The funeral cortege for former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney takes to the snowy streets of Montreal on March 23, 2024. Mr. Mulroney’s hearse was accompanied by eight RCMP pallbearers, along with four RCMP officers on horseback, a Canadian Armed Forces escort and guard of honour and the Royal Canadian Air Force Band. Peter Stockland

The Irish eyes continue to smile

  • March 26, 2024

Montreal’s Msgr. Francis Coyle shared more with the late Brian Mulroney than having an Irish name. 

He is pastor of St. Patrick’s Basilica, which he says the Mulroney children referred to as “Dad’s church.” He presided over the wedding of the former Prime Minster’s eldest son, Ben, in 2008. He watched through his bedroom window as the crowds gathered in St. Patrick’s parking lot to pay their respects while Mulroney lay in repose inside the basilica from March 21 to 23.

Then he concelebrated, at Notre Dame Basilica one kilometre away, the funeral of the man who led Canada from 1983 to 1993. Mr. Mulroney died Feb. 29 at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, a few days shy of his 85th birthday.

Archbishop Christian Lépine, who presided the funeral at Notre-Dame, told Coyle: “You have to be there. Because of the Irish element.”

In many ways, that “Irish element” joined pastor and prime minister at the spiritual hip. St. Patrick’s is the historic spiritual home for Montreal’s Irish Catholic diaspora. In her eulogy, Mr. Mulroney’s daughter Caroline called her father’s “Irish heritage the rock from which his character was cut.”

In the days leading up to the funeral, Mila Mulroney and children Ben, Caroline, Mark and Nicholas tirelessly greeted the thousands of Canadians who came to pay their respects in Ottawa and Montreal.

Coyle had a ringside seat to the flinty display of filial duty by the Mulroney clan.

“It never stopped. They would take little breaks, but then they went back out.”

Coyle said the personal warmth and resolve of the family reflected their father’s character.

“He was like that. I went to the reception after (Ben and Jessica Mulroney’s) wedding, and I sat right next to Brian. I never met a man like that. You would just meet him for five minutes and he was your friend. He was so warm. He had that Irish thing in him. We just have that, you know?”

Coyle concelebrated along with Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, and Fr. Miguel Castellanos, Rector of Notre-Dame Basilica.

Mulroney was the last. There are no statesmen left in the world.

“All of Canada, including Canadians from all walks of life and elected officials past and present, share your grief and have made it their own,” Lépine told Mila Mulroney directly in his homily.

“The generosity of his family, the gratitude of the state and all the citizens of this country have made the death and funeral of Brian Mulroney an event, an event that brings us together with our similarities and differences.”

In the French portion of the homily, Lépine noted that “what happens in our life is important…but there is something even more important.” He alluded to the contemporary challenges facing Canada and mentioned in particular “threats to life and the family.”

The Canadian-style pomp and circumstance surrounding Mr. Mulroney’s funeral seemed a pageant from a bygone era. 

The funeral cortege that proceeded from St. Patrick’s Basilica to Notre-Dame comprised four Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on horseback, a Canadian Armed Forces escort and guard of honour and the Royal Canadian Air Force Band. The band played the solemn and familiar Beethoven and Chopin funeral marches.

The hearse carrying Mr. Mulroney’s casket was accompanied by eight RCMP pallbearers. A typical March storm ensured a stark white background to the Mounties’ iconic red serge dress uniform as well as a slippery surface for their riding boots. The snow quickly accumulated in ridges of their brown Biltmore hats. 

The weather, and the heavy security that blocked access to Square Place d’Armes in front of Notre-Dame, ensured the crowds for the funeral itself were sparse in stark contrast to the stream of well-wishers who bid Mr. Mulroney goodbye at St. Patrick’s.

One lone woman began to applaud as the cortege turned the corner of Rene-Levesque and Bleury. A couple of people joined her. Another woman further on, wearing a keffiyeh scarf, began to shout at the limousines carrying the family. The police quickly moved in, moving her out of sight and shouting-distance.

An older gentleman, taking cover from the biting March wind and blowing snow in an Old Port doorway, remarked as he watched the cortege pass by, “Mulroney was the last. There are no more statesmen left in the world.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.