I remember playing in the forest just beyond our backyard—before new developments leveled it, along with Monsieur Perron's labyrinthine corn fields and most of our childhood. There was a tree there—a maple I think— that I used to climb, spending hours hanging off one of its branches doing nothing but contemplating life and fancying myself some kind of mystic. I must've been about nine years-old. Like the majority of francophones in Quebec's rebellious post 1960's society I was being raised Catholic as little more than a cultural formality, but I had been very impressed by a school lesson during "catéchèse"... And for a brief, awkward period of my life I found myself suddenly identifying closely with those teachings. Total ego trip really as I pretty much went around playing prophet the way I'd play at being Spiderman, urging my buddies to love and understand each other instead of fighting super-villains; admittedly, to everyone's dismay. Which explains why I spent a whole lot of time alone in the tree that summer.
Eventually I came out of it. Eventually, I embraced a much different worldview that didn't include an all-seeing, all-powerful God. Over the years I gained a fair amount of skepticism about organized religion and many of its actors; I often saw little more than an attempt at power and control, obfuscating the founding principles which had once resonated with me. But a fascination with the interiorized nature of faith and with mysticism as a whole remained.
My phone rang one morning. I was editing images from a shoot, probably still on my first cup of coffee–the details are fuzzy. "My name is David Kruse, I'm from Washington. I've been following your work for some time and was wondering if you gave workshops by any chance... I'll be driving through Montreal in a few weeks and would love it if we could get together."
That's how it all began.
We sat down at a Starbucks on Saint-Catherine street one morning and David told me his story: a veteran of the war in Iraq who had sworn an oath to himself, to make the pilgrimage to Compostella if he made it out alive; the german woman he met on that spiritual trek and later almost married; the pull of the church from a very young age, intermixed with a love of the arts, music, philosophy—photography, of course. I'd be lying to say I wasn't both surprised and taken aback when he told me he was on his way to becoming a catholic priest, finishing his last year of theological studies before a possible assignment. Ok... To be honest my reaction, although I didn't show it at the time, went deeper than that: I was stunned. Here was someone real and honest, shattering an entire lifetime of preconceived ideas about priesthood and the type of individual susceptible of getting the calling. Up to this point I had cynically never seen truth as being part of that equation, nor sacrifice for that matter. These were words meant to lull the masses into accepting their overlords; an opiate; a slight of hand. I had come to perceive the religious sentiment as an act of manipulation, either as a get out of jail free card or a money grab.
Our discussions eventually turned to philosophy, to the psychology of faith and the pursuit of beauty. We hit it off. And what was meant to be a one day affair turned into three.
When David called a year and a half later, proposing to hire me to document his ordination, I was not only thrilled but honored; we had kept in touch since our encounter but this was a highly personal undertaking.
I leaped at the chance.
Ordained, in my mind, is a book of journeys. David's journey of course but also those of everyone I met during this project who casually shared their thoughts and feelings without restraint: his sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends... All feeding me, helping me understand the genesis behind such a radical and life-altering choice, their personal experiences bringing not only insight but context. Because stories are never solely about what is visible but also about what lies beneath, pushing against the surface, informing how and what we capture as photographers. Through it all however, it's also about my own personal journey of reconciliation with the idea of a religious experience that transcends one's own needs, a realization that behind the pageantry and intricate rituals there is the very real, honest and selfless reality of entire lives given to the service of others, every vocation borne of its own microcosm and chain of events.
My personal beliefs haven't changed: I am and will always remain an observer in matters of religion—the wide-eyed mysticism of that nine year-old has long since passed. But I've been profoundly touched by what I've seen and heard, by David's goals and ultimate quest, by all those around him. In a way, perhaps something in me has changed... A renewed faith; maybe not in God, but in Love and Humanity—whoever their architect may be.
Patrick La Roque - August 2015