By Mike Viola
His name may be Norm, but his ministry is anything but normal.
For 40 years, Fr. Norman Comtois, O.M.I. has been serving people whose lives are outside the norm. He has worked with prisoners, juvenile delinquents, people who feel isolated from the Church and those who today find spirituality not just in church but in the natural world.
“Since my first days as a priest I have always been drawn to ministries that are on the cutting edge,” said Fr. Norman. “I think that is what being a missionary is really about, working with people on the margins of society.”
Today Fr. Norman describes his ministry as “Evolutionary Christianity.” He leads discussions and retreats about eco-spirituality integrating the natural world with the wisdom of religious traditions.
“We are experiencing a paradigm shift and moving into an age where we look at religion from different perspectives,” said Fr. Norman. “Part of this shift is awakening to the importance of the Integrity of Creation.”
Father Norman says he never expected a career in ecology. He spent the first few years of his priesthood in a place devoid of the beauty of the natural world – prison.
Father Norman counseled prisoners of all ages in New England for several years. He also worked in private practice as a counselor, always looking for new therapeutic approaches to better reach the most at-risk populations.
In 1999 he was hired by Berakah, a renewal program for women religious in Pittsfield, New Hampshire. He worked for 12 years as a spiritual director, pastoral counselor and teacher of the New Cosmology.
At Berakah Fr. Norman noticed women religious were becoming more interested in the Universe Story and ecological issues. This provided an excellent opportunity for him to put into practice the training in eco-spirituality that he had received from the acclaimed Genesis Farm in New Jersey.
“Father Norman has helped me grow in my spiritual life of love and knowing God deeper,” explains Sr. Rosanne Kmetz, SSCM who has taken part in numerous courses taught by Fr. Norman. “He has helped me love nature, beauty and God’s awesome creation.”
As a leader in the eco-spirituality movement, Fr. Norman has been a valuable team member of the Oblate La Vista Ecological Learning Center in Godfrey, Illinois. La Vista offers programs and resources for living consciously within the Integrity of Creation. Part of the La Vista ministry is a community-supported organic garden located at the Oblate novitiate in Godfrey.
“The Oblates have made it a priority to have a ministry based on the Integrity of Creation,” said Fr. Norman. “The program and retreats that are created at La Vista can now be brought to parishes and retreat centers throughout the country.”
When Fr. Norman explains to people his present ministry, he admits to getting a few puzzled looks. Some people still have difficulty seeing the relationship between the natural world and the spiritual world.
But for Fr Norman, his slightly “out there” ministry is exactly where he wants to spend his time. He chose to become a “Missionary” Oblate because he wanted to work in non-traditional fields, not among the status quo.
“Being a missionary doesn’t mean you have to go to a foreign land,” said Fr. Norman. “A missionary is someone who takes risks, someone who looks at things in a different way. So we all have the potential of being missionaries in our own way.”
To learn more about the Oblates’ ecological initiatives, visit www.lavistaelc.org.