Remembering Professor Guérin Chapsal Montilus (1931-2023)
The Department of Anthropology mourns the passing of our esteemed colleague and mentor Dr. Guérin Chapsal Montilus on February 17, 2023, at the age of 91. Dr. Montilus served on the faculty of the Department of Anthropology for 45 years, joining Wayne State University as an assistant professor in 1975 and retiring as professor in 2020. Services for Dr. Montilus will be held in Southfield, Michigan on March 3 and 4, 2023.
Dr. Montilus dedicated his career to the study of Afro-Caribbean spirituality and religious material culture in his native Haiti, as well as in Cuba, the Bahamas, Benin, and Detroit. During his decades of fieldwork, Dr. Montilus amassed an extensive collection of West African and Caribbean artworks related to African religions.
These collections became the basis for the Anthropology Material Culture Lab, which he founded. In 2021 the Gordon L. Grosscup Museum of Anthropology honored Dr. Montilus’ career with an exhibit showcasing his collections, entitled, “From Allada to Detroit: Storytelling through Material Culture in the African Diaspora.”
Dr. Montilus’ scholarly accomplishments as a cultural anthropologist span more than a half-century and were truly global in their impact. Among his many publications, Dr. Montilus authored two books: Dieux en diaspora. Les loa haïtiens et les vaudou du Royaume d'Allada (1988) and Dompim: The Spirituality of African Peoples (1989). He advised nearly 30 graduate students and served on countless other dissertation committees, contributing to the intellectual development of generations of anthropologists.
Notably, Dr. Montilus’ research included close partnerships with local communities and students. Dozens of Wayne State students were first introduced to the Caribbean and West Africa through study-abroad trips that Dr. Montilus led to Benin, Cuba, and Haiti. Many of his students went on to pursue careers in anthropology because of these experiences.
In recognition of his scholarship and community service, Dr. Montilus received numerous distinguished awards over the course of his career, including the:
- Lifetime Achievement Award from the Haitian Network Group;
- President and Board of Governors Service Award from Wayne State University
- Ouidah 1992 Award for Lifetime Achievement from President N.D. Soglo of Benin
- Award for Recognition of Service to the City of Detroit from Mayor Coleman A. Young
- Award for Recognition of Service to the City of Detroit from the Detroit City Council
- Awards for Recognition of Service from the Michigan State Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives.
Dr. Montilus’ academic background was incomparable. Along his journey to completing six university degrees, he had the opportunity to be trained by some of the most notable scholars of the 20th century. He received a B.A. in Humanities from the University of Ottawa and a B.A. in Theology from the Catholic University of Paris. He also completed three Master's degrees between 1962 and 1969 in Social Sciences (State University of Haiti), Theology (Catholic University of Paris), and Anthropology (University of Paris, Sorbonne). In 1973, he received his doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Zurich.
Prior to joining the faculty at Wayne State University Dr. Montilus served on the faculty at the College of Philosophy and Theology, Ouidah (Benin), the College of Religious Studies in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), the National University of Benin, University of Zurich, CUNY, and Rutgers University. From 1991 until his retirement, Dr. Montilus held an affiliated faculty appointment at the State University of Haiti.
Owing to his exceptional intellectual and international breadth, Dr. Montilus was a trove of wisdom and knowledge. He earned respect and admiration from his students and faculty colleagues alike, often silencing audiences and commanding their rapt attention with the most subtle gestures, or by beginning a statement with his signature enthusiastic expression, “Bon!”. We will remember fondly how generously Dr. Montilus shared his knowledge with his colleagues and students.
Through his decades of service to Wayne State University and to the discipline of anthropology, Dr. Montilus is to be credited with sustaining a sense of close-knit community among faculty and students, demonstrating the global scope of anthropological scholarship, and developing sustainable community connections. We hope to honor his remarkable life by remembering his legacy and following in his footsteps. It was a tremendous privilege to work with and learn from him.
If you would like to share memories of Dr. Montilus, please email them to Krysta Ryzewski (chair of anthropology dept.) at Krysta.Ryzewski@wayne.edu.
Donations in Dr. Montilus’ memory may be made to:
- Haitian Network Group of Detroit
- Gesu Catholic Church
- Department of Anthropology’s Research and Development Fund.