Montreal Canadiens hockey player Jean Beliveau died on Dec. 2, 2014. He lived until the age of 83. Photo from Victoriaville archives/

Beliveau's legacy

  • December 11, 2014

Several years ago Jean Beliveau was asked to name the book he would select if he could own just one.

“The Bible,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “It’s a book I could read the rest of my life.”

Beliveau was an extraordinary hockey player and an even more extraordinary man. Anyone who followed his stellar career with the Montreal Canadiens or read the obituaries after his death Dec. 3 at age 83 would already know that. He is being praised as a man of integrity, generosity, dignity and grace. Those qualities made him a quintessential team captain and 10-time Stanley Cup champion. Much less discussed, however, is how the attributes that defined his life came out of a devout Catholic faith.

This reluctance to discuss faith is no surprise. Modern society gets squeamish when its heroes acknowledge God’s hand at work on Earth. That may be particularly true in Quebec, where someone like Beliveau is more apt to be called a humanist than a Catholic.

But Beliveau’s biography cannot be presented honestly without praising a life of faith. No sincere public celebration of his achievements can occur without a celebration of his Catholic beliefs and how those beliefs formed the man, on and off the ice.

Preach the Gospel, said St. Francis, and if necessary use words. That is how Beliveau lived. He was a gentle spirit, a calm, considerate and patient man. Never preachy, he carried himself as a model of virtue, honour, fidelity and, of course, charity. He epitomized what Pope Francis calls all of us to become. Charity was not what he did; it was at the core of who he was.

His Catholic foundation was formed at Catholic schools and as an altar boy and choir member. He honoured his God-given gifts of athleticism and leadership by developing them to their fullest. His wife of 63 years was at his side when he died. Being Catholic was, for him, a way of life.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien asked him to be Governor General, but Beliveau declined for family reasons. Brian Mulroney tried to entice him into the Senate, but Beliveau said no, politely, because he believed senators should earn their job in an election. He was principled.

Beliveau was Quebec’s humble celebrity. Instead of buying a mansion and living like a star, he kept a modest home all his adult life. In a look-at-me world, he diverted attention to others. It was a Christ-centred life.

The media is lauding Beliveau as a loyal teammate, which he was, but his first loyalty was to the faith he held dear even as many Quebeckers abandoned the Church. He was an iconic figure who lived the life of a humble, virtuous, God-loving man. That is his legacy.

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