Montreal archbishop Christian Lepine pays his respects at the foot of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte’s bier April 16. Photo by Alan Hustak

Crowd gathers early to pay final respects to Cardinal Turcotte

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • April 16, 2015

MONTREAL - At dawn April 16, before the doors had even opened at 7 a.m., a small crowd and three television crews had already gathered outside Mary Queen of the World Cathedral to pay their respects to Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte.

“I am not religious. My faith is in my mind, but I am here because the cardinal was one of us,” said Pierre Jean Cormier.

“I have my priorities. Before I go in to work, I want to honour a man of the people. He was like Jean Beliveau, he had integrity. That is what is missing today. He had integrity and he made himself so available, so accessible to the people. You have to respect that.”

Cardinal Turcotte, Montreal's popular archbishop for 22 years, died April 8 in the palliative care ward of a Montreal hospital after a long illness. He was 78.

His funeral will be held April 17 at 2 p.m and televised live by Salt + Light. Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine will preside, assisted by Cardinals Gérald Lacroix of Quebec City and Thomas Collins of Toronto, as well as Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi.

Cardinal Turcotte will be buried within the cathedral in the Bishops’ Chapel, resting alongside his predecessors including Montreal's founding bishop, Jean-Jacques Lartigue (1777-1840).

April 16 was designated a day of mourning by the archdiocese as the cardinal's remains lay in state at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral.

Marian Lessard, who knew the cardinal fleetingly, said she was up early to pay her respects out of a sense of duty.

“I knew the other cardinals, Leger and Gregoires. Cardinal Turcotte was different," she said. "He was much closer to the people than the others.”

When the doors opened to the public, the small crowd filed into the vast cathedral. In keeping with tradition, the cardinal’s body was exposed with his head towards the altar, his heraldic arms to the left of the casket and his mitre on a pedestal to the right. He was dressed in episcopal garb and wearing his ring, which will be broken and destroyed before the body is placed in the chapel crypt where all of Montreal’s bishops are interred.

A contingent of Knights of Columbus stood guard as a steady procession of mourners began to file slowly past, some genuflecting, all crossing themselves, some in tears. By mid morning, the line-ups grew.

Among the first to arrive was the cardinal’s successor, Archbishop Christian Lepine. Lepine extended his sympathies to members of the cardinal’s family, who were present to receive public condolences.

The cardinal leaves his sisters, Nicole and Louise, his brothers, Raymond, Gilles and Alain, and their families.

“He was so wonderful,” said one woman in a hijab who declined to give her name. “Whatever you believe, he was someone to honour, when you have the closeness to the people that he did, and walked among them as he did. He was a great Montrealer. I am here today because he did a lot of work not only for Catholics but for people of all faiths.”

(Hustak is a contributing editor to

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