Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 26, 2004
Archbishop Legare dies
This wise Oblate loved his people and promoted Second Vatican Council reforms
"As a sign of liberation of man and history, the Church itself ought to be a place of liberation."
- Archbishop Henri Legare
By GLEN ARGAN
Archbishop Henri Legare, one of Canada's leading churchmen, died July 19 here. He was 86.
Legare, an intellectual who was rector of the University of Ottawa and president of the National Conference of Canadian Universities and Colleges, spent nearly 30 years as shepherd of two northern Canadian dioceses.
As archbishop of Grouard-McLennan in northwestern Alberta from 1972 to 1996, he instituted several programs to upgrade the level of faith education of the laity.
A time to shine
He achieved his greatest public prominence from 1981 to 1983 when he served as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in the run-up to Pope John Paul's 1984 visit to Canada. It was also during his term that the bishops' conference issued its statement Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis that created a storm of controversy.
Born in Willow Bunch, Sask., in 1918, Legare decided to become a priest at the age of six. In 1937, he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
He was ordained in 1943 and began a priestly career that led him to serve in six provinces - Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland.
As well as serving in many positions in universities, he was the first executive director of the Association of Catholic Hospitals of Canada. He served as rector of the University of Ottawa from 1958 to 1966, taking it from a small college to a large government-funded institution.
In 1967, he was named bishop of Labrador-Schefferville.
In a 1993 interview, Legare told the WCR that his first year in Labrador was difficult. "I'm an intellectual kind of guy and I found myself very lonely in Labrador," he said. "But after five years with the people, I never wanted to move to another place. They were poor, but warm, really welcoming."
However, move he did. He was named archbishop of Grouard-McLennan and took over the large, thinly populated diocese with a declining number of priests. Legare visited every corner of the diocese and often administered parishes himself.
The archbishop was a promoter of the Second Vatican Council reforms. At the banquet following his installation in McLennan, he said, "As a sign of liberation of man and history, the Church itself ought to be a place of liberation."
He launched a catechetical team, a seminary for native people and education for lay people. "We do everything a large urban diocese does with fewer priests and involve more lay people," he said in the 1993 interview.
In 1993, the archdiocese held celebrations at three major centres - Grande Prairie, Peace River and Falher - to honour Legare on his 75th birthday, 50th anniversary as a priest and 25th anniversary as a bishop.
He submitted his resignation to Rome, but a new bishop - Archbishop Henri Goudreault - was not named for three and a half years. Since his retirement, Legare has lived with the Oblates in Ottawa. "I've lived a hectic life," he said in 1996. "I've gone through everything under the sun."
A wise man
Archbishop Arth‚ Guimond, current archbishop of Grouard-McLennan, described his predecessor as "a man of practical wisdom.
"He came across to me as a wise man. He would not make any rushed decision," Guimond said. He would pray about an issue and look at it from many sides before making a decision.
"He had a good sense of humour and a profound spirituality."
Guimond said he worked with Legare on developing the archdiocese's lay formation program. "He was very supportive of the involvement of the laity in the Church."
Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa was to celebrate Legare's funeral July 23 at Sacred Heart Church in Ottawa. He will be buried at the Oblate cemetery in Richelieu, Que.