Fr. Benoit Lacroix, one of Quebec’s leading philosophers, was an amiable Dominican priest and intellectual who was a spiritual advisor to Trudeau. An authority on medieval history, Fr. Lacroix was also a progressive theologian, "an apostle of pluralism" who was open to other religions and receptive to other forms of belief.
"I love religion, in the plural," he once declared.
Devoutly Catholic, he never imposed his faith on others. His spellbinding intellect and humanity made him a revered public personality in French Canada.
When Fr. Lacroix died in Montreal on March 1, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quick to tweet, "Père Benoit was someone who walked in grace. His death leaves a great void."
Fr. Lacroix presided over Michel Trudeau’s funeral in 1998 after the former prime minister’s youngest son was killed in an avalanche. In 2000 he gave last rites to Pierre Trudeau, a friend for 50 years.
Born into a farming family in St. Michel de Bellechasse, 50 km southeast of Quebec City in 1915, Fr. Lacroix joined the Dominicans in 1936. He studied theology at the University of Ottawa, was ordained in 1941 and obtained his doctorate in Medieval Science from the University of Toronto in 1951. He continued his studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris and at Harvard University.
Fr. Lacroix taught for 40 years at the Universite de Montreal. As Quebec became increasingly secular in the 1960s, he described the students he taught as "a sacrificed generation." They were, he reasoned, lapsed Catholics who were no longer "menaced by religion" as their parents had been but who still searched for spiritual values.
They were, he insisted, a generation "still tied to the old, but free and open enough to experience the new. They don’t want to hear priests preach, but they still want religion."
Fr. Lacroix made headlines in Quebec three years ago when he dismissed Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the former archbishop of Quebec City who now serves in the Vatican, as a representative of a "very very conservative current of Catholicism — a very educated man who lives in a world of his own."
The author of more than 50 books, Fr. Lacroix also wrote newspaper columns until he was 95, and broadcast his lyrical commentaries on French-Language radio until last December.
Last September, when he celebrated his 100th birthday, Fr. Lacroix was upbeat.
"Old age is a blessing," he told the newspaper Le Devoir. "My old age is the culmination of years of love, like an old welcome friend who each morning greets me like the sunrise."
Among numerous awards, Fr. Lacroix received the Order of Canada in 1985.
(Hustak is a freelance writer in Montreal.)