By Dr. Michael W. Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Marks at UBC
This week, at the grand age of 97, Bishop Remi De Roo died. Just last year St. Mark’s College received news that his archives would be given to our library and we were thrilled and honoured to accept. So a big bit of Remi remains with us still.
Many tributes and commentaries have already surfaced in the media—principally by his close friends and collaborators Patrick Jamieson and Douglas Roche—and likely there will be more, but for my purposes with the blog I want to briefly alight on some of my memories of this extraordinary servant.
When Douglas Letson and I were commissioned in the mid-1980s to write a book called Portraits of Canadian Catholicism we made the decision to craft the portraits—there were 12—as pairs: writers, politicians, intellectuals, and bishops. Remi was paired with Emmett Cardinal Carter of Toronto and two more unlike prelates you could not find in the country. They disagreed on most everything but to our amazement, Remi never made it personal.
Whether speaking at the St. Jerome’s Centre for Catholic Experience, serving as a consulting editor for Grail: An Ecumenical Journal, cooperating with me for a CBC Ideas series, meeting with Doug Letson and myself at CCCB headquarters or at his home in Victoria, he was always receptive and generous with his time. He could appear aloof when actually he was just reserved, and he was disposed to declaiming on social justice matters sometimes in a way that communicated he was intolerant of opposing views when in fact that was not the case, so it was not surprising that he was misread by some.
But he also had adversaries in both political and religious circles. I remember one occasion when speaking with a prominent Ontario bishop (not Carter) who undisguisedly relished Remi’s public humiliation over the Washington State land investment scam he naively got swallowed up in. Episcopal schadenfreude? But also an example of Remi’s capacity to come across as self-righteous and thereby to irritate his colleagues.
He was not, in fact, self-righteous but genuinely prophetic, and you do tend to make enemies that way.
He was the youngest bishop at the Second Vatican Council, a man completely at home with the Council’s ecclesiology and outward-looking pastoral strategy, and he spent his long ministry incarnating that conciliar vision in his diocese, and I dare say, the larger Canadian church.