Fr. Alphonse Anthony Maria de Valk, a Basilian priest for 55 years, passed away peacefully April 16 at the palliative care unit of the Scarborough General Hospital in Toronto at the age of 88 after a battle with pneumonia.
Fr. de Valk was born March 27, 1932, in Rotterdam, Netherlands to Martien de Valk and Christina Lutkie, the fourth of five sons. His mother died when he was an infant and his father sent his sons to boarding school. Their education was interrupted for a year during World War II because schools were closed due to air raids in the country.
He immigrated to Canada in 1951 at the age of 19 and worked on a farm and cement factory in southwestern Ontario. He attended the University of Toronto and entered the Basilian Novitiate in 1961 and St. Basil’s seminary the following year. He received a Masters in History from the University of Toronto in 1965, the same year he was ordained to the priesthood.
Fr. de Valk was appointed to St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, where he taught for 12 years (1965-77). During this time he worked to salvage historical records, books, and periodicals after Catholic schools and other institutions had been closed in western Canada in the 1970s. He served for two years as president of the Canadian Catholic Historical Society (1974-1976).
He returned to Toronto to complete his doctorate in history. He planned to write his thesis on “Hitler and the Church, 1933-1945” and went to Germany to begin research in 1969. After Canada brought in abortion-on-demand in 1969, Fr. de Valk changed the topic of this thesis, and in 1974 publishedMorality in Law in Canadian Politics – The Abortion Controversy.
Jim Hughes, the long-time president of Campaign Life Coalition and friend of Fr. de Valk, told The Interimthat Morality in Law in Canadian Politics was a must-read – “The Bible for pro-lifers” he called it, adding, “if you will pardon the expression.” It is, Hughes continued, “rich in everything that happened in the lead-up to the Omnibus Bill and who was behind it.”
In 1978, Fr. de Valk was appointed principal of St. Joseph’s College in Edmonton. During a protest against abortion in that province, Fr. de Valk famously cut up his Alberta health card.
In 1983, he returned to Toronto and the lifelong scholar turned his attention full-time to the pro-life movement. He began working with Campaign Life Coalition in 1984 and was editor of The Interim, Canada’s pro-life, pro-family newspaper, from 1987 through 1992.
At the same time, he helped found the Family Coalition Party in 1987 and developed its first policies in accordance with Christian principles.
Fr. de Valk was also editor of The Chelsea Journal and founding editor of Catholic Insight (1993). He was a co-founder of Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) in 1985 and was heavily involved with the Marian Movement of Priests. In 2013, the CCRL honoured Fr. de Valk with their Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life for his scholarship, faithful Catholic witness, and pro-life activism.
The Catholic Register reported that during his time at St. Thomas More and St. Joseph’s, Fr. de Valk published more than 200 articles on abortion. Many of them were published through the Life Ethics Centre which he founded to promote Catholic teaching on moral issues. It published 36 booklets of 12-24 pages by various authors including Donald DeMarco, David Dooley, Monsignor Vincent Foy and Fr. Leonard Kennedy, among others. In total, the Centre distributed more than one million pamphlets. The most important of them was Fr. de Valk’s 1979 pamphlet “The Worst Law Ever” about the 1969 omnibus bill that effectively decriminalized abortion, and “Joseph Borowski and the Trial of the Century,” in 1983.
He resigned as editor of Catholic Insight in 2012 following a stroke and his 80thbirthday. At a dinner to honour him, Steve Jalsevac, managing director of LifeSiteNews said Fr. de Valk was prescient, “a man ahead of his time with his warning of legalizing abortion.” Jalsevac also noted that more than a decade before “same-sex marriage” entered the political lexicon, Fr. de Valk was warning where the gay rights movement was headed and the threat it presented to family life.
During his speech to close the night, Fr. de Valk thanked God for calling him to the priesthood. He also praised the grassroots pro-life movement, from the student groups to which he was a chaplain in Saskatoon to national organizations like Campaign Life Coalition. He said their steadfast defense of the sanctity of human life remained strong even when political and ecclesiastical leadership was lacking.
“God’s grace has allowed us to withstand the sexual revolution,” de Valk concluded. “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord … since you know fully well that you will receive an inheritance from Him as your reward.”
Hughes told The Interim that a meeting had been held with Fr. Lawrence Abello, Fr. Ted Colleton, Fr. de Valk – a Jesuit, a Spiritan, and a Basilian – and himself in which they discussed strategy. Fr. Abello said someone, perhaps Hughes, should get arrested during the pickets at the Morgentaler abortuary in Toronto. Fr. de Valk said that Hughes’ leadership in the pro-life movement was necessary so he should avoid getting arrested. In the end, it was Fr. Colleton and Fr. de Valk who were arrested.
In 1985, Fr. de Valk was arrested with Fr. Colleton and Baptist minister Rev. Fred Vaughan, after they chained themselves to the gate of the Morgentaler abortuary, and he spent a night in the Don Jail. He continued to pray and picket outside the abortuary every Friday for almost five years. He was arrested nine more times and at one point faced a fine of $750 or two weeks in jail. He did not pay the fine nor did he serve time in jail.
Fr. Ian Boyd, who was also involved with CLC, said of his late friend: “One might say that Alphonse’s very Dutch faults were qualities that became virtues in his fierce defense of defenseless human life. May God reward him for his loyal and uncompromising service to that cause.”
Hughes said that CLC was always blessed with strong spiritual leadership from priests such as Fr. Abello, Fr. Colleton, and Basilians Fr. de Valk and Fr. Boyd, noting that the Basilians played an important role in the formation of Campaign Life, first by providing the space to meet and through the spiritual and activist leadership of some of their priests.
Hughes said that Fr. de Valk was traveling through Toronto one day in the early 1980s when he invited the priest to stay and work with CLC. Fr. de Valk said he would if they would have him and if he was granted permission of his order’s Superior General. Thus began a 30-year relationship. Fr. de Valk’s first task was working on a comprehensive list of pro-life candidates for the 1984 election. Shortly afterward he began writing for The Interimand became its associate editor under Sabina McLuhan. He also helped CLC found Teachers for Life, Nurses for Life, and Catholic Active for Life. As Fr. de Valk told Grace Petrasek for her book Silhouettes in the Snow: Profiles of Canadian Defenders of Life, “exposing the truth about abortion consumes most of my time.” Hughes said he attended every strategy meeting and that he was brilliant at analyzing political and cultural developments. Petrasek called him “an intellectual candle.”
Hughes said it was Fr. de Valk who recognized that abortion was merely one front in a cultural conflict with secular society. The Interimbegan broader coverage of religious freedom, sex education, so-called gay rights, and family life. In 1993, Hughes met with David Dooley, Dr. John Shea, and Fr. de Valk to discuss a new endeavour, and so they founded Catholic Insight. Fr. de Valk moved seamlessly from editor of a pro-life paper to editor of a Catholic periodical.
Catholic Insight covered Catholic issues, both inside the Church and within the broader culture. In 2007, homosexual activist Rob Wells filed a Canadian Human Rights Commission complaint saying that Fr. de Valk and Catholic Insightpublished articles allegedly hateful toward homosexuals. Ultimately, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the complaint baseless, but not before Fr. de Valk incurred about $20,000 in legal fees. Fr. de Valk maintained that he was simply presenting Catholic moral teaching and that “we love the sinner but hate the sin.”
Fr. de Valk was known for being a bit strong-willed – Hughes said that he was a “hard-headed Dutchman, like Fr. Ted was a hard-headed Irishman – but CLC’s president emeritus said he had a heart of gold. When he saw that Hughes had a light coat on in winter, he arranged for him to obtain a big coat from a deceased fellow priest. Fr. de Valk also had a wonderful sense of humour and mischievous grin.
Hughes recalled going to St. Thomas More College in Saskatchewan and seeing a William Kurelek mural depicting, among others, Fr. de Valk. Hughes said that Kurelek saw in Fr. de Valk the same qualities he saw in the subject of another painting, former Manitoba cabinet minister and defender of the unborn, Joseph Borowski.
Hughes said that Fr. de Valk’s most important advice to the pro-life movement was “pray and listen to what God is saying,” and “not to be afraid of anything because God is in charge.”
Fr. Alphonse de Valk was predeceased by his four brothers.
Funeral services could not be held for Fr. de Valk because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Campaign Life Coalition was trying to organize a virtual memorial service.