Donald Boisvert, Scholar of Religion & Sexuality

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DONALD BOISVERT (1951–2019) was a queer academic, scholar, theologian, theorist, Anglican priest, activist and revolutionary, but I will remember him best as the sublime friend that he was. I met Donald a quarter century ago when I was a graduate student and he was vice-rector of services at Concordia University. His brilliant wit and his warmth were immediately apparent, and our friendship took hold.

         Donald’s personal and academic trinity were religion, spirituality and sexuality. He wore a Star of David, a crescent, and a cross around his neck, embodying the syncretism and reciprocity in which he believed. Donald was also a brave scholar, sharing intimate, personal, and sensitive reflections with his readers. By eroticizing saint veneration, he took on (and pissed off) multiple Christian denominations with one book alone (Sanctity and Male Desire), whose original version was censored by a relatively liberal press.

         Donald pioneered the merging of the study of religion and sexuality at Concordia and innovated an undergraduate course called Religion and Sexuality. I was privileged to be his teaching assistant in one of these first classes, and was honored when Donald entrusted me to take over the teaching of the class later on.

         He shared his talents with the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre as well, where he became a docent and would lead high school and college students through the museum. He also inaugurated public lectures on the gay and lesbian experience during World War II.

         Donald was a true mentor; he taught me how to teach. I learned from his patience, erudition, and the uncanny forcefulness of his lectures how to address a class. His ability to connect with and encourage students was inspiring. Donald was the most gifted pedagogue I ever met. He engaged, challenged, guided, and delighted his students.

         Although Donald eventually came to leave the Catholic for the Anglican Church, he never lost his passion for the faith of his birth. He remained fascinated by Catholic folk tradition, yet he did not spare the saints his personal feelings, especially those he (rightly) accused of trying to ruin sex, desire, and queerness, writing: “I like to imagine a conversation between Saints Paul and Augustine in the misty hereafter. I hope they spend eternity blaming each other for their common sins.” I imagine Donald as a fly on the wall for this schmooze-fest. And yet Catholic saints accompanied Donald throughout his life, and an icon of his favorite, Dominic Savio, stood near his deathbed. When I visited him but two weeks before he died, as his husband Gaston took such incredible care of him, Donald was weak, but asked me to pray for him, and repeatedly asked about reassurances that a fund he had set up for his students be maintained. I’ll never forget that while facing death from terminal cancer, his main concern remained his students.

         Donald meant so many things to so many, but I will miss his friendship beyond anything else.

יהיזכרוברוך

(May his memory be blessed.)

 

Steven Lapidus teaches courses in religious studies at Concordia University in Montréal.

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