Charismatic Bishop of Victoria Remi Joseph De Roo dedicated himself to modernizing the church
Roman Catholic Bishop Remi Joseph De Roo considered himself a pilgrim. Those who knew and loved him also consider him a prophet, and some believe he will ultimately be remembered as one of the greatest Catholic bishops in history for his lifelong commitment to modernizing the Church.
Bishop De Roo died in Victoria on February 1, three weeks before his 98th birthday. While his tenure as the charismatic and controversial Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria had ended long before, he continued to lecture and minister until the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
“During the pandemic, he spent a lot of time thinking — for all of us, it was a time to reimagine what we want to be, what’s next,” says Pearl Gervais, a lifelong friend and colleague who has d rst met Bishop De Roo when he was a young chaplain for a Winnipeg youth group to which she belonged.
Mrs. Gervais provided a suite in her home in Nanaimo, British Columbia, for Bishop De Roo after his retirement from the diocese in 1999. He lived there until his failing health forced him to move to Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Victoria four months before his death.
“Over the past two years, Rémi has continued to be on the phone at least three or four times a week, calling an elderly person, alone, in need of comfort,” explains Ms. Gervais, who has given many conferences with Mgr. De Roo over the years. .
“We took a lot of classes together on Zoom. He constantly reminded all of us that ministry never stops, personal growth and spiritual growth never stop. It was very moving to be alongside Rémi in this last period.
Born in Swan Lake, Manitoba on February 24, 1924, Remi De Roo was one of eight children born to farmers Josephine (née de Pape) and Raymond De Roo.
He graduated from Saint-Boniface College in Winnipeg (now Saint-Boniface University) and then obtained a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Saint-Thomas Aquinas University in Rome.
He was the youngest Catholic bishop in history when Pope John XXIII appointed him Bishop of the Diocese of Victoria in 1962. That year also marked the start of the Second Vatican Council, known as Vatican II.
The 16 directives that emerged from this council started difficult conversations for Roman Catholics that continue to this day on topics such as contraception, the role of women in church leadership, and whether priests should be allowed to marry.
Vatican II also marked a momentous shift in the Catholic worldview, moving from a hierarchy with the pope at the top to a circular view where all Catholics are equal. It was an opinion that Bishop De Roo had defended from his earliest days in the Church.
“Remi’s impact has been to create a more human-centered, people-caring church – simple words but powerful in application,” says former Canadian senator and author Douglas Roche, another longtime friend. dates from Bishop De Roo who met him 60 years ago when Mr Roche was editor of the now defunct Western Catholic Reporter.
“He was a prophet, and prophets have a hard time. Prophets are almost by definition set apart from the establishment of their time – you never find a prophet who gives you the establishment line. People who really loved him loved him. People who didn’t really love him didn’t love him.
One of the most difficult chapters in Bishop De Roo’s life was the years immediately following his compulsory retirement from the Diocese of Victoria at the age of 75. His successor, the late Bishop Raymond Roussin, soon went public with allegations of questionable investments by the diocese. .
Funds had been invested in Arabian horses. When this resulted in losses, the diocese partnered with the same person, Seattle attorney Joseph Finley, for a real estate investment in Washington state. Instead of receiving a quick return, the diocese ended up vouching for a high-interest mortgage.
For 10 years, Bishop De Roo faced intense media scrutiny as Catholics on Vancouver Island scrambled to raise $13 million in bonds to buy out the mortgage, some properties in the diocese were sold and M Finley sued the diocese in court for breach of contract.
A damning 2000 report by the Canadian Catholic Commission concluded that it was “truly incredible” that Bishop De Roo placed such trust in the diocese’s longtime financial administrator, Muriel Clemenger. No external audit of the finances of the diocese had been carried out during the 15 years that she and Bishop De Roo worked together.
Never to blame, Bishop De Roo did not comment on how such investment decisions were made, though his silence baffled supporters and provided fodder for his detractors.
Over time, things got better, not without lingering bitterness. Bond buyers got their money back. A Washington appeals court ruled in 2005 that the land investment was “sound,” and the diocese sold the property the following year for $16.5 million. Mr Finley’s lawsuit was dismissed in 2008.
Ms Clemenger finally sent a letter of apology to Bishop De Roo in 2009, two years before his death, and asked him to make it public. “The fault was mine,” she wrote. “It was a very serious miscarriage of the whole thing, it’s just that you were blamed publicly.”
That Bishop De Roo not only survived this period but continued his lectures and ministry for another 22 years is testament to his resilience, says Patrick Jamieson, whose 35-year career as editor of Island Catholic News revolved around the life, times and teachings of Bishop De Roo.
“Church politics is something that can destroy people, so for Remi to stand up to that was really something,” Mr Jamieson says.
Ms. Gervais says Bishop De Roo found solace in those difficult years knowing that the man he revered most, Jesus, had endured much worse. “Remi had people holding him back. They knew enough to support another pilgrim. They reached out, loving and without judgment.
Cardinal Michael Czerny traveled from Rome to speak at Bishop De Roo’s funeral Feb. 12 at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria. The two men met in the late 1970s in El Salvador, where both were part of an emerging “liberation theology” that led them to stand with the poor and challenge authority.
Cardinal Czerny spoke at the funeral the words of Pope Francis in January, when the pontiff urged people to “walk in the paths of the people of our time” and to come closer to those who have been wounded by life.
“The Holy Father could easily have had our beloved Bishop Remi in mind when, with some tough love, he set out these challenges,” Cardinal Czerny said. “With the intercession of our beloved ancestor, let us embrace them – even at the risk of being, at times, a little irritating – with firm resolve and unquenchable hope.”
Bishop De Roo also found many opportunities to apply the principles of liberation theology in Canada. He was a vocal critic of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in the late 1980s and at times got on the wrong side of then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He challenged the government of 1980s BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm for its anti-union legislation.
When media mogul Conrad Black wrote in a 1987 article in Maclean’s magazine that capitalism was “a concept deeply rooted in human personality and predating Christ”, Bishop De Roo replied that capitalism “is not Christian and not even authentically human”.
A lasting legacy from the time when Bishop De Roo led the diocese is the Center for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. Center director Paul Bramadat said Bishop De Roo was “at the very genesis” of the center when it was founded in 1991 and helped raise the majority of the endowment the center relies on.
“Rémi liked the idea of a research center in which experts from any scholarly discipline would pursue their own research projects in a supportive environment,” explains Dr. Bramadat.
“He had a huge footprint in particularly progressive Catholic circles. And yet, when he joined our daily meetings at CSRS, he treated a 22-year-old atheist masters student with the same care, curiosity and respect that he would treat a world-renowned Oxford scholar. who was a scholarship holder at the center.”
Under Bishop De Roo, the diocese gave the university a priceless collection of nearly 1,700 books on 16th century theology and philosophy which Victoria Bishop Charles Seghers brought to the city from Europe in the 1800s He also gifted the center with a $155,000 St. James Bible that recreates calligraphy and hand-drawn illustrations from the Middle Ages.
Bishop De Roo had the rare honor of being given an Indigenous name when he arrived in the diocese in 1962. He was named Siem Le Pleet Schoo-Kun, roughly translated as “High Priest Swan”, in a First Nations ceremony Tsawout which re-enacted the arrival of the first Bishop of Victoria in 1845.
He continued to drum and dance with local First Nations many times over the years, Gervais says. But Jamieson notes that relations began to change in the 1990s, when “things got more political” between First Nations and the Church.
Bishop De Roo, who maintained strong family relationships throughout his life, is survived by three sisters, Clara Major, Alma Verdonck and Madeline Martinez.
In his eulogy at the funeral, Mr Roche said history will eventually make visible the enormous impact of Bishop De Roo’s commitment to advancing the directives of Vatican II.
“Bishop Remi has left us. I lost my dearest friend,” Mr. Roche said. “But I know I will see him soon. And I’m sure that during our next conversation he will tell me something new about the Second Vatican Council.