Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 3, 2007
Cardinal Edouard Gagnon was 'loved by everybody'
But the Quebec native stirred up controversy, always speaking his mind and stepping on toes
By GLEN ARGAN
"People live in ignorance of the essential principles of faith."
- Cardinal Gagnon
Gagnon defended his remarks, saying the nuns grant annulments "as soon as a woman cries in their presence."
But later he said his point was to remind the bishops that "they need to be vigilant on personnel."
After he became head of the Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, he said Christ's real presence in the Eucharist "has been forgotten in many places," and some Catholics treat Mass as "a fraternal meeting."
There should be a "more mystical emphasis" during Mass with "more time for meditation and less time for chatter," he said.
Gagnon was born in the Gasp‚ region, but moved to Montreal with his family when he was three.
He was ordained at the age of 22 in 1940 in a chapel at a youth camp near the St. Lawrence River.
He immediately became a professor at a Montreal seminary where he remained until being named to head a seminary in St. Boniface, Man., in 1954.
Prior to his ordination, he had worked with low-income youth in Montreal and at youth camps in Quebec, a practice he continued for several years after being ordained.
A member of the Sulpician order whose members are dedicated to seminary teaching, Gagnon was rector of a seminary in Colombia from 1960 to 1964 before returning to St. Boniface for two more years.
While in St. Boniface, he also served in a parish.
During the Second Vatican Council, he was a theological advisor and played a role in drafting one of the council's most significant documents, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
In 1966, he was named to the Vatican's Commission Social Communications and was chosen Canadian superior of the Sulpician Fathers.
His appointment as bishop of St. Paul in 1969 stirred controversy. The appointment was preceded by a wide consultation in the diocese.
The consensus reached was that people wanted the new bishop to be a Westerner, preferably an Albertan, that he be perfectly bilingual and that he have pastoral experience in Western parishes.
Within a week of Gagnon's appointment, two groups of priests in St. Paul Diocese met and issued statements.
"We could feel that he was not in his element in this small diocese."
- Fr. Roger Guerin
The first group voiced opposition to the appointment and the other group supported it.
Many of the priests in St. Paul were among his former students at the St. Boniface seminary and Gagnon himself was always highly regarded despite the controversy.
Guerin recalled Gagnon's 15- to 20-minute daily spiritual conferences in the St. Boniface seminary.
"He was really inspiring in his spiritual lectures," he said.
"He spoke very fluently about spiritual things."
"He was a very humble man and a good listener and a good advisor."
When Gagnon was named bishop of St. Paul, "we were elated," Guerin recalled.
As a bishop, he consulted the priests and took their advice before making important decisions.
"He was not lording it over us at all."
During a trip to Paris, Gagnon fell down some stairs and broke his leg. He hobbled about on crutches for a year, Guerin said, frequently making fun of his predicament.
The priests were not too surprised when Gagnon received a posting in Rome, he said. "We could feel that he was not in his element in this small diocese."
Yet he would always respond to a birthday or Christmas card or letters of good wishes with a note of his own.
"He certainly was attached to the priests of St. Paul."
In 1998, Gagnon returned to St. Paul to celebrate the diocese's 50th anniversary and received a standing ovation from the congregation in St. Paul Cathedral.
"It was good to see him here again," said Guerin.
Gagnon remembered the kindness of the people from his time as bishop and said none of them showed any resentment over his appointment.
"People were very kind to me because they knew that I had been very much involved in the life of the western Church," the cardinal told the WCR.
(With files from Catholic News Service)
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