Some priests lust for episcopal glories. Visions of mitres and croziers lure them up the hierarchical ladders and into curial halls. Rev. Raymond Roussin, SM, Archbishop Emeritus of Vancouver, was not one of these men.
David and I first knew him when he was Father Ray, a young Marianist priest and brother grounded in the Society of Mary’s life of prayer and ministry in St. Boniface, Man. As young adults we gathered each Sunday at the brother’s community home on avenue de la Cathédrale. Lifelong friendships were formed, and members of that original group continue to meet as Marianist Lay Communities today.
A gifted educator, spiritual director and retreat master, Father Ray had a special love for working with young people. As a mentor and guide, he nudged us to recognize the hand of God in both the joys and turbulence of early adulthood, marriage and family life. A teacher, he gave us freedom to question our faith in order to gain a deeper understanding. A man of prayer, he taught us to pray and led us in heart-stirring liturgies.
An avid outdoorsman, he relished canoe adventures and cross-country ski treks. He made deep, lasting friendships and was welcomed into numerous families as one of their own. To our five children he was simply “Papa Ray,” equally at ease on the floor playing Lego as he was saying mass around the coffee table.
His 1995 episcopal appointment to the Diocese of Gravelbourg was unexpected. He tried to turn it down, arguing that his gifts were better used as a university chaplain. The papal nuncio told him that his relational skills were the reason he was chosen. Marianists treasure the gospel story of the wedding feast at Cana, when Mary turned to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.” Father Ray took this gospel call to heart and became Bishop Ray.
When the new bishop was presented with his mitre and crozier at the episcopal ordination ceremony, he turned to us all with a meek look on his face. The trappings seemed to be both out of place, and weighing heavily on him. We feared losing our friend, but knew that our church needed more servant leaders like him.
Despite the unenviable task of overseeing the dissolution of the diocese, his time in Gravelbourg was blessed with warm friendships and the close ties of small-town life. He spoke warmly of the collegiality and fraternal support among his fellow Saskatchewan bishops.
When the task was done he welcomed his appointment to the Diocese of Victoria envisioning the pastoral beauty and slower paced life of this beautiful city. Soon after his arrival, he discovered the diocesan finances were embroiled in scandal and debt. He handled the situation with administrative skill and his characteristic transparency. He was honest with the people of Victoria, and they responded with their support. But, the stresses took their toll on his health and well-being.
In 2004, news came that he was being transferred. We hoped it would be to a quiet, stress-free diocese where he could finish his episcopal years in relative peace. We were stunned to hear that he was to be the Archbishop of Vancouver, the largest diocese in Western Canada.
David and I visited Archbishop Roussin soon after he arrived in Vancouver. He was prematurely aged, and the tremors in his hands and voice that began in Victoria had worsened. In 2007 the archbishop made national headlines with a public announcement that he was suffering from clinical depression. He told an interviewer at the time, “Some people today still feel it is a mistake to talk about it publicly. They feel it hurts the church’s reputation and reduces me to a weak human being.” An outpouring of love and public support showed otherwise. The Canadian Mental Health Association recognized his courageous honesty with a Mental Health Voices Award.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted Archbishop Roussin’s request for early retirement on January 2, 2009. He moved back to Winnipeg, where his deteriorating health was eventually diagnosed as Parkinson’s. Our loving God finally welcomed him home on April 24, 2015.
Our dear friend preached often about the need to be transparent, so Jesus could shine through us. The simple praise hymn, “Shine, Jesus shine,” was one of his favourites. It was sung at his 25th anniversary to the priesthood and his episcopal ordination. On May 2, the song soared through the rafters of St. Boniface Cathedral as his body was carried down the aisle and out into the spring sunshine where a special site awaited him. Archbishop Raymond Roussin, SM, is laid to rest in front of the cathedral, a short walk from where he lived his religious life as a Marianist brother.
Even in the midst of his brokenness, Archbishop Ray chose transparency over coverups. His motto was Fortes in Fide, steadfast in faith. His was a steadfast faith not only in God, but also in God’s people. Whether it was financial fiascos or his own weakened health, he reached out to others with honesty and trust. In doing so, he dragged his mitre and crozier off the hierarchical pedestal and grounded them firmly in the human reality we all share.
Moyer is past-president of the International Organization of Marianist Lay Communities. She can be contacted at her blog, www.catholicdialogue.com.