On July 9, 2020, the Vatican announced that York University alumnus Gonzalo de Villa, who completed a master’s degree in social and political thought in 1988, has been appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Guatemala – historically the oldest of the two Ecclesiastical Provinces in Guatemala. While a student at York University, de Villa was associated with the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) and completed a graduate diploma in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. His major research paper was titled “Colonial Guatemala: Ethnicity and Social Classes, 1524-1821”.
Born in Spain, de Villa moved to the Americas as a young adult where he trained and worked as a Jesuit priest in various nations in the Caribbean Basin and Central America while at the same time continuing his studies in philosophy and the social sciences in Mexico, Canada and elsewhere. This led to a remarkable dual career, one involving increasing levels of responsibility as a priest and then as a bishop within the Roman Catholic Church and ongoing academic contributions as a professor and dean of political science and eventually as president of Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala.
While completing his degree at York University, de Villa worked as a parish priest in Toronto and was associated with the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice, then directed by Michael Czerny, who was named cardinal in October 2019. The Jesuit Centre worked with CERLAC and other York-based research centers, their faculty members and graduate students, in organizing various roundtables on building peace in Central America that were held with the participation of members of parliament and the foreign policy related departments of the Canadian government.
Following his return to Guatemala, de Villa’s academic work included valuable collaboration in the multi-university international research program on Guatemalan Refugee and Peace Issues, organized jointly by CERLAC and the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) at York University during the period from 1994-99 and supported by the Social Science Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). De Villa summarized his research within the wider project in an insightful and provocative essay on the complex issues of land reform and peace in Guatemala. His paper was published together with essays by other project collaborators in the book Journeys of Fear: Refugee Return and National Transformation in Guatemala (edited by York Professors Liisa North and Alan Simmons and published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 1999).