Romeo Maoine meets Pope John Paul II. Mr. Maoine was the first director of Development and Peace. He died May 12. Photo courtesy of Development and Peace

Romeo Maoine was a man of Catholic action

By 
  • May 23, 2015

Romeo Maione was all talk but it was glorious talk, talk that made things happen. Mr. Maione used every podium and platform he could find to make the Church real and alive in the world.

The first executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, president of the Young Christian Workers, representative at the 1971 Rome Synod on “Justice in the World” and much more, Mr. Maione died May 12. He was 90 years old.

“Romeo loved making presentations and talking to people,” recalled Mike Flynn, former English sector director of Development and Peace. “He prided himself as a kind of professor of the Greek period, sitting under a tree talking to your students… He wasn’t humble about it, but he wasn’t inaccurate either.”

High school drop-out at 15, Mr. Maione emerged from the same Catholic Action network in Quebec that produced Pierre Trudeau, Claude Ryan, Jeanne Sauve, Jean Marchand and Jean Pelletier. Where Mr. Maione differed was his point of origin. He was a working class son of Italian immigrants and a factory worker. While his contemporaries were away at university, he was at a Ford plant.

Being working class was never a barrier for Mr. Maione. He rose through the union movement in the 1940s, then Canadian president of the Young Christian Workers in 1954 at the age of 29, international president of the YCW movement four years later.

Mr. Maione began with the Young Christian Workers in 1948.

“I was not practising my Catholic faith then, except occasionally going to Mass to please my mother,” he later wrote.

“So at the first YCW meeting I kept rather quiet because I was afraid a priest at the meeting would ask me if I was going to church.”

But he soon made the connection between social justice and the faith he inherited.

The trilingual, young, charismatic labour leader came to the attention of Canada’s bishops early. They asked him to go to Rome in 1956 to help organize an International Congress of Catholic Laity. In Rome he called on his YCW network and helped stage a rally that brought 32,000 workers onto the streets.

He was never in awe of bishops and took for granted that they needed to hear his opinion.

“He loved the Church and that is what I think gave him all of his credibility,” said Flynn. “He would be able to take bishops on and tell them where to get off. They understood that it was coming from someone who actually got the Church.”

In 1962 Mr. Maione came back to Canada to work as assistant director of the social action department at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. By 1964 he slid over to the Canadian Labour Congress to act as assistant director of international affairs. That led to his election as president of the World Assembly of Youth, part of a United Nations network of groups and agencies.

At the age of 40 Prime Minister Lester Pearson turned to Mr. Maione for help dealing with a crisis in labour relations in the post office. He was a union representative on the royal commission that produced the Montpetit Report — a key to ending Canada’s first postal strike.

At 19 Flynn got his first real job courtesy of Mr. Maione, working at Development and Peace in Montreal. A lot of that work and Flynn’s education took place at the Peel Pub.

“We would go to lunch at the Peel Pub every day and I would get an hour-and-a-half lecture on the newspaper, on what was going on in the news that day, making incredible links between seemingly unrelated events. It was just absolutely tremendous insight.”

Mr. Maione had a nose for nonsense. He would not accept sentimental or pious statements about the poor.

“It’s not the will of God,” he wrote following a trip to Latin America where at the time 300 out of every 1,000 infants born would die. “Rather it is the will of the corrupt government in power in this country who spend millions of dollars on arms… The infant mortality death rate is high in Third World countries because we haven’t lived up to the Gospel directive of Jesus to share with those who are weakest and poorest.”

Mr. Maione took his message across the country, determined Development and Peace had to be more than an agency.

“He brought a sense of movement, of militancy to Development and Peace,” said Flynn. “It wasn’t to be a UNICEF. It wasn’t to be even an Oxfam. It was to have disciples and apostles and people who got out there and saw this as their mission and mandate — very much a part of their faith… he spoke in just about every parish and cathedral going and turned people on.”

As Canada was celebrating its centenary and the Church was still electrified by the change issued in under Vatican II,

Mr. Maione was building a movement at a time before television, the Internet and other forms of media had monopolized our attention and privatized our religious values, said Indre Cuplinskas, a St. Joseph College historian.

“People like Romeo Maione did what they did, not just because of the force of their individual personality, but because of the networks that they could join, foster and make use of,” said Cuplinskas in an email.

Those networks were powerful in those years.

“Clerical power was starting to decline, but a corporate, tribal sense of Catholicism was still strong,” said Cuplinskas.

“And so there were movements, organizations that fostered a Catholic vision of all aspects of life — social, political, cultural. The organizations that these Catholics headed had clout.”

In 1973, with Development and Peace established, Mr. Maione slid back over to the Canadian Labour Congress, then three years later joined CIDA as director of non-governmental organizations.

When the Vietnamese refugee crisis hit, Ottawa Mayor Marian Dewar put Mr. Maione in place as chair of Project 4,000, which sponsored 4,000 boat people and helped set up the private refugee sponsorship program in Canada.

Mr. Maione was a loud and pushy voice on behalf of ecumenical action, setting up the interchurch committees that eventually evolved into today’s KAIROS social justice coalition.

He leaves his wife Betty, four children and 11 grandchildren.

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