Teaching and the Priesthood: Not So Different

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Donald-Boisvert-e1415335184719The Rev. Dr. Donald Boisvert was born in the U.S. of French Canadian parents, but has lived in Canada since the late ’60s.

In his youth, he spent several years studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood. Much later, Donald turned to the Anglican church as a way of living out his faith with integrity as a Christian gay man.  At that time, the call to ordained ministry which had been with him since his childhood returned afresh.  He has served at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal since graduating from MDTC in 2012.

Donald has a doctorate in Religious Studies from the University of Ottawa (1990) and teaches full-time at Concordia University, where he is also chair of the Department of Religion.  He spent several years in university administration before becoming an academic.  His areas of teaching and research are the history of Christianity (particularly the cult of saints) and the intersections of religion, gender, and sexuality.  He has published a number of books and articles.

Donald is married to his long-time partner, Gaston.


I came late to Anglicanism and to ordained ministry.  Late, however, is only a function of time.  Long before I was received or the bishop placed his hands on my head, I had chosen a path that was consistent with where I ended up and also instrumental in bringing me there.  That path was education.

I have always considered my teaching to be an integral part of my vocation: the flip side, as it were, of my priestly ministry.  Actually, it’s more like a continuum, or perhaps a spectrum.  An educator is someone who opens up new vistas of critical insight for his or her students, and who is able to inspire them to go beyond themselves.  Good teachers help develop a desire for learning in their students.  A priest does much the same thing, though in a different register.  She or he should certainly also inspire and guide, but the desire, if perhaps slightly different, is at least complementary to that of learning.  The desire is for God, in terms of both a relationship and a form of knowledge.

When I found myself in my late 50s as a theological student at the Diocesan College, I had expected a difficult transition.  How would I cope with being in the student role rather than the one I was used to, that of the professor?  How would I feel being on the other side of the desk, as it were?  Would I feel threatened, insecure, or perhaps slightly overwhelmed?
In fact, despite some initial anxiety, the transition was an amazingly smooth one.  In large part, I think this was because of the nature of what I was doing and learning at Dio.   There, I was learning to sharpen my desire for God, and I was doing that with others, both students and faculty mentors, who were engaged in a similar process of discernment and training.  Moreover, it was happening in an inclusive ecumenical context, where I could learn and pray and simply be with fellow seminarians and teachers from different Christian traditions.  I loved this effusive and sometimes inebriating mixture.  It motivated and inspired and deeply molded me.

There was also something incredibly ‘incarnational’ about all this.  I mean by that a sense of vivid immediacy about God’s presence, and a willingness to be open to its surprising wonders.  Whether it was in our everyday life of common prayer or rich liturgical celebrations, our shared meals or occasionally combative classroom discussions, these all reminded us of the gift that was, and is, God-among-us.

Actually, when I stand in front of a classroom, I am still conscious of this, though I do not verbalize it for obvious reasons.  In the back of my mind, however, I know that I am doing a form of incarnational work, and that I am trying to open minds and hearts to something—some would say someone—beyond the immediacy of everyday existence.  I know this is a sacred trust, in much the same way as my priestly ministry is.  God has placed me there as an educator.  God expects me to do God’s work then and there, at that time and in that place.

In hindsight, I can see that it was my time at Dio that sensitized me to this aspect of my work as an educator.  I am trained as a sociologist of religion; I look at religion from a particular scholarly perspective.  Religion is a social fact, a thing to be analyzed, dissected and critically examined.  Those are all good and necessary things.  Such scholarly endeavour, it should be remembered, however, also partakes of God’s work, and I am thankful for the theological and in-ministry training that helped remind me of this.  In a way, the incarnation happens every day in my classrooms and my seminar rooms, even though the language I use may be of a different sort.

In this season, we are reminded, in ways large and small, of the wonders and unexpected beauty of God’s incarnation in the person of an infant born millennia ago in a backwater part of a great world empire.  Yet God never ceases to amaze us.  God is always calling us to new and sometimes surprising forms of incarnation in our own lives and those we touch in others.  The incarnation still matters to the work of education, because, in the person of Jesus Christ, God was teaching us something essential about ourselves and our world.  That it was all good, and that we needed to pay close attention to that fact.  God the educator is still teaching us these things.

Blessings for a very joyous and happy Christmas.

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