Fr. Alphonse de Valk. Register file photo

Fr. Raymond de Souza: Fr. de Valk was a model for priest journalists

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  • April 25, 2020

Fr. Alphonse de Valk, a stalwart of the pro-life movement, touched many lives in different spheres, especially in education, the particular charism of the Basilian Fathers. I will remember him as a fellow priest journalist.

There is a certain fraternity amongst us and we mourn the loss of one of our own. With the Internet creatively destroying the entire field of journalism, it is not clear that journalists like Fr. de Valk will be around in the future. The countless priests who now exercise at least part of their ministry over the Internet have less need for the established world of publishers, editors, reporters and columnists.

“It appears his first love was journalism,” wrote Lifesite News about Fr. de Valk’s multi-faceted priestly ministry after his death on April 16 at age 88. I learned only now that he founded a journal when he was at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, Chelsea Journal, named after St. Thomas More’s London home. The Saskatoon Basilians must have been a literary force back then, as Fr. Ian Boyd founded the Chesterton Review there in 1974.

The Chelsea Journal was a journal on current affairs and culture from a Catholic perspective. In 1993 Fr. de Valk would launch Catholic Insight with a similar mission. I began reading it regularly when I entered the seminary a few years later.

In 2003, I wrote a column for the National Post on Bill C-13, which regulated artificial reproduction.

“Bill C-13 is clearly better than the current legislative vacuum in which anything goes,” I wrote. “The moral difficulty is that it entrenches bad philosophy and countenances the destruction of human life.”

Fr. de Valk thought pro-life MPs must vote against C-13. I argued that there were acceptable reasons for voting either way.

He was not pleased and wrote that I was destroying pro-life unity. We clashed once or twice after that, but there was always a priestly gentlemanliness when we met in person.

Still I was surprised when in 2008 he looked favourably upon the idea — proposed by one of his writers — that I succeed him as the editor of Catholic Insight. Fr. de Valk was past 75 and looking to retire.

I was eager. It would be an honour to succeed Fr. de Valk and I put together a proposal for the board of directors. They turned it down.

Fr. de Valk tried to salvage the candidacy, thinking that my engagement of the culture in the light of faith was suited for his magazine. There were various backings and forthings but finally it came to naught. It remained encouraging, though, that a veteran priest journalist thought well enough of a young priest journalist to have a measure of confidence in my work.

In retrospect, the directors were right. But it was in part Fr. de Valk’s encouragement that led, a few years later, to me founding my own magazine, Convivium, with my colleague Peter Stockland, well known to Catholic Register readers.

Fr. de Valk generously served until he was 80, and then David Beresford took over. He did a fine job, but the pressures on print magazines were immense. Catholic Insight is now digital — as is Convivium — and edited by John Paul Meenan, a good friend for more than 20 years. In God’s providence, it worked out well. Fr. de Valk played his part.

I have been blessed with worthy models as priest journalists. The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a friend and mentor, founded First Things. And my own brother priest in Kingston, Msgr. Thomas Raby, who wrote his “Little World” column here for 40 years.

How do the priesthood and journalism go together? The former is more fundamental to our identity than the latter, but both are variations on a deeper mission. Both are storytellers.

A journalist’s stories attempt to make sense of the passing scene, to glimpse that which is important, even enduring.

The priest too tells stories. By the grace of the Word made flesh, some of our stories become more real, more true, more enduring than anything else. We tell the story of the Paschal mystery at the altar each day and it is made present, really and truly.

The priest tells stories about God’s work in history and individual souls see God’s work in their stories too. The priest tells stories like the prophets, reminding the culture of its own lost story.

Fr. de Valk was better at that than I am. The priest sees in the ordinary stories of everyday life that God is writing His purposes there, too. No one was better at that than Msgr. Raby.

Fr. de Valk’s final copy has now been filed. His readers, including me, are grateful for a story well written.

May this fellow storyteller now lay down his pen — he wrote everything in long hand — and enter the company of the saints, who will be eager to hear anew, from a good man and holy priest, the story of God’s love, which is stronger than death.

(Fr. de Souza is editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca and a pastor in the Archdiocese of Kingston.)

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