Photo by Vicky Chen   


John Veltri: a life lived to the full

John Veltri died on Monday, October 27, at René Goupil House (Jesuit Infirmary) in Pickering, Ontario. He was 75 years old and in his 59th year of religious life. He died peacefully and unexpectedly of a massive heart attack very soon after having returned to his room after supper.

John was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba on April 4, 1933, the son of Thomas Aquino Veltri and Giuseppina Albo. After studying at St. Paul's College in Winnipeg, he was admitted to the Society by Fr. John L. Swain on August 14, 1950, and entered the Novitiate in Guelph, Ontario. He studied Philosophy in Toronto beginning in 1954. From 1957 he worked for five years as a teacher, first in the Apostolate among the Native Peoples in Spanish, Ontario, and then in Kingston, Ontario at Regiopolis College.

After studies in theology he was ordained a priest at Regis College in Toronto on June 5, 1965. He made his tertianship in Cleveland, Ohio beginning in 1966. John then undertook the principal ministry of his life as a retreat director and spiritual director at Loyola House in Guelph and later at Manresa Jesuit Spiritual Renewal Centre in Pickering. Very gifted and skilled in his pastoral ministry, John collaborated with other Jesuits, and, with Fr. John English, shaped new ways in which the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius were to be presented and experienced, ways which continue to be very influential today. He wrote two very helpful books on spirituality, Orientations I and II, which are used to this day. He was very ecumenical in his outreach. An outstanding example is his development of a Week of Guided Prayer which was rooted in Harcourt Memorial United Church, in Guelph ON. Click here for an account of this endeavour., He spent most of his life as a Jesuit on the staff of Loyola House in Guelph, but moved to Pickering in the year 2001, a difficult move because he had been in Guelph for so long, but necessitated by the progression of his muscular distrophy. He settled into a room within René Goupil House, soon felt at home, continued his wide-ranging ministry of spiritual direction and retreats, some of it in conjunction with Manresa Jesuit Centre of Spirituality on the same site, and as a ministry constructed this web-site offering a wide range of resources in spirituality, and helped friends develop their own web-sites. took on other web-sites. In recent years he began curtailing his activities, finding that he had less energy, but continued to be quite active until his sudden death.

A friend and guide to many, John was loved and appreciated by many Jesuits and a wide group of people for his warm personality, his positive attitudes in life and for the personal help he offered. John suffered from muscular dystrophy for most of his adult life. He certainly knew he had this disease in his years of teaching as a Jesuit regent in the late 50's. When I knew him in theology (I started theology 2 years later than he), he was walking with a limp, then later with a cane, then in 1986 moved to a wheel-chair – he was a force to be reckoned with when on his motorized chair, which he controlled with great precision – and then began losing the use of his upper limbs, and towards the end of his life resorted to doing web-site and other computer work with one finger on each hand. He did however keep a strong voice which enabled him to celebrate the eucharist and lead singing. During the inexorable progression of his malady he remained cheerful and matter-of-fact, never complaining but keeping as active and involved as he could. In recent years he noted a drop in available energy and began to cut back on his activities – perhaps the first sign of the heart disease that would finally overcome him.

He was a man of great creativity, using art and film in workshops and presentations. He was original in his thinking and perceptions about many issues religious and spiritual, at times provocatively so. This provocative side came out in his earlier style of direction in which he would easily ask directees to do things against the grain, seemingly on a whim. (In my case once he had me repeat five times the contemplation of Jesus walking on the waters, to my great consternation). But as he got older he mellowed out, became very respectful and tolerant and loving of all those he conversed with. He was unfailingly positive, spontaneous and open to new ideas and directions. He welcomed people of many backgrounds, religious, lay, priests and ministers, persons of different denominations, persons who because of their unusual story others might feel uncomfortable directing, and knew how to engage each one in good spiritual conversation within his or her own context. He was especially interested in bringing the resources of Ignatian spirituality to people without professional training or theological background. He had an unfailing memory, sometimes bringing a moment of truth to a conversation by recalling what was said in a conversation with the same person decades ago. This made him especially valuable as a long-term spiritual director. Many Jesuits and others went to him regularly. He was a friend to many, as evidenced by the large gallery of pictures of those he deeply cared for that served as a ever changing screensaver for his computer.

A man who will be hugely missed, but who will continue to be present to us in many ways for many many years to come. May he find in Jesus the fulness of life for which he always longed, but which he always managed to celebrate in the presence of a disability that would have discouraged many.

His funeral mass was celebrated in Pickering on Oct 10, with a further mass for his many friends in Guelph a day later, followed by burial in the Jesuit Cemetery at Ignatius College.

May he rest in peace.

J-M Laporte, S.J.

For John Veltri's own account of his life and ministry click here. .

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