Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 1, 2006
Vaniers' sainthood case moves at snail's pace
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
For more than 15 years, Father Roger Quesnel has been poring over the private correspondence, diaries, and even the pre-marriage love letters of former governor general Georges Vanier and his wife Pauline.
He has had unlimited access to a restricted private collection of their papers as he prepares the case for recognizing the beloved Canadian couple as saints.
"I'm biased having worked on them so long," he said. "They had this aspect of being so human and taking care of people even though they had high functions and this is linked with a great spiritual faith and love for the Lord."
He has also interviewed about 90 people who knew the couple, both in Canada and in France where Pauline Vanier lived most of the 24 years following her husband's death.
Georges Vanier, a war hero and former commanding officer of the 22nd Regiment, served as the queen's representative in Canada from 1959-1967. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to France until May 1940 when the German Army invaded Paris, and returned as soon as the Allies liberated the city in 1944.
He and Pauline, who was the Canadian representative for the Red Cross, worked tirelessly to relieve the poverty-stricken and displaced people in Europe following the Second World War.
The Vaniers returned to Montreal in 1954 and led a quiet, pious life until Prime Minister John Diefenbaker offered Georges the governor general's post.
According to a biographical booklet Quesnel prepared entitled An Exceptional Couple: Georges and Pauline Vanier, Vanier prayed for God's help in fulfilling his mission during his swearing in at the Senate on Sept. 15, 1959.
"In exchange for his strength, I offer him my weakness," Vanier said.
Though this prayer represents a theme in the Vaniers' lives, Quesnel said the Vaniers' five children are ambivalent about the efforts to declare their parents saints. Her most famous child, Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche movement that enables disabled and mentally handicapped people to live in community, has asked that people "stop idealizing my mother," Quesnel said.
His parent's marriage was not an easy one, he said. They came from entirely different backgrounds, had different personalities, and in the early years Pauline suffered from nervous depression and frail health.
They also had differing attitudes towards their Catholic faith, Quesnel wrote in An Exceptional Couple.
Pauline's mother had instilled in her a devotion to the Heart of Jesus, a love for the Eucharist and an active prayer life.
For Georges, however, the Catholic religion represented "a duty to be accomplished, a set of rules and precepts to be obeyed, a moral code to be followed," Quesnel wrote.
That view changed for Georges Vanier on Good Friday 1938 when a Jesuit priest gave a sermon on Christ's passion, Quesnel wrote. "After the service Georges' facial features were totally softened as he said to his wife: 'I did not know that God is love,'" he wrote.
While Quesnel has received many letters about favours allegedly received as a result of prayers to the Vaniers, he told CCN none would qualify as a miracle.