Friday, June 10, 2022

He wholeheartedly embraced IofC's philosophy and made it his life's work!

Laurent Gagnon - 1946 - 2022

When the film The Crowning Experience was shown on TV in Quebec at the time of John Kennedy’s assassination, Laurent Gagnon said to himself that one day he would like to meet and work with these people. That wish came true in December 1971, when he encountered an international Initiatives of Change (IofC) team visiting Trois-Rivières. His desire to become a priest had been thwarted when he was told it would be better for him to go back to the farm and the forest. He nonetheless persevered in his studies to be a teacher of religion, which is what he was doing at the time he encountered IofC.

Laurent, quickly and wholeheartedly, embraced IofC’s philosophy as his life’s work. One of the first actions he was involved in was the visit to Quebec of a group of Protestants and Catholics from Northern Ireland. He at once felt an affinity with the situation they faced and joined other Canadians on a return visit. He made several more visits after that and, in the words of one Northern Irish colleague, “Laurent was the portal to one of our most meaningful encounters in Ireland”

In 1975, Laurent married Lise Dupuis and they chose as their wedding theme ‘Témoins sans Frontières’ (Witnesses beyond borders), which later became the title of the book he compiled about people whose lives were touched by IofC in Quebec. In order to create personal links with western Canada, Laurent and Lise with Jean Michel, aged 11, lived for a year in Victoria, BC.

From his first visit to Caux in 1972, he was seized by its unique value and charisma and would go every summer, usually with others from Quebec, among whom were representatives of First Nations communities. The presence in Caux of one such group led to a profound reconciliation between Laurent as a French Canadian and members of the Mohawk Nation. This was the start of a creative and transformative relationship. His summers in Caux also featured volunteer work in the economat, responsible for provisions of food and supplies for the 500 guests.

In 2008, on the 400th Anniversary of Quebec City, the first French settlement in North America, an IofC initiated event took place on the Plains of Abraham, site of the defeat of the French garrison by the British. This battle loomed over the relationship between French and English Canada, famously described as Two Solitudes. Laurent’s inspired thought was to recognize two other solitudes: firstly the indigenous peoples, who had suffered at the hands of both colonial powers, and secondly the refugees and new immigrants to Canada. Thus, the event became an acknowledgement of the wrongs of the past and a recognition and celebration of all ‘four solitudes’. This same concept (coined by Laurent) became the focus of the Citizen Project, a partnership between Initiatives of Change, Indigenous communities and Espace Art Nature, in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools.

Laurent was a proud Québécois. He would quip: “I never go anywhere without my moustache and my accent!”. His engagement with IofC and his living out of its values were always authentic to his roots. His was a commitment for life, from which he entertained no thought of retirement. Only failing health slowed him down and eventually, on May 28 of this year, took him from us.