It is with deep sadness that we share the news that Brother Paul Desmarais SJ passed away on August 16, 2023, at René Goupil House in Pickering, Ont. He was 78 years old and in his 60th year in the Society of Jesus. He belonged to the newly formed Southern African province, after many years of service in Zambia.
Friends and supporters of Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) will remember Brother Paul for his transformative work at the Jesuit-run Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) in Zambia, where he spent 40 years as director, and later, as director of its new diploma program on organic agriculture. In 1990, he pioneered organic farming at KATC, a farmer-training institute of the Jesuits, where his legacy lives on. Brother Paul moved back to Canada in 2022 for health reasons.
Brother Paul had a great sense of humour, which belied his deep faith and unwavering commitment to serve poor and marginalized people. His love for people and the earth made him a strong advocate for ecological justice. “Social justice has to include justice for the environment,” he said many times. Decades of organic farming helped him develop a greater ecological awareness, which he noted, “helps us in being in touch with God the creator. We can more readily thank the Creator for the birds singing, for the flowers, for the simple and yet intrinsically complicated web of life in which we are immersed.” His commitment to organic agriculture was rooted in his commitment to the most marginalized sectors of the population, as he knew that organic farming would benefit small scale farmers who had less than five hectares of land.
During a recent visit to the Jesuit senior home in Pickering, Ont., where Brother Paul lived the remainder of his life, CJI Executive Director Jenny Cafiso asked him how he would like to be remembered. “For my development work, which has permeated my whole life” he said.
God, he added, “has been extremely good and kind to me. Mine has been a life full of graces. I wish I could have offered more. I wish I could have done more, and better. But what can you do? You do what you can (laughs).” Everything, he said, “is in the Lord’s hands. I say, ‘I’d like to do more,’ but that’s not necessarily what God has planned for me or for others.” As he faced the end of his life, he said that his understanding of God has changed, “It Is very simple: God is good, God is full of mercy. That is it.”
Fr. Leonard Chiti SJ, current provincial of the Jesuits of Southern Africa, visited Brother Paul in his final days. He praised Brother Paul’s pioneering work not only in Zambia but in the African continent. Fr Chiti made a commitment to honour Brother Paul’s legacy by ensuring that his decades-long work at KATC will continue.
Please help make this possible by donating in Brother Paul’s memory to the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC), Zambia: Click here.
Visitation has been scheduled for Monday, August 28, 2023, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at St. Ignatius Chapel, Manresa, at 2325 Liverpool Road, Pickering, ON l1X 1V4. A funeral mass will be held in the same place on Tuesday, August 29, 2023, at 10:30 a.m., followed by an interment at 2:20 p.m. in the Jesuit Cemetery, Guelph, Ont.
Tributes to Brother Paul Desmarais SJ
“Greetings from Chishawasha, just outside Harare, Zimbabwe. I am still saddened by the passing of Brother Paul. He was an inspiration to me and I will cherish his words of encouragement when I started out at the JCTR. I was truly blessed to have visited him a few weeks ago. May we be inspired by his memory by doing our bit to continue his legacy of helping those less fortunate than ourselves.” — Fr Leonard Chiti SJ, Provincial, Society of Jesus in Southern Africa
“My condolences for brother Paul Desmarais. He fought a good fight. Those of us who were in the novitiate during his time at Kasisi all thought one day we will be like him as Jesuits: enterprising, innovative, hardworking, creative, revolutionary, rebranding the Jesuit brand, creators of both present and future, down to earth, lovers of the people of God and true Jesuits. Hamba kahle brother. Journey prayers as you much to eternal life. May St Ignatius and Francis Xavier meet you.” — Fr. Peter Paul Musekiwa SJ; Acting Parish Priest and Acting Mission Superior in Chinhoyi, Makonde, Zimbabwe
“… He was a man of great love who dedicated his entire adult life to upgrading the agrarian skills of Zambians and many other sub-Saharan African peoples. As well, along with Fr. Pete and the entire Jesuit community of Lusaka, he constantly espoused and promulgated the principles of ecological and social justice – always in a generous non-judgmental manner. We too have heavy hearts as we remember his amazing kindness and warmth when he hosted a visit that we had the privilege of making it to KATC many years ago. A good and faithful servant, indeed, who will surely now rest in eternal peace. We extend our sincere condolences to you and to thzaose in the S of J and CJI who have been close to him during the final steps of his journey as well as to all who had the pleasure and privilege of knowing and working with Br. Paul over many years in the Jesuit community of Lusaka.” — Richard and Suzanne Sims
“That is sad news about Brother Paul. I met him when he visited Canada and I was working in the mission office. I always remember when the missionaries from Africa came home and stayed in Toronto Father Farrell would get them to help with some building projects in the office. There they were in their clerics (which were usually borrowed so u can imagine the fit) together with Father Farrell putting up drywall together. Then covered in that thin dust as the end of the day off they would go with Father to do a slide show in a parish or home. It didn’t matter where he was he was happiest contributing to a cause.” — Barb Huang
“So very sad news. The tribute was beautiful. I feel privileged to have known him – and have Mission Possible donate to his cause.” — Anne Bachusky
“I’m profoundly honored and exceedingly humbled to convey this message of condolences to you brothers, sisters, and entire family of Bro Paul Desmarais and Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) management.
As a student representative, I wish to say that the untimely death of Bro Paul, founding father of KATC and architect of Agroecology course, leaves us with deep sorrow and great heaviness in our hearts. I must say that the majority students, if not all, are devastated by the demise of Bro Paul who time and again, we thought would stay a little longer with us so he could see the seeds and fruits of the agroecology course in Zambia.
As pioneers of the agroecology course at Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, we will not only greatly miss Bro Paul, we will forever remain indebted to him for the firm foundation that he built at KATC. We wish to whisper Bro Paul even as he goes into the next life that his efforts will never go in vain but will bear abundant fruits not only in Zambia but also beyond. Allow me now on behalf of my fellow Agroecology students at KATC, and indeed on my own behalf, to convey my sincere heartfelt condolences. May the almighty God strengthen and bring you peace in this trying moment even as we together celebrate Bro Paul’s life.” — Mike Ngulube, KATC Student Union President
“What a man of passion and commitment to the care of the earth. I imagine Paul rambling and rejoicing in the vast green acres of HEAVEN free of pesticides and artificial stuff. He has arrived in Paradise after fighting the good fight for a better world. Bless him as he blesses us who walked with him.
He has just been joined by Bro. Gabrielle McKinney -an Irish Brother-who ran the garage in Chikuni for over 60 years repairing bicycles, ox-carts, tractors, batteries, radios , cars and pick ups. He kept the mission on the road and is the last Irish SJ in Chikuni after almost 100 years.
Our companions like Bros Paul and Gabriel are the anonymous saints of our world. Their dedication, commitment and passion -en todo amar y servir – shines out like bright stars and are ever inspiring.” —John Guiney, Director, Irish Jesuits International