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TORONTO, April 17, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — One of Canada’s greatest life heroes, Basilian Fr. Alphonse de Valk, died April 16 at age 88.
His passing on Thursday afternoon in the palliative care wing of Scarborough General Hospital followed a short bout of pneumonia and was not due to the novel coronavirus.
Fr. de Valk was beloved by many, as attested in accolades from many who laboured along with him to restore legal protection to the child in the womb.
“It’s a shocking loss to the Canadian pro-life movement,” said Jim Hughes, past president of Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s national pro-life, pro-family political lobbying group.
“His commitment to the unborn and the elderly was only surpassed by his faith in Almighty God. He was just outstanding.”
“The Catholic Church in Canada has lost a truly remarkable man,” said Bill Mullally, longtime Campaign Life volunteer and one of Fr. de Valk’s good friends.
“Father’s witness to the Gospel, his love of the priesthood, life, and the family have inspired and influenced many people over the years. Much more will be said for Father’s respect for the truth in all things,” Mullally added.
“And my family have lost a very dear friend, but in great faith we take solace in knowing he will keep an eye on all of us as we continue our own journey.”
This “irascible, stubborn and yet also kind and generous Dutchman (I am half Dutch)” will be “judged by history to have been one of the most significant persons in the history of Canada’s pro-life movement to which he was totally dedicated,” said Steve Jalsevac, co-founder of LifeSiteNews.
“He was a father figure for the cause; firm, uncompromising, and consistent. But inside, he was a real softy with joy and love for everyone, especially the pro-life youth,” said Tanya Granic Allen, pro-life and parental rights activist and mother of five children.
“I was a teenager working in the pro-life movement when I first first encountered Fr. de Valk,” she said. “I admired him greatly. I’m not even sure I ever told him that. But his staunch position for truth and justice is what appealed to me.”
But while Fr. de Valk was known as a pro-life warrior, “deep down he was a priest,” and later in his life “what was there all along shone out more clearly,” said Catholic Insight editor John Paul Meenan.
“What a priest does is offer sacrifice,” Meenan said, who teaches at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay.
“We saw that through the years in his apostolic work, but that spirit of sacrificial love he had for the unborn, elderly, children, Catholics, what motivated that was a deeper thing, offering the sacrifice on the altar, and ultimately the sacrifice of his own life,” he said.
“It’s very inspiring to meet a priest who kept his vows and his promise in a way that was so complete,” added Meenan.
“You never got a hint from Fr. de Valk that there was anything angst-ridden in him. There was always this peace, that I think flowed from a spirit of sacrifice: that he offered his life to God and never looked back.”
From poultry farm to the priesthood
Alphonse Anthony Maria de Valk was born on Easter Sunday, March 27, 1932, in Rotterdam, the fourth of five boys. During the war years, their then-widowed father sent his sons off to boarding school for safety, according to an article by Grace Petrasek in The Interim.
He immigrated to Canada in 1951, landing his first job on a chicken farm in Grimsby, Ontario. Two years later, he and his brother, Neil, moved to Toronto, and over the course of the next years he saved enough as a junior auditor to attend St. Michael’s University and earn his B.A.
However, he cut short his studies for his Masters when he ran out of savings and took a job at an insurance company. It was there that “the idea of becoming a priest popped into my head.”
He entered St. Basil’s Novitiate in Mississauga in 1961, after a first day of hesitation and wondering if he’d made the right decision, his doubts were dispelled, never to return.
The seminary followed in 1962, and he was ordained a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil on December 11 in 1965, at age 33, three days after the close of the Second Vatican Council.
“Being a priest is a tremendous vocation,” he told Petrasek.
“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.”
Academe abandoned for pro-life work
Fr. de Valk held many high level positions in the Basilian order, which is dedicated to education, including a stint as principal of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
But it appears his first love was journalism. While at Saskatoon, he founded the Chelsea Journal, a periodical on current affairs and culture named after St. Thomas More’s home.
And it was in Saskatoon that Fr. de Valk first put his pen — literally, as he wrote everything out in longhand throughout his career — to work in defense of the unborn child, and his articles led to the defeat of a pro-abortion referendum at the university.
It was the beginning of a singular avocation he carried on in Edmonton, founding the Life Ethics Information Centre with a group of supporters. The publishing company produced 36 pamphlets on various pro-life issues over a span of 15 years — including “The Worst Law Ever,” which recounts the 1969 amendment to the Criminal Code legalizing abortion.
And when his order gave him permission to pursue his doctorate in 1972, Fr. de Valk abandoned the field of European history and instead wrote Morality and Law in Canadian Politics, the seminal work documenting the legalization of abortion in Canada.
He wanted “to show what a watershed it was, how ominous, how foreboding of the future unless the decision was overturned,” he told Petrasek.
“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,” he explained then.
“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.”
And in this, Fr. de Valk has sadly been vindicated, noted Jalsevac.
“He was incredibly prophetic and far ahead of almost everyone in understanding the long-term dangers from even the slightest acceptance of abortion, homosexuality and other violations of traditional moral principles,” he said.
Full-time pro-life advocacy at Campaign Life
Also in Edmonton, Fr. de Valk joined the nascent Campaign Life, and when he moved to Toronto in 1983, his superiors gave him permission to work full time in the organization’s national office, then on the third floor of the red-brick ramshackle Mission Press building, just a stone’s throw from St. Michael’s Cathedral.
He began as writer for fledgling pro-life monthly newspaper The Interim, and took over from Sabina McLuhan as editor in 1987, a position he held until 1992.
During that time, Fr. de Valk “published so many articles on homosexuality that we had to repeatedly urge him to cut way back on it because of the numerous complaints being received,” Jalsevac recalled.
“Even most pro-life leaders strongly objected that the issue had nothing to do with pro-life. I doubt anyone in the world was then writing and exposing as much as he was on the topic. As it turned out, Fr. de Valk was right and it was only years later that many caught up to accepting what he desperately warned about.”
He was also involved in starting the Family Coalition Party in 1987, and drafted all the legislation the party supported based on Catholic social principles.
Even when he left The Interim to start Catholic Insight in 1993, Fr. de Valk ran the magazine from the Campaign Life office, and remained very much involved with the organization, including his daily call over the intercom: “It’s 10 minutes to 12. Time to pray.”
“He was our in-house theologian,” said Jeff Gunnarson, current Campaign Life president and the “go-to” person to consult on the moral soundness of legislation, opinions and strategies.
“He was solid. You could trust him. He was hard-nosed, he wasn’t easily moved off his position, but he was not intimidating. He was very welcoming and he always had time to talk to you. It was just very comforting to have him in the office,” Gunnarson said.
“For Campaign Life, he was the perfect chaplain we could have had, because he was not just a superior spiritual director, he had a profound knowledge of Canadian politics vis-a-vis the faith and moral issues, and all of politics,” he added.
“And he led us in prayer every day at the office. He was prayerful. I know that he did the Rosary on the subway on his way in every day, so he was a public witness. He always wore his collar.”
A night in the Don jail
Fr. de Valk also became involved in pro-life street activism in Toronto, spending a night in the notorious Don Jail after he was arrested in October 1985 along Father Ted Colleton and Baptist minister Fred Vaughan, who chained themselves to the gate of the Morgentaler abortion center.
The three men were later acquitted of a trespassing charge.
He picketed in front of the Morgentaler abortion center, then on Harbord Street, every Friday for nearly five years, praying the Rosary and carrying a sign that read: “Stop Abortion.”
When a 1989 injunction banned protests outside the abortion facility, Father continued picketing for nine weeks. He was arrested nine times and charged with trespassing, and ultimately found guilty and fined $750 or two weeks in jail. He never paid the fine, nor did he go to jail.
Fr. de Valk was named among the 18 defendants in the 1994 lawsuit brought by Bob Rae’s NDP government that allowed the attorney general to impose a temporary injunction banning protests within 500 feet of Toronto’s abortion facilities.
In 1993, he started his final journalistic venture, the current affairs periodical Catholic Insight with the support of Campaign Life.
“He thought we had to tackle religious issues stronger than we were,” said Hughes. “We began doing an insert in The Interim in which he delved very strongly into religious matters.”
Hughes recalled a meeting with retired English professor David Dooley, Fr. Joseph Thompson and Father de Valk where they discussed founding Catholic Insight, which was launched using The Interim subscriber list.
Published 10 times a year, Catholic Insight focused the Catholic Church in English-speaking Canada, and covered such topics as the consequences of the Canadian bishops’ disastrous 1969 Winnipeg Statement, the Ontario bishops’ controversial sex-ed curriculum Fully Alive, dissent in Catholic schools, and the encroachment of homosexual activism on the Church and society.
As a result of the latter, in 2008 LGBTQ activists filed a hate speech complaint against Catholic Insight under the infamous Section 13 the Canadian Human Rights Code.
Toronto lawyer Phil Horgan, now president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, defended Fr. de Valk and succeeded in having the case thrown out.
The Basilian priest “was a passionate defender of life and free speech and stood for a robust understanding of freedom of conscience and religion,” Horgan said.
“We took a very vigorous position, and ultimately that position, as well as the work of others of some notoriety in the country, led to the repeal of Section 13” enacted in 2013, he added.
That year, CCRL honoured Fr. de Valk, who co-founded the League in Canada in 1985, with its Archbishop Adam Exner award.
“How blessed we all were to know Fr. de Valk and spend time with him,” Horgan said, adding that Fr. de Valk “had a wry sense of humour. He was always a very serious guy, but he had a little bit of a twinkle in his approach to things.”
He retired as editor and publisher of Catholic Insight in 2012, and the magazine continued in printed form under editor David Beresford until 2015. It is now an online publication edited by Meenan. Fr. de Valk financially supported the founding in 2015 of Faithful Insight, a magazine run by LifeSiteNews, which ceased publication in late 2019.
In his retirement years, Fr. de Valk lived at the Basilian farm in Bolton, at the Cardinal Flahiff Centre on St. Joseph’s Street, and last year moved to the Presentation Centre in Scarborough.
He was very involved in the Marian Movement of Priests, along with his confrere, the late Fr. Lawrence Faye, and had a great devotion to Our Lady.
“To me, the priesthood is the greatest vocation a person can have,” he told Petrasek.“Why I was chosen I don’t know. It is because of the chosen freedom of God, like the mystery of the 12 apostles.”
In light of the current pandemic, Fr. de Valk’s funeral will be held at a later date.