Bishop-elect Alain Faubert

Marist Brothers shaped faith of new Montreal auxiliary

  • April 26, 2016

OTTAWA – When Bishop-elect Alain Faubert looks back at his faith journey, he credits the Marist Brothers and their charisms with helping him meet Jesus Christ and share Him with others.

Born in Montreal in 1965 and raised in Laval, Que., Faubert, the Montreal archdiocese’s new auxiliary bishop, said his devout French-Canadian extended family nurtured his curiosity about science, other cultures and life and gave him a firm foundation. But he did not know whether God knew or cared if he existed.

His faith blossomed, however, at the age of 14 while attending Collège Laval, a private boys school run by the Marist Brothers. At this school for boys aged 12-17, Faubert had a spiritual experience in September 1979 that transformed his life. He said he heard Jesus tell him, “Alain, I know you. I love you.”

“This is such an event, so bright, so full of life, I hardly remember what was going on before,” he said.

He recalled he was “not a troublesome child,” and he was “not asking about my purpose in life.” Everything was normal, even boring, as he played basketball, hockey and football and led “a basic teen life.”

Then he began taking a religious studies class with a Marist Brother who was “quite a challenging guy” and “in your face.”

“I’m starting a prayer group, guys,” the Brother said. “I expect you to be there.” He then gave the date and time. Of 200 students, only three showed up. The other two had had experiences with the Lord through the charismatic movement, and were telling each other how the Lord had done something so beautiful in their lives. One of them, who is still one of Faubert’s best friends, asked him, “Well, Alain, what has the good Lord done in your life?”

That’s when “it hit me like a truck. Jesus was there,” he said. “This is central in my spiritual experience, to come to know that I exist in God’s heart and mind… that He acts for us; He is present.”

Still, a vocation to the priesthood was not on his mind, only being a good, committed Catholic.

The next experience shaped by Marist Brothers was time he spent as a summer camp counsellor at Camp Mariste in Rawdon, Que., an outreach to poor youth.

“I was a counsellor there for 10 years, being with these kids, experiencing the fact they needed to be loved,” he said. “That is so much part of the Marist spirituality, to be with them, to listen to them, to care for them.”

The Marist Brothers provided “opportunities to go deeper, to meet Jesus, the Holy Spirit, to experience the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and through serving at the camp to “experience the love of God through giving myself.”

Meanwhile, he was pursuing studies in physics, computer science and mathematics, and got accepted at L’École Polytechnique de Montréal, an engineering school.

“I was really interested in quantum physics and what happened with the universe,” he said. “It was a real interest: where do we come from? Where are we going?” But then he started to meet young priests.

At age 19, back at the summer camp, he was playing guitar with a group of young people, and a deacon who was preparing to become a priest was coming to visit. He expected the deacon to be dressed in black and boring. Instead, “He arrives in jeans, hiking boots, and a knapsack on his back,” he said. They were singing Beatles songs and “he knew all of them.”

“Through him, I met a series of priests totally devoted to the Gospel, in connection with the Focolare Movement,” he said. Yet they were “also human. They were men, but men of God. This shook me all over.

“I had to witness to the fact it was perfectly possible to be devoted to God and remain part of this world, not live on a cloud, two miles above normal people.”

At age 20, Faubert had what he described as an existential crisis. Sitting in the cafeteria at the Polytecnique and looking at his calculator, he realized, “This is not what I’m meant to do.”

He quit the school and went to the young men’s centre run by the Marist Brothers. They were opening a mission in Haiti and inviting young people who could join them there as lay co-operators. In September 1986, he flew to Haiti for a 10-month stay to teach French, English, mathematics and do catechesis.

“I owe it to the Haitian people that I found the Church that I could connect with, the official, institutional Church through the prayer of the Haitian people,” he said.

Their little communities, gathering behind their shacks, and their sense of faith, their resilience in the face of tremendous poverty and challenges, moved him tremendously. It was the first time he was exposed to that level of poverty. Some of the young people he taught had the swollen bellies and orange hair indicating malnutrition.

“Here you are, you think you are good, you think you are so smart and strong and they were my teachers. I think I learned the Church from the bottom up.”

In his early 20s, he still hesitated about committing himself. He could have remained in Haiti and become a Marist Brother, but he felt his family calling him back to Canada, so he returned to resume his studies. At the end of the summer, one of his priest friends asked him, “What are you waiting for?” and suggested he apply to enter the Grand Seminary in Montreal.

“He was the eldest of the gang, so warm, so humane, so I just said, ‘Okay. Why not?’ ”

He was accepted in September 1987 and spent the next five years studying philosophy and theology and discovering “it was the food I needed for my soul and heart.”

Ordained a priest in 1995 after obtaining a Master’s degree and doing various different duties in the Montreal archdiocese, Faubert later went on to study for a doctorate, combining studies at Laval University in Quebec City and the Institut catholique de Paris.

The passion for being with young people who need love and an experience of Christ, for being with those who have left the faith and helping them come back, has only grown since his time with the Marist Brothers. Faubert also said he learned so much from priests who taught him to be attentive to the hidden wounds of others.

“Of course truth has to be served, but it is better served when we are good,” he said. “People want to hear the truth of the Gospel when they see us be good with them, if we go full frontal with the truth sometimes, it can be discouraging, too much to handle.”

Faubert will be consecrated to the episcopate on June 15 in Montreal’s Mary Queen of the World Cathedral.

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