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Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Feb. 1991 Interim. Since then he has added another 20 years to being a priest, left The Interim to found and edit Catholic Insight for nearly two decades, been the subject of a human rights complaint, and much more. On Oct. 18, The Interim joins Catholic Insight, Campaign Life Coalition, LifeSiteNews, and Niagara Region Right to Life honouring Fr. de Valk to celebrate his contributions to the pro-life movement.
Rev. Alphonse de Valk, 58, historian, author and editor of The Interim, celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest on Dec. 11, 1990.
A few months ago, Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes told him that CLC wanted to celebrate the anniversary and honour him. He replied, “There is no need for a celebration because in our Basilian Order silver anniversaries are common and usually marked only by a quiet gathering of family and friends.”
And that’s what happened. On Dec. 10, 100 of his pro-life family and friends gathered to celebrate the event in the splendour of St. Michael’s Cathedral in downtown Toronto.
As the midday sun streamed in through the stained glass windows, like a blessing beamed from above, Fr. de Valk celebrated the noon Mass, concelebrated by Fathers Ted Colleton, Edward Graham and Stephen Somerville.
After Mass, his faithful flock of pro-life family and friends crossed the street to the familiar Bond Place Hotel where they feted him with a luncheon. Father then treated us to a summary of his life’s journey, culminating in his call to the priesthood and ordination in 1965.
Born in Rotterdam in 1932, he was the fourth of five brothers raised by their widowed father, who sent the boys away to boarding school during the perilous war years.
After the war the family was reunited and Alphonse finished high school, immigrating to Canada in 1951. He worked on a farm in Grimsby, Ontario, for five months and later had factory jobs in Woodstock and London.
In 1953, he and his brother Neil moved to Toronto, after first experiencing the desolation of unemployment. Eventually he found employment as a junior auditor for a firm of chartered accountants. Over the next three years he managed to save $1200—enough to scrape through four years of university at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.
In 1958 he graduated with a B.A. in and the next year began studies for an M.A. in history. After a year, with his financial resources depleted, he found work with an insurance company working with the new computer technology.
But Alphonse became restless and one day, he recalls, “The idea of becoming a priest popped into my head.” He explored it and after prayer, consultation and some initial panic, entered St. Basil’s Novitiate in Mississauga in 1961 and the seminary in 1962.
Fr. de Valk loved life in the seminary. As a “late vocation” he liked the freedom and time to work, study and pray – ora èt labora. Church times were exciting during the Second Vatican Council and he welcomed the new Church openness, even though the fallout among priests and seminarians was high.
His own vision of the priesthood never faltered and he was ordained on Dec. 11, 1965.
About the priesthood he says, “Being a priest is a tremendous vocation. It allows you to do so many things for people but always to live on the highest possible level of ideals. It certainly means serving the Lord in the world and for me the intellectual apostolate of teaching, growing in study and doing the will of God. To be a priest is to preside at the liturgy, to teach the faith and to do everything that Christ did as a Priest.”
When he returned to Saskatoon in the fall of 1969, he began to follow editorials in the Globe and Mail supporting abortion on demand and attacking Catholic hospitals which refused to do them. Slowly it dawned on him that something momentous had happened in Canada while he had been away.
When the students of his own university decided to participate in a national university referendum to support abortion on demand in the spring of 1971, he set to work. He asked several fellow professors to write articles against abortion but when they declined, he wrote them himself.
Knowing about church/ state conflict over the last 400 years, and having studied Germany before the rise of Hitler, he was convinced that one may not compromise on basic principles. Realizing that such a fatal compromise had taken place with the legalization of abortion in 1969, he felt he could not stand by idly.
In December 1970, his first article was published, and then several others were picked up by a student working on the university newspaper. These were reprinted and reached 10,000 students. They led to the defeat of the pro-abortion “referendum” at the University of Saskatchewan, the only university of the 10 across Canada where this happened. It was a sweet first victory.
In 1972, Fr. de Valk received a study leave to finish his doctoral thesis. But by this time the abortion issue loomed heavily in the media, and he didn’t want to be like the German professor, who in 1944, was reported to be writing about “The Fall of the Babylonian Empire,” while overhead aerial bombs reduced his city to rubble. He decided to abandon his thesis and, instead, write about the legalization of abortion in Canada “to show what a watershed it was, how ominous, how foreboding of the future unless the decision was overturned.”
His Ph.D. thesis would have to wait. It is still waiting.
Fr. de Valk summarizes his pro-life involvement as occurring in three stages.
The first was his writing in the early 1970s; this culminated in the landmark book, Morality and Law in Canadian Politics: The Abortion Controversy, published in 1974 with the help of a grant from the Social Sciences Research Council of Canada.
Of this stage, he says, “As a historian, 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. 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.”
He cites historian Arnold Toynbee, saying that every age has its own challenge and crisis which must be met; otherwise “the society goes under.” Fr. de Valk believes that abortion and the attack on the unborn is the critical issue of our time because abortion trespasses the threshold from the tolerable into the intolerable.
Morality and Law is a thorough account and analysis of how abortion was legislated in Canada in 1969. It is a Canadian classic.
The second part of Father’s pro-life involvement began with his activism in Saskatoon and Edmonton, while still carrying on the intellectual work of an historian. While teaching “out west,” he gradually became a pro-life activist. He was treasurer of Saskatoon Birthright from 1970-78 and was one of several co-founders of Saskatoon Amnesty International. In 1978, when he became principal of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Edmonton, he began a pro-life group and joined the newly-established national organization, Campaign Life. Little did he know how he would become part of its future.
Of his pro-life involvement, Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, says, “Fr. de Valk brings a historian’s overview and so his perspective is different from that of most people. He’s irreplaceable in that way. But equally important is his ability to focus on the spiritual side of the pro-life struggle which is an inspiration to all of us who work with him.”
Father sees his work at CLC “as the human side of the issue” and enjoys meeting pro-life people.
He thrives on intellectual debate and has written probably over 200 articles on abortion over the last two decades. Some are critical of the Church hierarchy’s approach to the abortion issue in Canada, and for these articles he has been accused of “bishop-bashing,” an accusation that hurts him. He says he gives great care to everything he writes, and does so out of love for the Church. “If we fail to acknowledge our failure, then we can’t progress in virtue.” He says humility is” infused in pro-life work and without it, pride takes over.
At The Interim
The third part of Father’s pro-life involvement began when he moved to Toronto in 1983. Soon afterward in 1984, with the permission of his Superiors, he joined Campaign Life full-time, beginning his work by organizing the first comprehensive list of pro-life and pro-abortion candidates for the 1984 election.
That same year he started working at The Interim, and several years later replaced an exhausted Sabina McLuhan as editor.
“The Interim is very hard work because the insistence on seeking the truth has been very important in dealing with the other side and with our own people who should be with us but who aren’t,” he says.
He believes the key to winning the abortion battle is the struggle for people’s minds and hearts, and both have to be won before pro-life laws are legislated. The Interim tries to do this work.
In Toronto, his activism took a new direction. In October 1985, joined by Fr. Ted Colleton and Rev. Fred Vaughan, a Baptist minister, Fr. de Valk chained himself to the Morgentaler abortuary gate, was arrested, and charged with trespassing. He spent a night in the Toronto Don Jail, but later all three were acquitted of the charges against them.
Every Friday, rain or shine, he was a regular picketer for almost five years, walking in front of the abortuary praying the Rosary and carrying a big, bold red sign “Stop Abortion.”
Even after the 1989 injunction prohibited protests outside the abortuary, he continued for nine weeks. He was arrested nine times and charged with trespassing. He went to court and was fined $750 or two weeks in jail.
Since then he has stopped witnessing at Morgentaler’s, but he has not paid his fine or gone to jail. He says that his purpose in protesting outside Morgentaler’s all that time was to demonstrate the need to uphold the law of God against the acceptability of abortion.
A pro-life colleague, David Dooley, retired English professor and department head at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, who writes for The Interim and other publications, says, “Fr. de Valk is very determined and thorough in his writing. He is an intellectual stimulus and has continued to write on abortion for almost two decades. He’s been at it since the beginning and has accumulated material on Catholics in Canada and kept track of Catholic intellectual development in Canada. In that sense he’s an astonishing resource and knows about politicians and individuals who have been involved over the years.”
Because he brings a wide background of historical knowledge to his writing in The Interim, Dooley says, Fr. de Valk continues to analyze underlying causes associated with the pro-abortion mentality in Canada. “Therefore he’s interested in many related issues whether moral or political. He sees the intellectual and moral developments since the 1960s as evidence almost of a national apostasy.”
His overriding concern both as a historian and as a priest is the pursuit of truth. The law has a teaching effect on conduct and he quite rightly predicted that the media would conduct an effective campaign to promote abortion on demand once the law was changed. We now seem to be in a process whereby the entire nation loses sight of the meaning of abortion and its evil effect on society.
While Fr. de Valk continues his vigorous pro-life writing, his consolation and strength come from his priesthood. “To me the priesthood is the greatest vocation a person can have. Why I was chosen I don’t know. It is because of the chosen freedom of God, like the mystery of the twelve apostles,” he says.
Like the monks of old, Fr. de Valk, intellectual candle of our age, writes for history and works for all preborn children that they may survive.
Out of the depths of his priestly soul, like a loving father, he works to save the soul of a nation that would harm any one of God’s precious preborn.