Land Lovers – June 2024

This is the fourth “Land Lovers” profile, compiled by local Guelph artist, writer and Ignatius land lover, Dawn Matheson, with photography by Teresa Blanking, flower gardener and dog walker. Please reach out to us if you are a lover of our fields and forests, flora and fauna and want to share in the wonder. We’d like to profile you.

Bill Clarke, SJ

Father Bill has lived in “the little house” on the land “across the fields” at Ignatius since 1980. It was those fields that first drew him here from Toronto, and, at 91, have kept him here doing the ministry of spiritual accompaniment of individuals and communities.

1.      Who are you? What would you like us to know about you?

I graduated in civil engineering in 1956, in April, and I joined the Jesuits to become a priest in September in that same year. My home and life is here, at Ignatius.

2.      How do you spend most of your time out on the land at Ignatius?

It started with the “Farm Community,”* back when I first came. Father Doug McCarthy, the chaplain at the prison [the Ontario Reformatory], had the vision of welcoming people here who were coming out of jail— and people with learning disabilities — you know, people who don’t fit in just anywhere. Everyone needs a home. That is how I wanted to live— together with people who needed it most, in community. So, we all came to know each other through working the land and living in the farm house. It was a journey of transformation for us all. When that ended in 2001, I just stayed on, accompanying people in their spiritual life, still drawing on the beauty of the place. I’ve had trouble with my hip so I mostly look out through the window to watch the sun set and the moon rise.

3.      Why do you come? What does this land offer you?

Well, it feeds us. It’s the beauty of it all. I don’t know what it is. It’s comforting, even just looking out the window at it. When I’m out at St. Francis Chapel chapel at the villa, I have a sense that I’m with my sister, who has passed. And, then, well, my brothers want in on it, too, and my parents— I’m the last of the family— so, it feels like a family reunion out there in the fields. The best place to pray is on the land.

4.      What do you do to give back to the land?

That’s a good question. I don’t know what I do, physically. I pick up the garbage. Hmm. And, I love the land. I think that is a power. I love to be in communion with it, in solitude. But, I have made many friends because of it, too. That’s what I do: I share it so that others can love it, too.

* Bill has written a beautiful book on the “Ignatius Farm Community” called The Face of Friendship, which is available at Loyola House.

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