The Villa Saint-Martin was the first retreat house in Canada to offer facilitated or preached retreats. Retreats began between 1910 and 1913 at the Villa’s first location in Boucherville, QC. The retreat centre then moved to Laval. It took its name from the parish where it was located. In these years following its foundation, interest grew dramatically in this style of retreat and by the 1950’s, the Villa had welcomed over 100,000 retreatants.
The Villa Saint-Martin moved again in 1953 when the provincial of the Jesuits at the time purchased property from the Ogilvie family, owners of a flour milling company in Montreal, to expand the retreat centre’s mission. The original house was constructed around 1900. It is a fine example of masonry with Scottish seigniorial style architecture. This neo-gothic architectural style was born in Scotland in the early 19th century and was popular until the First World War.
The new mission targeted businessmen and professionals, and the alumni from various Jesuit colleges. The goal was to assist them in deepening their faith so as to live it more fully in their daily lives.
In 1976, Auxiliary Bishop Leonard Crowley asked the Jesuits to establish a centre where the laity could go to deepen their spirituality and learn to accompany others on their spiritual journey. Jack Belair, SJ, superior of the Jesuit community at that time, responded to this request by donating 4567 West Broadway for this purpose.
This property was built in 1910 and was the first house on the unpaved West Broadway Street, near the future Loyola College and High School. It originally contained two separate apartments and had a large garden. After the First World War it became a rooming house for individuals who worked at the College, and for a period of time was occupied by the St. Ignatius Elementary School.
Bob Chase, SJ, became the first Director of the newly created Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal. The Centre formed a natural connection with several priests and religious who had made the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and who felt called to introduce this type of retreat to others, especially to the laity. With support from their mentor, Gilles Cusson, SJ, this group became known as Montreal Directed Retreats and has been closely affiliated with the Centre since its inception.
Along with Chase, John Wickham, SJ, who became the director in 1977, formulated the two-fold purpose of the Centre:
To make spiritual accompaniment, daily prayer with Scripture, and the Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life available not only at the Centre but also wherever people needed them;
To offer formation and support for spiritual accompaniers.
The Centre’s first graduates were accredited in 1990. Since then, over 36 groups have completed the formation. Today, over 85 active accompaniers offer over 4,650 hours of direction yearly, both in-person and virtually.