Léger, Paul-Émile

Paul-Émile Léger, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church (b at Valleyfield, Qué (now Salaberry-de-Valleyfield) 25 Apr 1904; d at Montreal 13 Nov 1991), brother of Jules LÉGER. He was ordained a priest in Montréal in 1929, beginning an ecclesiastical career that took him first to France (1930-33) and then Japan (1933-39). He returned to Valleyfield during WWII (1940-47), was rector of the Pontifical Canadian College in Rome (1947-50) and was then named archbishop of Montréal (1950-67), succeeding Monseigneur Joseph Charbonneau.

Monseigneur Léger regularly made headlines, thanks to his eloquent speeches, his presence in all the religious and social activities of a city still unable to handle the demands of rapid change, and his clear support for the disadvantaged. He won the affection of the city and a reputation that quickly went beyond the borders of Québec. He was a man of action, with an extraordinary ability to stir people's consciences and energies to participate in projects such as the Foyer de Charité, the Hôpital Saint-Charles-Borromée for the chronically ill.

He will also be remembered for his independence from politicians during Maurice DUPLESSIS's premiership of Québec and for his willingness to increase the role of the laity by renouncing certain privileges until then reserved to the church. His nomination as a cardinal in 1953 increased his renown. A member of the preparatory commission leading to Vatican Council II (1962-65), Cardinal Léger played an important role as both a liberal and a progressive. Upon returning to his diocese, he worked to implement the decisions of the council and then, in 1967, decided to step down from the episcopal seat in Montréal to become a missionary among lepers and handicapped children in Cameroon, Africa. Even after he retired, he continued his humanitarian work from Montréal.

Cardinal Léger received a great many nominations, decorations and awards. More than 10 Canadian universities granted him honorary doctorates in theology, letters and law. In 1958, France awarded him the Grande Croix of the Légion d'honneur and he received the Order of Canada in 1968. Copresident of the Canadian Refugee Foundation, in 1969 he received the Pearson Peace Medal and the 1980 Lester B. Pearson Foundation award for peace. In 1983 he was the first recipient of the Prix Maisonneuve awarded by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste of Montréal and he was made a grand officer of the Ordre national du Québec in 1985.