Quebec Studies

Catholicism as Living Memory in a Montreal Spiritualist Congregation

Quebec Studies (2011), 52, (1), 69–86.

Abstract

69 Catholicism as Living Memory in a Montreal Spiritualist Congregation Deirdre Meintel Université de Montréal Introduction Since 20001 have been observing a Spiritualist congregation in Montreal, the Spiritual Church of Healing (SCH).1 The present analysis concerns the en­ during presence of Catholic belief and practice in this group, most of whose members are French-speaking native-born Québécois. Most in this congre­ gation (its official membership is 275) were brought up Catholic. However, they do not see themselves as "converts" from Catholicism to Spiritualism. Moreover, most, even those who have been very active in the SCH for decades as healers and mediums, do not see their religious practice in terms of denominational belonging. A Spiritualist baptism for adults exists, in theory, but no one in the group, including Michel, the pastor, has experi­ enced or witnessed the ritual. Though Spiritualism is a denomination in historical, objectivist terms, it does not function as such for those who attend and contribute their services (as healers and mediums) to the SCH. Elsewhere (Meintel 2007b) I have tried to show that these individuals' aversion to seeing their religious practice in terms of a denominational identity does not exclude the fundamental "change of heart" (Heirich 1977) that lies at the core of conversion. Yet at the same time, the common Catho­ lic frame of reference these Spiritualists share continues to color the ritual activities of this congregation and is, in fact, positively reinforced in the ritual life of the SCH. Catholicism remains present in their lives — and in the SCH — in the form of beliefs, practices and vocabulary. Most retain some kind of identification with the Catholic Church and do not see this as in conflict with their participation in Spiritualist ritual events. The fact that there is no "conversion" to Spiritualism allows them to retain a Catholic identity, as most I have met at the SCH do, while finding new ways to expe­ rience the sacred in their lives. Examining the vitality of Catholic beliefs, devotion, and practices among these Spiritualists offers an occasion to reflect on the significance of religious identity as regards belief and practice. Furthermore, when seen in the light of our findings from a wider study on contemporary religious groups in Québec, our analysis contributes to deepening our understand­ ing of contemporary religious hybridity and of how the Catholic past shapes Quebec's religious landscape in the present. The research2 The study is based principally on participant observation, with occasional interviews with the pastor, "Michel," and interviews with 16 key infor­ mants (8 women, 8 men). Three initial interviews with Michel focused on his personal and religious trajectory and the history of the "Spiritual Québec Studies, Volume 52, Fall 201 I/Winter 2012

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Meintel, Deirdre