Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, walks in procession ahead of Pope Francis at the start of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 25. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Cardinal Ouellet celebrates 50 years of priesthood

  • May 29, 2018

OTTAWA – Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the highest-ranking Canadian in the Roman Curia, marked his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood May 25 at a Mass of celebration in Rome.

The former Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada has served as the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops since 2010 and as president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America where he once served as a missionary in the Sulpician Order training priests. As prefect, he advises the Pope on episcopal appointments. It is one of the most powerful positions in the Vatican.

Ouellet was among the top candidates considered for pope in the conclave that elected Pope Francis in 2013.

“Through the many decades of faithful service to holy Mother Church as a priest of Christ and dedicated pastor of souls, you have contributed in varied and significant ways to the spreading of God’s Kingdom wherever you have served,” said Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a letter of congratulations. “Your commitment to the formation of priests, your love for the pastoral care of the faithful, your diakonia of the truth and loyal service to the Holy See have been shining examples of the life-giving ways you use your gifts in the work of evangelization and witnessing.”

Born June 8, 1944, Ouellet grew up in a family of eight children in La Motte, a village near Amos in Quebec’s Abitibi region. In 1968, he was ordained in La Motte.  

In the 1970s and ’80s, he served 11 years as a missionary training priests in Colombia. He obtained a licentiate in philosophy in 1976 and a doctorate in dogmatic theology in 1982 at universities in Rome.

Pope John Paul II named Ouellet secretary to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2001 and ordained him to the episcopate. He then named Ouellet Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada in 2002. He received his red hat in 2003.

Though a son of Quebec and a witness to the effects of the Quiet Revolution, his return in 2002 was perceived by some as that of the man “sent from Rome” rather than a triumphant return of a native son. He spoke out against Quebec’s mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture program, calling it relativist, contrasting with a more accommodating strategy by his brother Quebec bishops.

When Canada was in the midst of the debate on the redefinition of marriage in 2005, Ouellet took a lead role nationally in defending traditional marriage.

While in Quebec City, he organized the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress, bringing more than 20,000 pilgrims to the event that featured among its speakers Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.

In 2013, when his name was often among the top five papabile after Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, news media in Canada highlighted the positive aspects of his career as a missionary and a theologian. Ouellet, however, told media he considered becoming pope a “nightmare” and said the responsibility is crushing and not something anyone campaigns for.

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