Born on April 25, 1904 (and baptized
on April 26), in Valleyfield, son of a general merchant, he studied at
the elementary school at Saint Anicet, he did his college studies at
the Seminary of Sainte Thérèse (1916-1925, with 4 years
of interruption because of illness during which he held jobs of
mechanic, railway man and butcher), stayed only a few months at the
Jesuit novitiate in Sault au Récollet which judged him to be too
emotional, and did his theology at the Major Seminary of Montreal
(License in Theology, 1929). Ordained as a priest on May 25, 1929 by H.
Exc. Gauthier, Titular Archbishop of Taron and Coadjutor of
Montréal, he joined the Sulpicians, did his novitiate in
Issy-les-Moulineaux near Paris (1929-1930), then studied Canon Law at
the Institut Catholique de Paris (License in Canon Law, 1931).
Appointed professor of Canon Law at the seminary of Saint Sulpice in
Paris, then in 1932 assistant master of novices, he was sent in
September 1933, shortly after his return to Canada, to fund the
Sulpician seminary of Fukuoka, Japan, in order to ensure the formation
of a native clergy. With its rapid mastery of the Japanese language, he
could teach philosophy and do ministry in the parish of Omuta. Back in
Canada because of the war of 1939, he taught sociology at the Seminary
of Philosophy and apologetics at the Pius XI Institute; then,
temporarily leaving the Sulpicians, went to the Diocese of Valleyfield
as vicar general (1940) while becoming the pastor of the cathedral and
being a member of the chapter (1941-1947). He was appointed domestic
prelate on September 29, 1942 and, having returned to the Society,
became president of the Canadian College in Rome in 1947.
Elected Archbishop of Montréal on March 25, 1950, he was
ordained bishop on April 26 in the Roman basilica of St. Mary of the
Angels by Cardinal Piazza, Secretary of the Sacred Consistorial
Congregation, assisted by Most Rev. Roy, Archbishop of Québec,
and H. Exc. Weber, Bishop of Strasbourg, taking possession of his see
on May 17. He received the pallium on May 2, 1951. Created cardinal
priest in the secret consistory of November 29, 1952, he received the
hat on January 12, 1953 with the title of Santa Maria degli Angeli, and
took an active part in Vatican Council II. In 1961, member of the
Central Preparatory Commission, in 1962 of the Doctrinal Commission,
and in 1963 of the Commission on Canon Law, he did several remarkable
interventions during the various sessions on religious freedom, the
liturgical reform, the lay apostolate, revelation, the bishops'
pastoral care, marriage, consecrated life, relations with Judaism and
non-Christian religions. His resignation, announced on November 9,
1967, was formally accepted on April 20, 1968.
He had left Montreal on December 11, 1967 to travel to Dakar (Senegal)
and Cotonou (Dahomey) in order to visit the antileprosy centers
assisted by “Fame Pereo”, and finally devoted himself to the care of
lepers, then of handicapped children at Étang Ébé
in the diocese of Yaounde in Cameroon, where he established some fourty
projects. He returned to Canada from October 1969 to January 1970 to
raise funds. His often improvised management and his uncontrolled
generosity led to serious financial problems. He returned to Canada in
1973, depressed, a little sick, sometimes doubting the merits of his
new orientations and deprived of the administration of his works
because of his lack of rigor, disappointed in his hopes to work in
Rome, he retired in the convent of the Sisters of Saint Anne de
Lachine. Pastor of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat (Ahuntsic) in
Montréal in December 1974, he resigned after a few months, was
briefly vicar at the Cathedral Marie-Reine-du-Monde, and returned in
1976 to Africa, where he was chaplain of a women's religious community.
Ill, he retired in August 1979 and returned to Montréal while
not ceasing during these years to continue his charity in favour of the
Third World: a visit to the refugee camps of Cambodians, Laotians and
Vietnamese in Thailand in 1980-81, the foundation of a hospital for
lepers in India in 1982 and in Haiti in 1985. He lived in the Seminary
of Saint Sulpice at Place d'Armes from July 1984 and spent the last 2
years of his life in a wheelchair. He died of pneumonia at the
Hotel-Dieu of Montréal on November 13, 1991. His funeral was
celebrated on November 16 by Most Rev. Turcotte, Archbishop of
Montréal, in Notre Dame of Montréal Basilica, and was he
buried in the crypt of the Mary Queen of the World Basilica.
A complex and mixed personality (“both fragile and spectacular”, as
described by Father Benoît Lacroix, o.p.), a bishop with a
surprising itinerary, more humble and less confident in himself than it
has been said, a leader with a charisma but not always resistant to the
temptations of stardom, with a phenomenal memory, impulsive, finding it
difficult to work as part of a team, an excellent speaker (although
sometimes bombastic) and moreover, man of the word (he preached the
Lenten retreats in Notre Dame since 1941 and he estimated having
delivered some 5,000 speeches during his episcopate), he was very
conscious of his role of doctor. He took an interest in moral reform.
He fought the laxity of cinema, tabloids and cabarets, began the radio
crusade of praying the Rosary as a family in 1950, created the diocesan
service courses on the Bible in 1951, the Diocesan Commission for
Ecumenism in 1962, convoked the diocesan synod in 1954 (salary of
the clergy, reorganization of the diocesan curia), and launched the
Great Commission of 1960. As cardinal, he was a member of the
Congregations of the Consistory (1963), the Sacraments, the Rites and
the Saint Peter’s Fabrique (1966), for the Evangelization of Peoples
(1972), the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Tourism
(1972), and represented the Canadian episcopate at the Synod of 1967.
He made himself the defender of human dignity by having always
demonstrated a genuine concern for the marginalized (the foundation of
the Foyer of Charity in 1951, of the Hospital St. Charles Borromeo in
1955, of the Institute “Fame Pereo” in 1962, of the Aid to the Elderly
in 1986), and in 1969 he received the Royal Bank Award in recognition
of humanitarian services, and in 1980 the Pearson Award for peace. He
was president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1951
to 1953. He was the brother of Jules Léger, Governor General of
Canada from 1974 to 1979, and created, on December 18, 1981 the Jules
and Paul-Émile Léger Foundation devoted to charities, to
which he bequeathed all his goods.
The profound changes in his episcopate under the combined effect of
John XXIII and the Council have been rightly pointed out: at first a
pastor of the Roman style, authoritarian, traditional, clerical,
suspicious of novelty, then a more listening bishop, less attached to
old formulas, certainly more understanding of men and of society,
recognizing that the Church could no longer perform the role of
substitute, and more and more confident in the responsibilities of the
laity. Exploiting the cult of personality and opportunistic according
to some ("he has always placed himself on the side of power, reaction
and clericalism" wrote Daniel Latouche in Le Devoir on November 23,
1991), pioneer and one of the fathers of the Quiet Revolution according
to others, it must be recognized that if he has never played the role
of locomotive in the evolution of institutions and if he was not the
creator of a new society by systematically going at the forefront of
change, he played a conciliatory role. We must do him justice saying
that his flexibility at that time has spared sterile confrontations
with the State, that he refused to turn the Church into a force for
social blockage and to lock Her in reactionary attitudes, and that he
has thus contributed to the declericalization of society, as well as to
the passage from a Church of Christianity to a Church of service. His
attitude in the matter of the secularization of the Université
de Montréal, of the Christian pavilion at Expo 67 and of the
book Insolences du Frère Untel
proves that he was more open than many of his other colleagues in
episcopate. His resignation and his departure for Africa were without
doubt as much the result of discouragement, depression and fatigue as a
very sincere concern for the Third World. This missionary expedition
earned him anyway as much pain as consolation, because he was seen in
many African settings as another agent of white colonialism. He
received numerous honorific doctorates (Laval, McGill, Ottawa, Toronto,
Alberta, Montréal, Sherbrook, Memorial, etc.) and distinctions
(Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Sovereign Order of Malta,
Legion of Honour, Order of Canada, National Order of Québec,
etc.). He was also papal legate on three occasions (Lourdes, 1954; St.
Joseph's Oratory, 1955; Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, 1958).
duce non fatigaris. Apostolus Jesu Christi
Coat of Arms: AR2; HCC 368
Iconography: EDM 113
- Mandements, lettres pastorales, circulaires et autres documents
publiés dans le diocèse de Montréal depuis son
érection. v. 21-30, Montréal, 1952-1962.
- Votre dignité, jeunesse:
conférence.... Montréal, 1943.
- Sur les pas de Jeanne Mance:
l’infirmière catholique et ses attitudes essentielles.
Montréal, 195- ?
- Son Excellence Mgr P.-É.
Léger parle aux guides catholiques...
- À la gloire de saint
Joseph... Montréal, 1954.
- Les ligues du
Sacré-Coeur: leur histoire, leur rôle.
- Les origines de l’homme:
conférence... Montréal, 1961.
actuelles du laïcat: conférence... Montréal,
- Réflexions pastorales
sur notre enseignement. Montréal, 1961.
- L’évêque et
l’unité: sermon... Montréal, 1962.
- Commentaires sur l’encyclique
Mater et Magistra. Montréal, 1962.
- Remplissez la terre et
soumettez-la : familles et nations face aux problèmes de la
natalité. Montréal, 1962.
- La religieuse enseignante
aujourd’hui. Montréal, 1962.
désunis: lettre pastorale. Montréal, 1962.
- Au service de
l’éducation: responsabilités et problèmes des
commissaires d’écoles. Montréal, 1962.
- Détresse des enfants
sans famille: allocution... Montréal, 1962.
- Dieu est amour: le Foyer de
charité. Montréal, 1963.
- Les portes de la vie au pays du
Québec. St-Cloud, France, 1967.
- Paroles de vie pour le peuple
de Dieu. Montréal, 1967.
- Trente textes du cardinal
Léger qui ont marqué l’Église au Concile et au
Québec. Montréal, 1968.
- Je suis un homme, seulement un
homme, une parcelle de l’humanité... Montréal,
1971. – 4X20. Montréal, 1984.
- Un jour à la fois. La
mort d’un fils. Homélie...Montréal, 1987
- Le cardinal Léger et
l’Oratoire: textes choisis. Montréal, 1997.
Sources : AP (1967), (1991); APC (1993) 629; BCF
(1963), (1965), (1973), (1981), (1986); CE (1953) 33, (1967); CHA 46;
COR (1991) 113-114; CWW (1991); EDM 113-121; EEC 74; ECF 208-210; EGC
(1968) 15, (1971) 163; (1975) 22; (1991) 423, 457-461; PSS 364-369;
pweb page of the Archdiocesis of Montreal; La Presse
, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21
Nov., 8, 10 Dec. 1991; Le
, 29 April, 14, 15, 18, 19, 23 Nov. 1991
Bibliography: please see the bibliography by D.
Robillard, op. cit. infra
287 – 292, to be completed by:
- Légation pontificale de
Son Éminence Révérendissime le cardinal
PaulÉmile Léger, archevêque de Montréal, aux
cérémonies qui ont eu lieu à Lourdes lors de la
clôture de l’année mariale, les 6-10 décembre 1954.
- Lamoureux, A. Le dernier
courrier du Cardinal Léger... Montréal, 1968.
- Bell, G.K. A man and his
mission: Cardinal Léger in Africa. Scarborough, Ont.,
- Duggan, J. Paul-Émile
Léger. Don Mills, Ont., 1981.
- Lachance, M. Le prince de
l’Église: le cardinal Léger. Montréal, 1982.
- Johnson, A.D. The value of
charity: the story of Paul-Emile Léger. San Diego, Ca.,
- Un bon exemple de
charité: Paul-Émile Léger raconté aux
enfants. St-Laurent, Qc, 1983.
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tempête: le cardinal Léger et la Révolution
tranquille. Montréal, 1986. – « Cardinal
Paul-Émile Léger, 1904-1991 », Église de Montréal (1991):
- Naud, A, Desbiens, J.-P. « Le cardinal Léger au
Concile », L’Analyste
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souvenir... Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, 1904-1991.
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Léger, c’est un saint: un aperçu de la vie et de l’oeuvre
du cardinal Paul-Émile Léger. Montréal,
- Routhier,G. « Les réactions du Cardinal Léger
à la préparation deVatican II », Revue d’histoire de l’Église de
France (1994) 281-302.
- Lafontaine, P. Inventaire des
archives conciliaires du Fonds Paul-Émile Léger.
Outremont, Qc, 1995 ?
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conduite de l’intelligence chrétienne », dans : L’Église canadienne et Vatican II.
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d’une retraite prêchée par le père P.-É.
Léger... Ancienne-Lorette, Qc, 1998.
- Routhier, G. « L’évolution d’un Père
conciliaire|: le cardinal Léger », Cristianesimo nella storia (1998)
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Léger; le prince de l’Église. Montréal,
2000 (édition condensée des deux volumes parus en 1982 et
- Lachance, M. Paul-Émile
Léger; le dernier voyage. Montréal, 2000.
- Burigana, R., Routhier, G. «|La conversion
oecuménique d’un évêque et d’une Église: le
parcours oecuménique du cardinal Léger et de
l’Église de Montréal au moment de Vatican II. 1. Les
premiers ébranlements. 2. L’engagement résolu », Science et Esprit (2000), 171-191,
This English translation by the Workgroup "Communications" of the Province
of Canada of the Priests of Saint Sulpice is published with the kind authorization of the
Wilson & Lafleur
House, of November
25, 2010. It is taken from: Jean LeBlanc, Dictionnaire
biographique des évêques catholiques du Canada : les
catholiques canadiens des Églises latine et orientales et leurs
: repères chronologiques et biographiques 1658-2002,
2002, 881 p.