As I leave my house, in one borough of Montreal named after Mary, the mother of Jesus, and travel to Dio, in another borough, also named after Mary, I can scarcely avoid travelling over streets inscribed with a sacred geography. There’s Notre-Dame de Grace, and Cote-St-Antoine. There’s St-Henri, Bonaventure, St-Laurent, St-Denis, St-Hubert, St-Hubert, St-Michel, St-Mathieu, St-Marc, Villa Maria and Ville-Marie—indeed, before being named after the mountain, Montreal was Ville-Marie, Mary’s City. If I were to leave the city—in nearly any direction—I’d meet Ste-Anne, Ste-Marthe, St-Jean, St-Hilaire, St-Bruno, St-Eustache, St-Jerome, St-Agathe, among others. The city and the countryside are etched with the memories of God’s holy people from ages past.
It is, of course, easy to remember these places for what they are now—that St-Denis is where you might like to sit on a terrace in the summer, or St-Jerome is on the way to go skiing. Ville-Marie becomes less a subterranean reminder of Jesus’ mother, and more a tunnel I’d like to avoid during rush hour!
But what might happen if you walked along Ste-Catherine, past the shops, restaurants, strip clubs, office towers and yes, even the churches, and recalled the faithful witness of Catherine of Alexandria, remembered as a teenaged convert to Christianity, a scholar, a martyr and intercessor? Or the writing and devotion of Catherine of Siena, mystic, politician and theologian? Or Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman who lived part of her life and died just across the river—St. Laurence’s river!—in Kanawake?
At Dio this term, we’ve done just this. In our Wednesday Eucharists, we’re celebrating the memory of God’s holy men and women of ages past, particularly those whose names mark our city. We’re hearing their stories. We’re meeting these faithful people as friends, as companions on the journey of faithful Christian witness in every age. We’ve met Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Denis and we’ll meet Laurence, Catherine and others before the term is done. We’ll meet holy women and men who walked our streets, or perhaps at least passed by Montreal—Kateri, Jean de Brebeuf, Jeanne Mance—and whose witness to the Gospel and love for God’s people helped form this city.
As we hear these stories of discipleship in ages past, we’re striving for the same faithfulness in our day, in this city. We too are praying and studing and working to become followers of Jesus, God’s holy people here, in this city. Come and join us in St. Luke’s chapel, or, if you can’t, trace the sacred geography in your corner of this diocese, remembering and walking alongside the saints whose names are written on streets and rivers and mountains, adding your prayers, witness and discipleship to ours and to theirs.
The Rev. Jen Bourque graduated from Montreal Diocesan Theological College in 2008 and currently serves there as College Chaplain. Since her ordination, Jen has been a chaplain at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, working with patients, families and staff from diverse religious backgrounds. She is currently also part-time Associate priest at Christ Church Cathedral, where she oversees children and parent ministries.