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First person, last word: A lasting impression

How the ‘generous mind’ of the late Father Marc Gervais helped shape a grad’s path
April 29, 2024
By Michael Leo Donovan, BA 81

A group of four wearing matching red t-shirts with a custom print 'Donovan Squad' posing together at an amusement park, smiling cheerfully with themed headwear. The Donovan family all share a connection to the late Father Marc Gervais. He officiated the marriage of Michael and Jane and also baptized their children, Kayleigh and Matthew. Michael says, "We're all his, still."

In Concordia’s early years, I was a young banker when I learned about a “Shakespeare in Cinema” course being offered at the theatre on Loyola Campus. The audacity of someone conceiving such a rarified thing during the birth of summer blockbusters fascinated me.

Evening classes were convenient for my banker’s hours. So, straight from work I’d find myself hiding in the back of the packed theatre where Marc Gervais [BA 50] taught, and I was soaking it all in.

I eventually summoned the guts to ask a question. I remember when he found me in the cheap seats — a suit and tie among jean jackets and book bags. “Thanks for dressing up,” he said. Marc was a Jesuit priest, I later learned. He owned nothing but a generous mind.

An individual in graduation attire with a smile, featuring dark-colored graduation robes and a white collar, with wavy shoulder-length hair. Michael Leo Donovan is pictured in his graduation photo from 1981.

And that was it. I left banking with nothing but the phone number of a woman named Jane — my replacement on cash three — and went back to school. I enrolled in the Department of Communication Studies, where I won an award for my scriptwriting. On a pad of yellow paper, Marc handwrote a letter that got me into the University of Southern California’s competitive graduate writing program.

When I returned home to Montreal with my degree, Marc helped me get a job at Concordia, teaching scriptwriting in the very department I once studied in.

At the start of every new term, he would barge into my classroom, make fun of my process, then leave.

Every student knew who Marc was, and he was making sure they knew who I was. As time went on, I borrowed more and more from the combination of wisdom and wonder that was his teaching method. Surely, all who sat in his class remember; one minute he’d seen everything, and the next was as if he was looking at something for the first time. 

After meeting my beloved Jane, and warning her about my career prospects, Marc performed our marriage ceremony at her request. Soon enough, he baptized both our children, Kayleigh and Matthew [BA 20].

A decade after I left teaching for what became a scriptwriting career, I brought my family to a downtown Montreal bookstore where Marc was signing his latest work. The crowd was huge, but he pointed us out. “Donovans!” he said. “They’re all mine.” Suddenly I was that young man in the back of a dark theatre again, being seen for the first time.

See you in the last reel, Father Gervais.

Father Marc Gervais, a celebrated film scholar and cherished Concordia professor for four decades, passed away in 2012 at the age of 82. Michael Leo Donovan is a scriptwriter, novelist and ex-banker.

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