June 21, 2017 - Fr. Louis L. Grenier, SJ, was called to eternal life on June 19, 2017, at Campion Health Center, Weston, Mass. He was 98 years old and the oldest member of the province.
Louis Grenier was born in Cambridge, Mass., on Nov. 2, 1918, the youngest of six children of Emile and Regina Berube. His parents had emigrated to Massachusetts from the Province of Quebec in search of good jobs and settled in a French-Canadian community in North Cambridge. His father worked for the Prudential Insurance Company and his mother cared for the six children. In the years of the Great Depression, she took on other jobs such as a receptionist and insurance broker. The family prized education and all six children graduated from highly-ranked colleges.
The family was strongly religious and Louis was an altar boy at St. Peter’s Church, eventually becoming head altar boy in charge of training the younger boys. Three of his charges became Jesuits—brothers Frank and Tom Curran, and Walter Martin. One of the visiting priests whose Mass he frequently served was Fr. Georges Lemâitre, the originator of the “Big Bang” theory of the origin of the universe, who was doing research at the Harvard Observatory. Louis attended local public and Catholic schools and, in 1932, entered B.C. High on a half-scholarship. From the age of seven, he had said he wanted to be a priest and his Jesuit teachers now inclined him in that direction. On Aug. 14, 1936, he took the train from Boston across the state to Shadowbrook, in West Stockbridge, Mass.
Louis enjoyed his novitiate and juniorate years in the Berkshires. He and his fellow novices and juniors picked laurel for Christmas decorations, cleared snow from the lake for hockey. He recalled that novices had to write home regularly but were enjoined not to fill their letters with idle gossip about novitiate life. When he repeatedly told his parents about the bed of petunias he was responsible for, his mother, who knew he couldn’t tell the difference between a rose and a lily, grew alarmed about his mental health and had to be persuaded not to send the pastor of St. Peter’s to make an emergency visit to the novitiate.
In his fourth year at Shadowbrook Louis’ mother became seriously ill with cancer; he was able to go home and arrived a few hours before her death. Nine weeks later, his father died suddenly and again he made the trip to North Cambridge. In 1942, Louis went to philosophy studies at Weston. Here his life expanded in interesting ways. He could play golf again on the homemade, eight-hole course, and even shot a hole-in-one; eventually he took over responsibility for managing the course, which he did for all seven of the years he spent at Weston. He gave up the game only when he arrived in Jamaica and decided that only the rich played golf there. At Weston he also resumed playing bridge, a habit he kept up for as long as he could find a foursome.
At the end of philosophy studies, out of the blue, he was assigned to regency in Nicaragua, teaching in the Colegio Centro America outside the ancient city of Granada, and living in a room that had been once occupied by Jesuit martyr, Fr. Miguel Pro. Two years later, it was back to Weston for theology. He had always done well in his studies and the theology course was no exception. He was ordained a priest there in June of 1949 by Archbishop Richard Cushing. He completed his fourth year of theology and final oral exam and was spending a few days at the Keyser Island villa when, again, he was abruptly told that he should be ready in a few days to depart for Jamaica. He managed to delay his departure to attend his brother Lucien’s wedding, but left the reception to catch a train to Miami and wait for one of the infrequent flights to Jamaica.
In 1950, he arrived in the place where he would spend most of the next 60 years and nearly all of his active Jesuit life. That first year, he was assigned to the parish at Spanish Town, the old Spanish and British capital of the island, 13 miles west of Kingston. There he had to visit the prison and at times accompany condemned men to execution.
At the end of that year, he went to Gandia, Spain, for the tertianship year. He saw much of Spain and, in the following summer, spent a month visiting pilgrimage sites and places especially significant to Jesuits throughout continental Europe and the British Isles. When he got back to Jamaica, he was assigned to teach at St. George’s, the Jesuit flagship school on the island. Within a year, Louis found himself appointed director of Catholic education for the whole island, and chaplain at the University of the West Indies.
What followed was a long career on Catholic and government education boards; serving as pastor at several locations—the University of the West Indies, Annotto Bay, Sts. Peter and Paul, Holy Cross, Holy Trinity Cathedral, and Above Rocks; and heading or serving in a long list of social and religious organizations: Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the 4-H Movement, the Jamaica Youth Clubs Council, the Juveniles Advisory Council, the Council for Voluntary Social Services, the Council for the Elderly. For twenty-five years he was also half-time program director for Catholic Relief Services in Jamaica. He was the co-founder of three still thriving Jamaican institutions—Operation Friendship and Girls’ Town Jamaica (inner-city youth training programs) and the Foundation for International Self-Help or F.I.S.H. (a medical, eye and dental clinic). For 20 years he served on, or was chair of, the executive committee of the Ministry of Education. Many a year, he said, he sat on 25 committees.
Most notably, for 23 years (1982-2005) he was pastor of Above Rocks, some 15 miles from Kingston, where he oversaw four churches and ten schools, for which he secured volunteers from the U.S., including the Peace Corps. He secured one of the first USAID grants, which paid for 18 volunteers to create rural development projects—hundreds of kitchen gardens, goat- and rabbit-rearing programs, nutrition education, bee keeping—that benefited farmers. He was also instrumental in helping the Jamaican founder of Food for the Poor, Ferdie Mahfoud, extend his organization. His oldest sister Julie took early retirement from the staff of Harvard Law School to come to Jamaica, where she lived at Above Rocks and for 20 years, until her death at the age of 89, served as Louis’ assistant in managing his correspondence and keeping track of his many commitments. In 1976, the Jamaican government conferred on Louis the Order of Distinction, for his education and social work for the people of Jamaica and in 2015 he received an honorary appointment to the Order of Jamaica.
When Louis was 90 he was reassigned from Above Rocks to the Jesuit community at Winchester Park, Kingston, where he assisted in the novitiate and continued to rise around 3:00 a.m. and leave the house by 5:30 a.m. to offer Mass in various convents and institutions. He did not feel old, he said, and noted that he had three aunts who lived to be 100 or more. In 2016, he came to live in at Campion Health Center, in Weston, west of Boston. Though he moved around in a wheelchair, he took full part in community life until days before his death. On June 19, 2017, in the late afternoon a few months short of his 99th birthday, he peacefully went to meet the Lord.
Louis Grenier, like most of his fellow Jesuits, slipped into Jesuit life like a letter slipping into an envelope. He wore his Jesuit vows and personality as he wore his suit coat. He never shouted, never claimed attention and never shirked a duty. He travelled Boston, New York, Miami, the snows of Nebraska, Peru and Argentina, and Nicaragua and Spain and the Holy Land – not for pleasure but for service. He cherished his sisters and brothers and kept them close to him. He pulled a blanket over himself at night and woke at three in the morning to read his breviary. That same breviary was at his bedside as he passed away.