Venant Lalonde, OFM
1923 – 2013
Fr. Venant was born Oct. 27, 1923 in Ilion, NY. He graduated in 1942 from Franklin Academy, Malone, N.Y., before enrolling in the New York State Maritime Academy in the Bronx, N.Y., graduating in 1944. Since the country was then at war, he immediately entered the U.S. Navy, where he served in the Pacific Theater as a navigation and gunnery officer. Fr. Venant earned three bronze stars for various operations, including Iwo Jima.
After his discharge from the Navy, he entered St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary, Callicoon, N.Y., in 1946. Two years later, he was received into the Order at St. Bonaventure Friary, Paterson, N.J. He professed temporary vows one year later, made his solemn profession in 1952 and was ordained in 1954.
Upon completing theological studies in 1955, Fr. Venant spent a pastoral year at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City. He volunteered for the mission in Bolivia in 1956 and served there for 15 years, almost entirely among the indigenous peoples.
In an area without electricity, running water or passable roads, Fr. Venant’s practical skills came to the fore. Since the region was not reliably mapped, he established coordinates for villages and rivers. His data was quickly incorporated into Bolivian government maps. He was also devoted to the Poor Clares in Corocio, often going to the monastery to pray with them and teach them how to make wine and peanut butter, which they sold to support themselves.
Illness forced his return to the United States in 1971 and after recovering, Fr. Venant updated his maritime training in order to return to work at sea. In 1974, he began an 18-year ministry in the Merchant Marine as a navigator on freighters, while also exercising a priestly ministry aboard ship. Although qualified to be captain or first mate, Fr. Venant almost always chose to serve as second mate in order to have more time with the crew. When not at sea, he assisted in the Franciscan Missionary Union office and served on the pastoral staff of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City.
After retiring from the Merchant Marine in 1992, Fr. Venant returned to pastoral work, ministering at several diocesan parishes in New York City, including Our Lady of Vilnius Church and St. Agnes Church. Throughout the years, he maintained close relationships with the men he met at sea and their families. In 1999, the Council of American Master Mariners chose him as the first recipient of its new Lalonde Spirit of the Sea Award in recognition of his life of selfless service. From 2007 to 2009, Fr. Venant assisted at the parishes of Saints Peter and Paul in Tulsa, Oka. He retired to St. Anthony Friary, St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2009.
He died on April 21, 2013 at Holy Name Friary, Ringwood, N.J. Fr. Venant was 89 years old, a professed friar for 63 years and a priest for 58 years.