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Biography of Cardinal Édouard Gagnon, p.s.s.

É. Gagnon

© 2010 Les Prêtres de Saint- Sulpice de Montréal

Born on January 15, 1918 in Port Daniel, Bonaventure County, into a family of 13 children, he received his primary education (1923-1930) in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood in Montreal, where his family had moved in 1921 for economic reasons, his classical studies in private institutions (1930-1935), then at the Assumption College (BA, University of Montreal, 1936), and theology at the Major Seminary of Montreal (L.Th., 1940), while being part-time secretary of the Diocesan Tribunal in cases of marriage. He was ordained priest (with a dispensation for the reason of age) at Contrecoeur by H. Exc. Forget, Bishop of St-Jean-de-Quebec  on August 15, 1940. He taught Scripture at the Major Seminary of Montreal, while writing his doctoral thesis in theology (La lecture de l’Écriture sainte par les fidèles [The Reading of Scripture by the Faithful]), a title he obtained from the University of Montreal in 1941. He continued his studies at Laval University, which awarded him a doctorate in Canon Law in 1944 with a thesis on La censure des livres [On Censorship of Books]. During the same year, he entered the novitiate year of the Sulpicians, made his Solitude at the Seminary of Philosophy, and was admitted into the Society in 1945. Professor of Moral Theology and of Canon Law at the Major Seminary of Montréal and at the Institut Pius XI from 1945 to 1954, while assuming the leadership of the journal Le Séminaire (1946-1954), supervising a summer camp in Contrecoeur from 1947 to 1952, and the preaching of retreats, he also exercised during this period the functions of the auditor at the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Montreal (1947-1954) and of secretary of the Diocesan Office of Clergy (1952-1954). During that period, several dioceses had asked for his services in drafting their synodal constitutions. In 1954 he was appointed the superior of the Major Seminary of St. Boniface, and was also a professor and diocesan consultor, while exercising some parish ministry and preaching retreats. After becoming the superior of the Major Seminary of Manizales in Colombia, in 1961, he went to Rome as an expert at Vatican Council II, especially during the 3rd and 4th sessions (1964-1965), at the request of the Canadian episcopate. He agreed to become the superior of the Major Seminary of St. Boniface in December 1965. Chosen to be the Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications from September 1966, he had to abandon this function because he was elected, in July of that same year, the Provincial Superior of the Society of St. Sulpice in Canada, Japan and Latin America (1966-1969). In June 1968, he was appointed one of the thirty consultors of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

Elected third bishop of St. Paul, Alberta on February 19, 1969 (and announced on the 22), he was consecrated in St. Paul on March 25 by H. Exc. Clarizio, titular Archbishop of Claudiopolis and apostolic pronucio, assisted by Most Rev. Jordan, Archbishop of Edmonton and Most Rev. Baudoux, Archbishop of St. Boniface. He resigned on May 3, 1972, after finding a successor born in the West and became, in June of the same year, Rector of the Canadian College in Rome (and advisor of the organisms of the Curia concerning missions), a function that he will hold until 1978, while accumulating, since 1973, the position of the President of the Pontifical Committee for the Family and becoming, in 1974, a member of the Central Committee for the Holy Year. Pope Paul VI entrusted him with several important missions during this period: presidency of the Pontifical delegation to the World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974; a survey of the Roman Curia and of the organization of the Lateran University in 1975; delegate of the Holy See to the United Nations Conference in Vancouver in 1976. In 1977 he participated at the Synod on Catechesis . He returned to Canada in October 1979, as vice-president and secretary of the Pontifical Committee for the Family, to prepare the Synod on the Family of 1980, and as a delegate of the Holy See to the preparation of the United Nations World Assembly on the Elderly.  During this period he was also the postulator of the causes of canonization of Marguerite Bourgeoys and of Marguerite d'Youville, and returned permanently to Rome only in 1983. Promoted on July 7, 1983 Titular Archbishop of Iustiniana Prima and appointed pro-president of the Pontifical Council for the Family on July 16, of which he was a member of the Presidential Council since August 1981, he became its president in 1985 upon his nomination to the cardinalate. He was also appointed, in December 1983, a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. Created Cardinal on April 24, 1985 with the title of Cardinal-Deacon of Sant’Elena, he received the hat at the consistory of May 25 and became President of the Pontifical Council for the Family on May 27. He will receive the title of Cardinal-Priest of St. Marcello on January 29, 1996. He was the first Canadian cardinal tied to the Roman Curia. Member of the Congregation for the Sacraments in February 1985, he was appointed President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses on January 3, 1991. In 1987, he was appointed Apostolic Visitor for the St. Pius X Society founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, with a mission to find a common ground for its regularization. He was a member of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and belongs to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem as well as to the Order of Malta. He ceased to participate in the work of congregations and tribunals on January 15, 1998, but remained the President of the International Eucharistic Congress until the Congress in Rome in June 2000. After submitting his resignation in October 2000, he retired at the Seminary of St. Sulpice of Montreal.

Although his work with youth in summer camps and with future priests during his teaching allowed him to acquire valuable pastoral experience (not to mention the parish ministry, preaching, retreats, conferences, etc.), his appointment to St. Paul was not without controversy. Public statements deplored the fact that, despite the wishes expressed during the consultations conducted by the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio H. Exc. Clarizio, the new bishop was not originally from the West and especially not from Alberta, and that he didn’t have any experience of parish ministry in this region. Some commentators saw in this approach simply a veiled rejection of another bishop from Quebec (after the resignation of Bishop Lussier). The reasons for these interventions were apparently political because it was believed in some quarters of Alberta that the Government of Quebec, in open discussion over the Constitution, tried to intervene in order to encourage the appointment of Quebec francophone priests to the episcopal sees of the West. It has also been rightly pointed out that the career of Cardinal Gagnon consisted of unforseens, but that he was not a man to refuse to face challenges nor waive his outspokenness, and that he was often the man of sensitive missions. He was presented as a personal friend of John Paul II. A polyglot, he speaks French, English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. When he retired, he became President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Family. He had a brother who was a member of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

Motto: Ad obediendum fidei
Coat of Arms: CE (1972); HCC 504
Iconography: EGC (1969), cover page of the March issue
  • La censure des livres, Québec, 1945.
  • Les vertus théologales, Montréal, 1960.
  • Les vertus cardinales, Montréal, 1962.
  • Les sacrements, Montréal, 1962.
Sources :     AP (1972), (1977), (1980), (1983), (1984), (1999); APC (1986) 534-535, (2000) 634; CHA 83; CWW (1999); EEC 159; EGC (1968) 262, (1969) 128, (1972) 173, (1981) 59, (1983) 314, 660, (1984) 656, (1985) 411; Le Devoir, March 22, 1969; La Presse, May 27, 1985, December 19, 1992; Documentation catholique, (1985) 747; Catholic Register, November 21-27, 1987; Le Figaro, October 30 and November 23, 1987; Le Séminaire, July 1985; Notre-Dame-du-Cap, January 1996: 26-27; information received from the Archives of the Sulpicians of Montreal.

Bibliography :
J. Gauthier, Notes bio-bibliographiques sur Monsieur Édouard Gagnon, PSS, Montréal, École de bibliothécaires, Université de Montréal, 1953.
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 Publishing House, of November 25, 2010. It is taken from: Jean LeBlanc, Dictionnaire biographique des évêques catholiques du Canada : les diocèses catholiques canadiens des Églises latine et orientales et leurs évêques : repères chronologiques et biographiques 1658-2002,  Montréal, Wilson & Lafleur, 2002, 881 p.

ed @ Peter Krasuski Source http://www.sulpc.org/ed/evsulpc_gagnon_en.html
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