Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 9, 2006
Vachon kept faith in changing times
Quebec cardinal remembered as a 'zealous shepherd'
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Quebec Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon, who died Sept. 29 at age 94, will be remembered as a cultured man of deep faith who occupied key positions as an educator and an archbishop during massive cultural change in Quebec, says Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet.
On Sept. 30, Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram to Ouellet describing Vachon as a "zealous shepherd, who consecrated his life at the service of Christ and the Church, into the kingdom of peace and life."
In an interview, Ouellet agreed Vachon was a cultured, learned man of deep faith and a pastor "full of zeal and very committed to his people."
As a university professor with a doctorate in philosophy and theology, then a pastor and a bishop, Vachon "occupied key positions in Quebec society and the Church between 1950 and 1990 without interruption," Ouellet said.
Born in Quebec's Beauce region, Vachon was ordained a priest in 1938.
Appointed archbishop of Quebec in 1981, he was made a cardinal in 1985. He retired in 1990 at 78.
He taught at Laval from 1941 to 1955, obtaining his doctorate in philosophy there, and went on to receive his doctorate in theology in 1949 from a pontifical university in Rome.
He served as superior of the Grand Seminary of Quebec from 1955 to 1959 before returning to Laval as vice-rector in 1959. He became Laval's rector and oversaw its transition into a secular university, leading the negotiations for a new university charter so Laval would no longer be under the Grand Seminary, but an autonomous civil university, Ouellet said.
Times of change
Vachon shepherded Laval's transformation during Quebec's Quiet Revolution and the Second Vatican Council.
Ouellet said Quebec society's push for secularization posed conflicts for the Church, but Vachon had to manage this change and welcome new ideas.
Vachon's leadership led to today's Laval University, he said. With 35,000 students, Laval is the largest French university in North America and respected around the world.
Ouellet said Vachon played "a delicate role" in the massive transformation that swept Quebec during his lifetime. "I think we will need more time to ponder all the implications of this transformation in Quebec society. It coincides with the decline of the Catholic influence in Quebec society."
Change for him
Ouellet noted Vachon became auxiliary bishop in 1977 when he might have been looking forward to retirement. A cultured learned man, an "aristocrat to some extent," he was used to the university milieu.
"People were wondering how well he would adapt to the people in the pew as a pastor," Ouellet said. The adaptation was amazing, he said. Not only was he cordial and close to his priests, he could mix with children at Confirmations.
Ouellet described Vachon as a shy man of deep interiority with a strong Marian devotion. Not only a man of deep faith, he was principled and had a strong will.
He spent several years as president of the Assembly of Quebec Bishops.
Vachon drew attention at the 1983 World Synod of Bishops when, on behalf of the Canadian bishops, he urged the Church to make the equality of women "a reality within the Church itself."
He played a role in seeing women integrated into the pastoral work of the Church. He did so in a practical, respectful, non-ideological way, Ouellet said, and his work was appreciated.
His brief called on the synod to recognize "the ravages of sexism and our own male appropriation of numerous aspects of the Christian life."
The Church, he said, suffered from "cultural deformation" which centres around "archaic concepts of womanhood."
Vachon played a key role in ensuring that Pope John Paul II would visit Quebec City first during his 1984 visit to Canada. He struggled to make sure that would happen because Quebec City was where the Catholic faith was "first announced."
A great achievement
"The papal visit in Quebec City will remain as one of his great achievements," Ouellet said, adding Vachon will be remembered as a religious leader who was typical of Quebec in the 1950s, who went through the societal transformation of the 1960s and '70s and remained a pastor until the 1990s. Ouellet said he discovered a text Vachon wrote on Mary's place in the development of Quebec's history. "It's a wonderful testimony of Marian devotion." Vachon was "a man of prayer."