New career gives retired archbishop a spring in his step

Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie has a new lease on life in his new role as retreat house chaplain.


Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie has a new lease on life in his new role as retreat house chaplain.

December 23, 2013

Archbishop emeritus Sylvain Lavoie looks cheerful these days. As chaplain of the Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, he is doing many of the things he enjoys, such as organizing liturgies for the centre's staff and giving retreats and workshops.

"But there have been times when I haven't been so cheerful," he recalls. "The years 2011-12 weren't very cheerful years for me. Very painful; anyway it was what it was. Now we carry on. Life has changed not ended."

In July 2012 Lavoie took the unusual step of resigning his post as archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas. He was only 65 at the time.

"I had a major burnout. So after seven years as the archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas, I decided to let Murray Chatlain become an archbishop," Lavoie laughs, referring to his successor.

He guesses his gifts are not those suited to governing a diocese. "I decided maybe I should resign that position, and about three weeks later I started to heal," he said in an interview. "So I guess it took some stress off. I have been getting better ever since. I think it was the right decision."

Since October, Lavoie has been chaplain and spiritual director at Star of the North. "I also give workshops and retreats and I'm finding it challenging to come up with new material after years of doing workshops and retreats on addictions awareness."

Currently he is writing a book on the topic, his third. The second one, Together We Heal, is about the healing of sexual abuse and will be out soon.

Now in his new position Lavoie is required to develop new material. So along with the addiction awareness workshops and retreats he gives, he has to come up with material for scriptural, renewal and parish retreats. He recently led an Advent retreat for a parish in Saskatchewan. "That's new for me," he says.


After Christmas, he will be giving a monthly session on exploring scriptural themes through biblical art, using the paintings of Seiger Koder, an 82-year-old German priest.

He is planning to run several addictions programs and will also lead a program aimed at recapturing the spirit of the early Church.

That program, called Returning to Our Roots, will be based on Acts 2.42, when Christians were devoted to prayer, Scripture, the Eucharist and fellowship. In his former diocese the retreat was made into a four-year process.

In March, Lavoie will lead a Lenten retreat at Providence Renewal Centre. Called You are my Witnesses, the retreat is about the new evangelization. "I'm just putting it together now."

Not stopping there, he will lead a five-day retreat in Fort Smith in January, does replacement ministry in parishes and hears Confessions in schools. With Lucie Leduc, director of the Star of the North, Lavoie is also preparing to give retreats and start a young adult Oblate group.

Leduc is an Oblate associate, and Lavoie says, "we both want to move the retreat House more along the line of the Oblate charism of St. Eugène de Mazenod, which is reaching out to the poor and the marginalized."


He and Leduc are developing a weekend retreat for marginalized men. There has been a retreat at the Star of the North for marginalized women from the inner city for several years.

Is Lavoie already working more than he did as archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas? He laughed and said, "Not yet; I don't think but I have to keep an eye on that. It's a little busy right now because I am developing new material. But I think by next March I'll be able to settle down a little bit."

Asked why he takes on so much work, he quickly replied, "I probably have the same spirit that Eugène de Mazenod had to reach out to people and help them grow. My motto as a bishop was The Kingdom of God is Within You.

"I think God has given me certain talents and I've got to put them to good use. It's also rewarding."


Aren't you risking burning out again?

"Some things have changed," he says. "When I look at my journal as a bishop over the past six and a half years, not once had I written a day off. And that's not healthy. So now I've got a day off once a week and I'm not working in the evenings.

"I have more time for family, for friends and for leisure. In other words, I'm trying to practise what I preach about living a balanced life."

Leduc, the director of Star of the North, said Lavoie was hired to provide spiritual direction to the staff and to do some programming, such as retreats and workshops.


"But he is free to pursue other requests he has as long as he can do some things here," she said. "He is doing pretty well here. I won't let him burn out (again)."

"I'm keeping an eye on myself," said Lavoie. "Maybe (my work) sounds like a lot, but it's spread out over five, six months."

He makes a regular poustinia (a day of prayer and fasting), shovels snow and goes swimming every second day. "I love sailing and kayaking as well. I'll be doing more of that now that I have more time for it."