CURE to four millions
No remote religious figurehead, His Eminence Paul-Emile Cardinal Léger is a hustling forty-eight-year-old whose nightly broadcasts drowned Quebec’s most popular soap opera, who can conduct services in Japanese and who is expected to play a significant role in a province just latching on to the new industrial revolution
PAUL-EMILE LEGER is remembered by the friends of his Roman Catholic schooldays as an ailing sensitive boy who was frightened of his own shadow, who was given to inexplicable bouts of weeping, and who was rejected by the Jesuits as too emotional for their stoic priesthood. Today Paul-Emile Léger is one of seventy cardinals responsible for the spiritual guidance and social doctrines of four hundred million Catholics — more than half the world’s Christians.
As Archbishop of Montreal, the biggest Catholic archdiocese in the British Commonwealth, and the second biggest on earth, he is a commanding figure at the Vatican and the most powerful religious figure in French-speaking Canada.
COLOR PORTRAIT FOR MACLEAN'S BY DESMOND RUSSELL
Léger, son of a village merchant in Quebec, once looked with awe at the parish priest and regarded the local doctor, notary and banker as the apex of society. Now His Eminence Paul-Emile Cardinal Léger has the ear of Pope Pius XII, is distinguished by his own coat of arms, and at diplomatic functions takes precedence over an ambassador.
The only other cardinal in this country, James McGuigan, who leads the English-speaking Catholics, is senior to Léger in service, but with only one third of the latter’s following, and that scattered thinly through Protestant strongholds, cannot be compared in influence.
lager’s executive authority is limited on paper to the one million Catholic laymen, two thousand priests, seven hundred schools, sixty hospitals and one university in the Archdiocese of Montreal. But the prestige of his cardinalate ensures a quick response to his wishes throughout the Province of Quebec or wherever else in Canada French-speaking Catholics, who total four millions, congregate for worship.
The rise and personality of Léger appear to his intimates as almost miraculous. Gone is the pale agitated youth who flunked his Jesuit novitiate. In his place they see a dynamic leader with a husky frame, a thick thatch of frosty hair, a square granite-jawed face, burning eyes with bushy brows and a voice which moves to penitence or
exaltation the scrubwoman and the grande dame, the street sweeper and the financier, the actor and the philosopher.
At first the galvanic waving of the arms, the rich diapasons from the vocal chords, seem unbecoming to his rank. Then gradually the listener detects a profundity and economy in the phrases which roll from his lips and recognizes their tempest-tossed delivery as testimony to the white-hot conviction that lies behind them. A few months ago he so exhausted himself by an oration in church that when the service was over he fainted.
When the Pope made Léger Archbishop of Montreal three years ago he was a relatively unknown priest stationed in Rome. When he reached Montreal he hurried secretly into his vast palace behind St. James Cathedral on Dominion Square. A few days later the city found itself possessed of a hornet of zeal and energy.
Within a fortnight Léger had met the leaders of every important lay group in the city. Beginning with Mass at six in the morning he was crowding in six to eight engagements a day and afflicting three priestly secretaries with typists’ cramp and telephone ear. He started a nightly religious broadcast which drew such a huge following that Quebec’s favorite soap opera on a rival radio station had to change times to hold its audience.
Last January Pius XII summoned Léger back to Rome and capped him with the cardinal’s red hat, the church’s highest honor short of the papacy itself. This time Léger returned to Montreal via New York in the luxurious private railroad car used by the Queen when she toured Canada in 1951. Twenty thousand people, led by Mayor Camillien Houde, met him at the flag-decked station. He was driven in state through thronged floodlit streets to enter his palace past a battery of Press, movie and television cameras.
His elevation to the College of Cardinals astonished Léger no less than it had the Catholic laity. The immediate cause of surprise was the first break with a Canadian tradition which had seated four earlier French-speaking cardinals—Elzéar Taschereau, Continued on page 70
Curé to Four Millions CONTINUED FROM PAGE 12 Louis Bégin, Raymond Rouleau and Rodrigue Villeneuve—in the provincial capital. Quebec City. Another cause was Léger’s comparative youth. All his French-speaking predecessors and his English-speaking contemporary James Cardinal McGuigan had been at leastten years older when they were raised to the purple. At forty-eight Léger had become the second youngest cardinal in the world and one of the youngest ever received into the Sacred College since medieval times. By all the standards on which the Vatican gauges the strength of a particular Catholic region, Léger’s domain is without peer among the domains of the church. Three and a half million people, eighty-eight percent of Quebec’s population, belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Their faith was built solidly on historic ethnic foundations. It grew to great political significance in rural isolation, unimpeded by the schismatic influences of Europe, the United States and other provinces of Canada. The future of the church is guaranteed by publicly supported Catholic schools. Catholic festivals are properly observed through the proclamation of religious holidays. Between the American border and the Arctic, between Hudson Bay and the Atlantic, there is hardly a hamlet which has not pushed up to the clouds the tall silver spire of the characteristic Quebec church. And although the eruption of postwar industrialization is shaking its tranquil country traditions, the fabric will hardly disintegrate so long as one hundred thousand workers are organized in stanchly Catholic unions. As captain of such a resolute and compact Catholic redoubt Léger’s voice is heeded in the Papal Senate. His large, wealthy, volatile North American archdiocese, second in size only to Chicago, has meant his appointment to three of the twelve committees of cardinals who transact the global business of the Vatican. Léger was born at St. Anicet, in the extreme southwest corner of Quebec where the St. Lawrence becomes Lake St. Francis and runs deeper inland to form the border between Ontario and New York State. He was the elder of two sons of Ernest and Alda Léger who kept a little clapboard general store and observed the classic Quebec life of thrift, austerity and piety. Léger’s brother Jules was to become private secretary to Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and today holds high rank in the Department of External Affairs. Léger’s vivid imagination was evident in his boyhood. He sat wide-eyed on his father’s cracker barrels listening to villagers tell lurid legends about wolves, hunting and ghosts. Lake St. Francis fascinated Léger. One day he fell in and was pulled out, looking “as white as a sheet,” by a man called Mallette. The experience contributed to his boyhood nervousness, but he proved he had not lost his fundamental courage a few years later when he rescued his brother from the same waters.
After this the two boys kept away from the lake and played around St. Anicet church. The bells regulated their daily life. Unlike most little boys, Paul-Emile Léger went eagerly to Mass every day. People who remember him climbing the church tower to write his name in chalk on one of the bells now see the act as symbolic. Miss Lucy Leehy, a childhood friend of Léger’s mother, recalls seeing
him perched high in a tree sadly chanting the libera prayer for the dead. His pale devoutness was the talk of the district.
At twelve he entered the Seminary of Ste. Thérèse in the nearby town of Salaberry de Valley field, where he studied so hard that he almost wrecked his constitution. When he was fifteen a Montreal doctor said he was suffering from “a deep depression” and ordered him not to open a book for two years. The prospect of slipping behind his classmates left Léger distraught.
After a year of rest he began secretly swotting up Latin with his friend, neighbor and fellow pupil Percival Caza. Although his physical health had improved his temperament was still shaky. “He admitted to me years afterward,” says Caza, “that when he was walking home from our house by the shores of the lake he was frightened of his own shadow in the rays of the moon.”
Rack at Ste. Thérèse at seventeen Léger caught up on his class with such remarkable speed that his tutors singled him out as an exceptional pupil and sent him to the Grand Seminary in Montreal run by the Sulpician Fathers —whose predecessors were among the founders of the city.
Léger’s zeal, however, attracted him to the Jesuits who pledge themselves to “poverty, chastity and obedience,” who give up all their personal property, eschew all ecclesiastical honors for a life of learning and instruction and who agree to go anywhere in the world to promote the cause of the church.
The Local Boy Makes Good
Within a month of his entry into a Jesuit college he was found unsuitable. A Quebec City Jesuit who recalls his brief novitiate says: “He was so emotional he used to cry during spiritual exercises. Our life demands men of different fibre.” Léger returned to the more easy-going Sulpician Fathers. In 1929 he entered the priesthood.
Impressed by his scholastic brilliance and his sense of vocation the Sulpician Fathers sent him to La Solitude, their mother house at Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris. Here the Gentlemen of St. Sulpice receive the pick of students from seminaries in England, France and North and South America. Léger continued his studies at the Paris Catholic Institute. During the next four years he rose to be assistant to the superior, the only Canadian ever to attain this post. The news was received with pride by the Sulpicians in Montreal.
As a Canadian in Paris he was indefatigable in helping visiting compatriots. When Canon J. H. Martel, an elderly pastor from St. Polycarpe, Que., visited Lourdes it was Léger who got him the coveted permission to say Mass at the shrine. Through Léger’s influence the pastor’s turn came right behind the Cardinal of Paris. A dozen such little favors were soon talked about in Quebec. And they reached the ears of the high-ranking clergy.
In 1933 Léger was suddenly transferred from Paris to Japan. Here, he knew later, was the church’s test of his calibre. From the atmosphere of study he was plunged into the rugged practicalities of missionary life. He became a humble priest in the diocese of Fukuoka. In six months he could say the catechism in Japanese. In twelve months he could conduct retreats in that language. After four years he was made superior of a new Canadian Sulpician seminary in Fukuoka and began lecturing in philosophy to Japanese in their own tongue.
Léger was so intent on speaking Japanese correctly he refused to chat
with a servant in the presbytery because she spoke a dialect which, he feared, would impair his own accent. When he learned that Japanese students have more respect for professors with beards he obligingly grew a heavy black specimen that gave him a volcanic aspect.
In 1939 he shaved the beard off because he was recalled to Canada and appointed vicar-general in his native diocese of Salaberry de Valleyfield. He ranked as assistant to the bishop and his duties were largely administrative.
About this time St. James Cathedral
found itself deprived by the war of European preachers to hold its famous Lenten services. By tradition these services constitute a breakaway from local subjects and sail out into world affairs. Léger with his European and Asian background made an ideal substitute. Old friends noticed that the fragility and confusion which had marked his adolescence had given place to a robust form of speech and a precision of thought.
Although Léger still remained unknown to Quebec as a whole it was now evident to the clergy that he
had a future in the church. Léger himself has revealed: “Three cardinals had a profound influence on my life. Cardinal Rouleau guided my steps on the uncertain road of youth toward the seminary; Cardinal Verdier guided my steps through the first illusions of the priesthood toward the ideal of complete self-giving; Cardinal Villeneuve guided my steps along the road . . . toward Rome.”
This last event, which determined Léger’s destiny, took place in 1947 when he was sent to the Eternal City to become rector of the reopened
Canadian College, on the Via Quattro Fontane, the heavily shuttered time-mellowed Street Of The Four Fountains.
Because Canada has no diplomatic representative at the Vatican, Léger, to some extent, was the emissary on state matters between Ottawa and the Holy See. But he was never too busy to get visiting Canadian bishops and statesmen an audience with the Pope or a good seat at ceremonies in St. Peter’s. Nor did he overlook his duties as adviser to the forty Canadian priests who were studying in residence at his college. Some of the priests were musicians and on his forty-fifth birthday they composed a symphony in five movements and played it for him.
One of the acts which kept Léger constantly under the eye of the Pope was his organization of the Croix d’Or. This brought thousands of dollars’ worth of food, medicines and clothing from Quebec for the relief of Italian distress.
In 1950 the new postwar industrial revolution was igniting new conflicts in the Archdiocese of Montreal. The cities were restless under a political regime which had been elected by the hamlets. Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale Government was on the side of the farmers and the financiers and cool toward the workers and the unions, Catholic though they might be. Two battles were developing: one between
capital and labor and the other between rural and urban’communities.
Here lay a great opportunity for the church to act as a conciliator. But here also lay a severe test of the church’s tact. The then Archbishop of Montreal, Joseph Charbonneau, by his open support of the unions in the bloody Asbestos strike of 1949 had, in the eyes of many clergymen, overstepped the bounds of discretion. It was argued that he had allowed his Christian charity for the workers to blind him to tactics on the part of certain union leaders which hinted at power politics.
The Crusader Banned Bingo
When Charbonneau resigned because of “ill-health” the Vatican looked for a man who knew Quebec well and could be counted upon to exercise diplomacy. To the laity in Montreal the elevation of Léger was unexpected. The general reaction was “Who is he?” The library of the Montreal Star hadn’t a single line about him on file.
In Montreal as archbishop Léger soon rode like a crusader, with all bugles sounding, against all affronts to Catholic doctrines. He attacked euthanasia, divorce and contraception. He denounced comics, movies and radio plays dealing with sex and crime, and also cabarets. He banned bingo, then played regularly by hundreds of Catholic communities to raise funds. “The church is not a gaming house,” thundered Léger. His decision was widely applauded though there were many who looked on his criticism of such pastimes as dancing and such innocent profit-making pursuits as church bazaars as old-fashioned.
Another of his highly publicized moves was getting the Montreal City Council to order the closing of all stores on religious holidays. The Catholics were united in their approval of this but open flouting of the bylaw by Protestant-owned stores led to the imposition of trivial fines and much illfeeling.
Léger helped spark a cleanup of prostitution and a more rigid enforcement of liquor laws. Other efforts have included the organization of shelters for the city’s down and outers; the building by volunteer Catholic groups
There's nothing else that makes me rail
And rant and rave, doggone it, Like merchandise displayed for sale Without a price-tag on it.
So skip the subtle selling gag.
You like suspense — so be it.
But as for me, I want the tag Right out where I can see it.
And when you send a gift, attach The tag and so arrange it That I, with promptness and dispatch, Can dash out and exchange it.
P. J. BLACKWELL
of a home for old folk, during which Léger himself sawed lumber and pushed a wheelbarrow; the opening of a reading room where non-Catholics could receive written and verbal answers to their questions about the church; and the establishment of an Association of Catholic Businessmen as an alternative to the “neutral” service clubs like Rotary, in which Catholic participation is discouraged.
On political issues he tightropes between two extremes, repeating papal warnings that until the western world reconciles the differences between capital and labor by Christian co-operation it cannot erase the threat of Communism.
Léger has never supported a Quebec union merely because it is Catholic. The long bitter textile strike at Louiseville was allowed to fizzle into failure last February without a word from Léger, probably because the Catholic union leaders, by preventing the factory executive staff from entering the premises, had violated property rights the church espouses. When he does raise his voice on labor matters his public words are seldom contentious. What he says in private seems to be heeded by both employers and unions. Last year a department-store strike in Montreal ended when Léger quietly let both sides know how he thought it should be settled.
There has never been an open quarrel between Léger and Premier Duplessis but tension is believed to exist. Their relations are the subject of much excited gossip. A Quebec City Jesuit says: “Duplessis is always reminding the pulflic that he helped the Sulpician Fathers out of bankruptcy during the depression. This is a deliberate dig at Léger.” A prominent Montreal Catholic layman says: “Duplessis likes to think he can get along without the church. But he’s going to have a heck of a time getting along without Léger.”
Even though he is a typical Quebecer, jealous of his provincial rights, Léger is believed to look upon Duplessis’ extreme nationalism as out-of-date. Many times he has praised the Commonwealth ideal in Canada. He paid a moving tribute to the late King George VI and always refers to Elizabeth II as “our gracious Queen.”
On social doctrine he sometimes
speaks bluntly. Last year he told the Montreal Chamber of Commerce: “The day that commerce no longer rests on the solid foundations of religion it will become a vampire at the throat of economic life.” Two years ago at a Catholic workers’ rally outside the huge St. Joseph’s Oratory on Montreal mountain he said: “Proud man has
given us electricity and forgotten that God gave us the sun.”
Léger tells his hearers that Communism is the logical development of liberalism. Liberalism, he says, started from a false concept of freedom—the freedom of every man to pursue his own interests without regard to the welfare of others. “How could the order of common good spring from the clash of deep-rooted egotisms?” he asks. In the early industrial world, he says, there was contempt for human dignity.
“This so-called free enterprise which had been dreamed of soon became an odious economic dictatorship. From the heights of a wonderful dream man fell rapidly into the sad reality of a society crowned in anarchy. And so, leaving liberalism aside, he took the highway that led to totalitarianism.”
Thus, he says, the vaunted individual freedom became submerged in the omnipotence of the state which protected its authority with bloodshed and terror.
In the West, Léger insists, there is still time for reform. But he warns: “Only anarchy lies ahead as long as big business battles to build the empires of monopoly and big unionism battles to break down the bulwarks of capitalism.”
A Student of Other Faiths
In Léger’s ideal Catholic world neither capital nor labor would hold the place of power. The economic system would be built on Christian co-operation. Its practical application would be the establishment of industry-wide councils. Workers would be organized and represented by the best brains at these councils. The employers would be united and similarly represented. Every phase of the industry would come under the jurisdiction of the combined authority and be free from the tamperings of the state. The government would step in only to curb any tendency on the part of both capital and labor to monopolize the machinery in a conspiracy against the consumer.
Léger maintains that the Roman church today is, by virtue of its adherence to doctrines stemming direct from Peter, the one stable force on earth. Yet he neither shuns nor criticizes other churches. He is in fact a student of their beliefs. Last year he was guest of honor at the Montreal Council on Christian Social Order, presided over by a Church of England priest, Canon R. K. Naylor. Léger spoke on “God, Man and Human Labor.” Canon Naylor says: “I have never in my life seen such a depth of good feeling and warmth at an interdenominational gathering.”
At six o’clock every morning Léger says Mass. Then he takes a frugal breakfast. By eight he is at his desk dealing with correspondence and giving audience to callers. Then he sets out on a whirlwind tour. He visits children’s hospitals, Boy Scout headquarters, the Catholic Women’s League, speaks at lunches and dinners, celebrates Mass for European immigrants at the docks, talks of plans with Catholic Action and the Knights of Columbus, addresses university groups and fulfills a bewildering catalogue of obligations.
On a recent visit to a rural parish he found the local pastor faced with a long line-up of penitents awaiting to confess. At once Léger took a second con-
fessional box and helped him oui.
Nothing interferes with his daily religious service, Crusade of the Rosary, on the Montreal French-language station CKAC. Ferdinand Biondi, the program director, gave Léger the “spot” gratis three years ago. Its commercial value was nil because almost every family was listening to Quebec’s favorite soap opera, Un Homme et son Péché, on the rival CBF at that time.
Within a few months it was estimated that six out of ten Quebec families were tuning in to CKAC, taking out their beads, kneeling by their radios, and repeating the Hail Mary prayer from St. Luke in response to Léger’s broadcast interpolations of the paternoster. CBF hastily moved Un Homme et Son Péché fifteen minutes forward.
Léger has not missed more than a dozen broadcasts in three years. When he is in Rome he makes recorded programs of the service with an Italian congregation and has them flown to Montreal.
The effect has been remarkable. Last summer Léger heard of one little boy who had built an elaborate toy altar in the back yard beside which he knelt to take part in the radio service. The next night Léger was out broadcasting from the boy’s altar while hundreds of neighbors at windows, on walls, on rooftops and in adjacent gardens looked on reverently.
At his consecration with twentythree other new cardinals last January, a four-day ceremony in the beautiful basilica of St. Peter’s, Paul-Emile Léger kissed the slipper of the Pope who then placed on his head the huge crimson hat with fifteen golden tassels, a garment which is never worn again, and is seen for the last time on the cardinal’s casket.
The Pope said: “Receive ye the
red hat, the special badge of the cardinal’s rank. By this you are to understand that you must show yourself fearless even to the shedding of your blood in making our Holy Faith respected, in securing peace for the Christian people, and in promoting the welfare of the Roman Church.”
Then the new cardinals prostrated themselves before the Pope’s throne, their rich crimson robes spread wide.
At a final conclave, attended only by the College of Cardinals, Léger went through a ceremony known as “the closing of the mouth of the newly elevated.” Whatever secrets of the church this ceremony is designed to guard it has in no way impaired Léger’s loquacity or the passion which has shaken him since youth.
On his arrival back in Canada he faced the crowds before him at Windsor Station, stretched out his arms, and cried: “Montreal! Oh my city! 1 give you my life . . . all my life!”
From any other man such effusion would have sounded false. But most of those in the crowd knew that PaulEmile Léger meant exactly what he said, it
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