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Father Marc Gervais, S.J. R.I.P.
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Marc Gervais: Jesuit champion of cinema. 1929-2012.
By Alan Hustak
(The Metropolitain) Rev. Marc Gervais was a charismatic Jesuit priest, teacher and movie critic who rattled Vatican authorities in the late 1960s by championing Teorma, a homoerotic film by a Communist film maker Pierre Pasolini which celebrated the healing power of human sexuality. Rev. Gervais taught cinema and communication arts at Concordia University in Montreal for 25 years where he influenced the careers of students such as Clark Johnson, who plays in the HBO television series, The Wire, Oscar winning Quebec film maker, Denys Arcand , producer Kevin Tierney (Good Cop, Bad Cop) and the CBC television journalist Hannah Gartner. Admired as a leading authority on the films of Ingmar Bergman, whom he knew, Gervais died Sunday (march 25) at a retirement home in Pickering, Ont. He was 82 .
“His influence was all pervasive, his knowledge of film was prodigious, and his enthusiasm was infectious,” said veteran Montreal film critic John Griffin,” Film to him was more important than petty cant or dogma. He raised at least one generation of important Canadian film makers.”
Gervais often said that his mission was to convert people into becoming responsible movie goers. “That’s not to say the more you know about movies, the more you will enjoy them, but the much more you enjoy some of them, the much less you will enjoy junk,” he once told an interviewer. “Since the 1980s film has really gone downhill. More and more they become rich in technological development, adding sensational effects, sex and violence, but basically an emptiness. The first thing you know, movies like Pulp Fiction became important. There was a time when film tried to capture the human experience, before we went into this sort of post modern detachment.”
Marc Gervais , the son of a Quebec Superior Court Judge was born in Sherbrooke, Que. Dec. 3, 1929. His maternal grandmother instilled him with his love of cinema. She dragged him along to the movies with her in spite of laws at the time in Quebec which prohibited youngsters from going into cinemas. Gervais entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 after taking an arts degree from Loyola. He was ordained in 1963, but continued his film studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and at the Sorbonne In Paris. While at the Sorbonne he was named head of the Catholic Film Office (OCIC). He set off a storm of controversy within the church when the office awarded its jury prize to Teorma at the 1968 Venice Film Festival. Not only was the film the work of an atheist, but it centres on a mystical figure played by Terrence Stamp, who breathes life into a dysfunctional Italian family by seducing everyone, male and female. Defending his choice, Rev. Gervais wrote that the film was “an inquiry into the human condition. It is a work about the demands of the absolute and about the refusal to be made bourgeois that alienates all men. The fact that the OCIC has given the prize to Pasolini does not mean that 500-million Roman Catholics are obliged to see it.” Rev. Gervais later wrote Pasolini’s biography. In 1979 he obtained his doctorate in film esthetics from the Sorbonne, and in 1981 was appointed a commissioner of the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission, a position he held for six years. He was offered a role in Roland Joffe’s 1985 film The Mission, about Jesuit martyrs in 18th century South America. The director wanted to cast real Jesuits in the movie, but Gervais declined and peace activist Daniel Berrigan S.J. took the part instead. Gervais did, however, work as a consultant on Bruce Beresford’s 1991 film Black Robe, about the 18th century Jesuit experience in New France.
‘’I was always determined to be a film specialist who happened to be a Jesuit, not a Jesuit who was interested in film,” he once said. In fact, many of his film students were not aware that he was a Roman Catholic priest. He wrote Ingmar Bergman, Magician and Prophet, and among his friends counted other award winning film makers, including John Huston, Norman Jewison, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Goddard and Jean Renoir. He retired from Concordia in 1992, and until he became ill, continued to attend the Cannes Film Festival each year. His judgement of film was often much harsher than his judgement of his fellow human beings. He didn’t preach a sermon, but rather his homilies stressed the importance of an informed conscience.
His own taste in movies was catholic. Among his personal favourites were The Quiet Man, Singing in the Rain and all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
He leaves his brother and his sister. The funeral is Friday (March 31) at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church in Montreal.
Department of Communication Studies Deeply Saddened by Passing of Fr. Marc Gervais, S.J.
Father Marc Gervais, S.J. (Society of Jesus), a celebrated film scholar and much-cherished Concordia professor for four decades, passed away March 25, 2012, at the René Goupil Jesuit Infirmary in Pickering, Ont. He was 82.
Whether rubbing shoulders with cinema nobility in Cannes, France, smoothly impressing on the tennis court, or wowing students in class with his extensive film knowledge, charm, humour and sense of style, Father Gervais confounded the image of a Jesuit priest.
He was born in Sherbrooke, Que., in 1929, the second child of Sylvia Mullins and Superior Court Justice Césaire Gervais. He was raised in a thoroughly bilingual household, where he was first introduced to the world of movies.
In 1950, Father Gervais graduated with a bachelor of arts from Loyola College, one of Concordia’s founding institutions. He then started the 13-year program to become a Jesuit and was ordained in 1963.
Along the way, he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Drama at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1960. He added “doctor” to his titles when he completed his PhD in film aesthetics at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1979.
In 1967, Father Gervais joined Loyola College’s fledgling communication arts program, now the Department of Communication Studies, and stayed until his retirement in 2003. He continued to teach film and religion at Concordia for the next several years.
It was in the 1960s, when Father Gervais honed his understanding of cinema, that he became a regular at the Cannes Film Festival. Indeed, he took part each May for nearly 40 years.
In his courses, which covered Alfred Hitchcock, silent-era Hollywood, 1920s Germany, John Ford and many others, Father Gervais brought a wealth of knowledge as well as his particular style and wit.
“Marc had a special way of communicating with students. He loved what he was doing, he loved being around students, and that came back to him in droves,” says Don Taddeo, BA 67, a former communication studies colleague who remained friends with Father Gervais. The two also served together on the Loyola Alumni Association board of directors.
“He was a pillar of the early communication arts program, and a humanist in every way,” Taddeo adds.
Father Gervais maintained at least one flaw, Taddeo recalls with a chuckle. “He wasn’t always on time in submitting his marks — because when they were due at the beginning of May, Marc was hanging out in Cannes.”
Although his film expertise was vast and he wrote a scholarly book on Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1973, Father Gervais held a special place for the late Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman.
“He is a figure in cinema who revealed to us that film can be a voice in culture, like any great art,” Father Gervais told Concordia’s Thursday Report in 1999, the year he published Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet (McGill-Queen’s University Press).
Father Gervais played important roles outside the classroom as well. He helped establish the Lonergan University College (1975) and Loyola Jesuit Institute for Studies in International Peace (1988) at Concordia.
From 1981 to 1986, he was a member of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. He also consulted on several Catholic-themed films including Agnes of God (1985), The Mission (1986) and Black Robe (1991).
“The passing of Father Marc Gervais feels like losing a member of the family,” says Concordia President and Vice-Chancellor Frederick Lowy. “He touched the lives of so many Concordia students, fellow professors, alumni and others in a memorable way. He was also Concordia’s last Jesuit professor, which makes this loss even more poignant.”
Father Gervais is survived by his brother, P. André Gervais, L BA 64, former chair of Concordia’s Board of Governors, and his sister, Constance M. Moisan.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the Marc Gervais Prize in Communication Studies in Father Gervais’ memory may contact Maggie Borowiec at 514-848-2424, ext. 2093, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gifts can also be made securely online. Under “Gift Information” and “I would like to support,” choose Marc Gervais Prize in Communication Studies.
Father Marc Gervais, S.J. died peacefully at Rene Goupil Jesuit Infirmary at Pickering, Ontario on Sunday March 25th, 2012. He was in his 83rd year of life and his 62nd year of religious life. Marc was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, on December 3, 1929, of Césaire Gervais and Sylvia Mullins. After his early schooling at St. Patrick`s in Sherbrooke, he spent four years at Loyola College, Montreal, where he graduated with a BA in 1950. He began his Jesuit life in 1950 and after many years of study was ordained a priest in 1963. He received a M.A. in Theatre from Catholic University in Washington, DC and a PhD later from the Sorbonne, Paris. Marc returned to Loyola College in 1967to teach in the Communication Arts program there and remained for thirty five years in that department as professor, until his retirement on July 31, 2003. He became a renowned authority on the Swedish film director, Ingmar Bergman, and produced a critical biography of him: Ingmar Bergman – Magician and Prophet. Marc also assisted in establishing at Concordia`s Loyola Campus, the Loyola Peace Institute and the Lonergan University College. He served a term on the CRTC in Ottawa. He was a regular celebrant in the Loyola Chapel. He remained a much sought after film consultant until 2009 when ill health brought about his full retirement at the Jesuit Infirmary at Pickering, Ontario. He is survived by his sister Constance Moison, his brother Andres, many relatives, his Jesuit brothers, and many friends around the world. Visitation on Wednesday, March 28 from 7 9 p.m. at St. Ignatius Chapel, Manresa: Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre, 2325 Liverpool Road, Pickering, Ontario. Visitation on Thursday, March 29 from 2 4 p.m. and 7 9 p.m. at Loyola Jesuit Hall and Conference Centre on the Loyola Campus of Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal. Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated at Saint Ignatius of Loyola at 4455 West Broadway, Montreal, on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 11 a.m. Interment in the Jesuit Cemetery, Guelph, Ontario, Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 2:30 p.m. In memory of Father Gervais donations may be made to the Jesuit Development Office, 43 Queen`s Park Crescent East Toronto, ON M5S 2C3