certain; the Holy Spirit has been working in such a way so that our paths might intersect at this point in time.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it states: “No one claims the office of the priesthood for himself; he is called to it by God. Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God’s call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders” (CCC 440). I stand before you today as a priest of Jesus Christ – not because it was something I ever wanted to do with my life – but because I surrendered my life back to Him and He did with it what He always wanted to do.
I leave you with the ‘WHY?’ of a Priest’s existence, which was beautifully expressed through the final words spoken by Cardinal Bernardin prior to his death:
“The priest of Jesus Christ is, first and foremost, the one who bears the mystery of God and initiates others into it… In carrying out this task, one is most authentically a priest. The priest stands on the horizon between God and the world; carrying the prayers, hopes, anguish, and joy of the People of God, and calling down the Divine Fire, the transformative power of the Mystery.”
In Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Fr. Jerome Lavigne