Amid the cupolas and gates of historic Israel, incoming Old Testament professor Dr. Andre Villeneuve found Catholicism.
With an undergraduate degree in information management from his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, Dr. Villeneuve journeyed to Graz, Austria where he studied jazz saxophone — and experienced a profound conversion to Christ. An academic at heart, he began immersing himself in the Scriptures and the intellectual aspects of faith. These all were only deepened and further nourished by his life and study in the Holy Land, where he rediscovered and converted to Catholicism.
“My studies in Israel were life-changing in many respects,” Villeneuve says. “Of course, living in Jerusalem was the ideal environment to study Scripture, the biblical languages, biblical archaeology and history, and Judaism. Yet my time in Israel was also instrumental in drawing me back to the Catholic Church. I like to say that studying Judaism made me Catholic.”
Dr. Villeneuve now comes to Sacred Heart Major Seminary to teach classes in the Old Testament, including the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Psalms and Wisdom Literature. He will also teach biblical Hebrew, a specialty he developed during his time in Israel.
“As for my specialization in the Old Testament and Biblical languages,” he says, “that almost happened by accident as the result of my living in Jerusalem for many years. There, I learned to speak, read, and write Hebrew fluently and became deeply immersed in the world of the Bible; I also developed a great love for the Old Testament, for the people of Israel, and for Judaism.”
This love for the Old Testament not only inspires his instruction, it also serves as a key reference for his own personal formation.
“Seriously, I do think the Old Testament is inexhaustible and so I go back to it again and again,” Villeneuve says. “I try to read the whole thing with a new commentary every year. Ancient Jews and Christians saw the Hebrew Scriptures as imbued with mystery. I try to uncover and discover a little more of that mystery every year.”
Dr. Villeneuve hopes that his students will be similarly motivated to apply themselves to understand the Scriptures and to take advantage of the abundant resources we now have to assist in Old Testament study. And while many Catholics feel intimidated when approaching the Old Testament, Dr. Villeneuve remains hopeful.
“It’s true that many Catholics consider the Old Testament intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be so,” he says. “I see this largely as a cultural issue: Catholics find the Old Testament intimidating because they don’t read it. And so, it’s no wonder that it remains unfamiliar and strange to them.”
“Of course, the Old Testament has some real difficulties: it does reflect a world and culture very different from our own. It’s written in a different language. It encompasses many literary styles and genres. It narrates the long and convoluted story of the people of Israel,” Villeneuve continues.
“The books of the Old Testament comprise about 77% of the Catholic Bible. So, the Old Testament is not just ‘part of Scripture,’ but three-quarters of God’s revelation to man. If we don’t understand the Old Testament, we can’t understand the New. Moreover, Jesus was an orthodox Jew, wholly grounded in the Torah and in the world of the Old Testament. So, if we don’t understand the Old Testament, we can’t really understand Jesus.”
He recognizes, as well, the challenges that face Old Testament study today, including a widespread attitude that the Old Testament is antiquated, and a neglect of Hebrew within the Church. But he faces these with aplomb, imparting the reassurance that the Old Covenant has never been broken, reaffirming the permanent value the Old Testament retains, and inspiring individuals to become familiar with the language of Jesus.
“Can you imagine a teacher of French literature who did not bother to learn French? We would hardly take this teacher seriously. Investing a little effort into learning the language of the Bible is well worth it; it enables a more intimate contact with the sacred texts and truly makes the Scriptures come alive!”
Dr. Villeneuve’s time in the Holy Land has also inspired much of his proudest accomplishments so far, including his dissertation, Nuptial Symbolism in Second Temple Writings, the New Testament and Rabbinic Literature: Divine Marriage at Key Moments of Salvation History — a revised version of which will publish for a larger audience later this year — and his work as a founder of Catholics for Israel, an organization offering Bible and catechesis classes in four languages, including Hebrew.
Dr. Villeneuve looks forward to the opportunity to dive into the Word of God with his students and to form new bonds with Sacred Heart’s students, faculty, and staff, and he encourages everyone to draw nearer to the Word of God in their personal formation.
“Read and study the Bible every day,” he says. “You will never regret investing your time and energy into studying the Word of God. More than ever, in our broken world today, we need to have our minds and hearts transformed by God’s word in order to live a good, meaningful, and happy life and reach our eternal home in heaven.”