On Easter Sunday of 1932, Alphonse Anthony Maria de Valk was born in the Netherlands. What used to be known as Christendom had just endured one World War and would soon suffer another. After living through that ordeal, the young de Valk took the path of so many Europeans after the war in emigrating to North America. Arriving in Canada in 1951, he found employment and education – and then, one day, in his late 20s, as he put it, the “idea of becoming a priest popped into my head.” He entered the seminary and was ordained in the Congregation of St. Basil in 1965.
As a Catholic priest in a teaching order, Fr. de Valk could have enjoyed the comfortable life of an academic, and he followed this trajectory in his early career, holding posts at St. Joseph College at the University of Alberta and St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan. Fr. de Valk was a keen student of history, but, during his doctoral studies, history happened. The legalization of abortion was being debated in the pages of the Canadian press in the late 60s, and Fr. de Valk responded by abandoning his doctoral research to make use of his training as an historian in the public – and pastoral – service of truth.
And so, with his magisterial work, Morality and Law in Canadian Politics: The Abortion Controversy(1974), Fr. de Valk turned away from the tomes of the scholar to take up the journalist’s task of writing history’s first draft. As he put it, “my entrance into the pro-life movement came from a realization that an error in principle in a grave matter of life and death either has to be reversed or it will destroy society.” For Fr. de Valk, the precedent was all too clear: “Anti-Semitism in Germany between 1918 and 1939 should have been redressed because the Nazis made use of it and it destroyed Germany. Likewise, legalized abortion will destroy Western societies unless we redress it.”
Fr. de Valk knew that even societies with all the outward trappings of morals, prosperity, culture and refinement can quickly descend into barbarism. This descent, however, happens not in the blink of an eye, but gradually, and in the full view of those who avert their gaze. Thus, with integrity and real bravery, Fr. de Valk chose not simply to be a passive observer of history but an active witness to it.
He was a tireless editor of both The Interimand Catholic Insight, the latter the magazine he founded and ran for almost 20 years. In each of these publications, he recorded for posterity a detailed account of the continuing corruption of Canadian morality, bill by bill, vote by vote, and action by action. Nor were these invaluable projects the extent of his pro-life activism: he chained himself to abortion clinics, he was arrested multiple times, and he wrangled with legal opponents who brought spurious complaints against him, intending to silence and penalize him.
But more important than even these tremendous acts of service and courage to the pro-life movement is the way they were done: in a deep spirit of sacrifice and prayer. Fr. de Valk lived as a witness not only to history, but to the mystery of his own sacerdotal election. Like the late, great Irish priest, Fr. Ted Colleton, Fr. de Valk was a missionary from Europe to Canada, a modern-day evangelist to the decadent, post-Christian world. Although he has now entered into his rest, the value and the meaning of his life’s work and his prayers are only just beginning to emerge.
De Valk was born on Easter in 1932. In the Octave of the Easter Season of 2020, De Valk was born into new life. “Being a priest,” he once remarked, “is a tremendous vocation. It allows you … to live on the highest possible level of ideals.” The most fitting tribute we can give to Fr. Alphonse de Valk is that he fully lived out the beautiful and lofty ideals to which he aspired. And his embodiment of those ideals, in his priestly life of work and prayer, is a gift to us from the same One who called him to that service.