IRÉNÉE BEAUBIEN, S.J., O.C., Founder of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism

Biographical Notes

Irénée Beaubien was born in 1916 in Shawingan, Quebec. In 1935, in the depths of the Depression, he found a steady job and abondoned his studies. In September 1936, he entered the Jesuit novitiate.

From 1943 to 1946, he was assigned to the Collège de Saint-Boniface, in Manitoba. There he was in charge of organizing sports for all the students. He also coached the College’s hockey team. Then came his theological studies in Montreal. In 1949, together with thirteen companions, he was ordained a priest by the Archbishop of Montreal. In 1951, he completed his studies by a stay in the United States, where he had already developed a number of personal relationships that would prove valuable in his apostolate.

P. Beaubien 1

In January, 1952, Father Beaubien founded a new service in Montreal, called the Catholic Inquiry Forum/Forum Catholique, providing his non-Catholic fellow-citizens with a place where they could be informed and educated about Catholicism, through lectures, hospitality articles contributed to the media and various other initiatives. He spent an enriching sabbatical year in 1957-58 at the Lumen Vitae Centre in Brissels, where he made numerous contacts with experts in interdenominational relations, and then enjoyed a brief sojourn in Jerusalem.

In 1958, he innovated, by very discreetly inaugurating a monthly dialogue between a handful of Protestant ministers and Catholic priests. In 1962, Cardinal Léger appointed him to head the new Diocesan Ecumenical Commission in Montreal and, in 1963, he became the founding director of the diocesan centre for ecumenism. He lent a hand organizing the Fourth World Conference of the Faith and Order Commission, held in Montreal in July 1963. He also set up a committee to explore the possibility of establishing an interdenominational Christian pavilion at Expo`67. In December 1964, he was invited to an international congress in Bombay, India.

In 1966, Father Beaubien was appointed by the Canadian bishops to the position of director of the new Office national d’oecuménisme. He founded and published, in French and English, a quarterly newsletter on ecumenism, which would eventually take the form of a 48-page magazine.

In 1967, he served as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Christian Pavilion at the International and Universal Exposition in Montreal (Expo`67). In December of that year, he organized a first national, interdenominational and bilingual consultation a Montreal. The participants recommended the establishment of a Joint Working Group made up of representatives of the Canadian Council of Churches and the Canadian Catholic Conference. In 1968, he was appointed by Pope Paul VI as consultant to the Secretariat for Christian Unity in Rome.

In 1968-69, Father Beaubien attended the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Uppsala, Sweden. He took part in a number of ecumenical meetings in Europe and served as a university tutor for one semester at the Institut oecuménique de Bossey, in Switzerland. He also toured Russia, where he made contact with the Russian Orthodox Church, and in particular with Bishop Nikodim, Metropolitan of Leningrad and chairman of international ecumenical relations for the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow. The Patriarch granted Father Beaubien a personal interview.

In 1970, came a brief visit to Japan for ecumenical purposes, as well as an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, bestowed by the Montreal Presbyterian College, affiliated with McGill University.
In 1971 and 1972m he visited the thirty-four French speaking dioceses serviced by the Office national d’oecuménisme. He also acted as delegate at a world assembly of national commissions for ecumenism in Rome. Back in Montreal, he organized an interdenominational and interdisciplinary seminar on pluralism, the papers from which were published by Les Éditions Fides. He was also invited to become a member of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, to act as a consultant on ecumenism.

In 1972-73, he chaired the Joint Working Group of Canadian Churches and the committee responsible for conducting a national, interdenominational and bilingual consultation, held in Montreal from September 10 to 12, 1973. In October-November of that year, he visited eight countries in Africa for ecumenical and missionary purposes.

From 1973 to 1975, Father Beaubien headed a joint research committee on relations between Freemasons and Catholics in Quebec. A report was published.

In 1975, the Ecumenical Centre merged with the Office national d’oecumenisme, adopting the legal name Centre canadien d’Oecuménisme/Canadian Centre for Ecumenism. In 1976, he chaired a committee that organized a two-day bilingual, ecumenical consultation on the problems of Quebec. In 1977, he animated a similar consultation on religious education in schools.

From 1969 to 1983, Father Beaubien was a member of the national committee charged with preparing and promoting the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, From 1971 to 1981, he was a member of the bilateral, National Dialogue Commission between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Roman Catholic Church; from 1975 to 1982, he also served as a member of the bilateral National Dialogue between the United Church of Canada and Roman Catholic Church.

In 1980, he sat on a national committee that prepared two gatherings for the leaders of thirteen Christian Churches in Canada. He was also one of the principal organizers of an international congress of Jesuit ecumenists, held in Saint-Jérôme in August 1981. Approximately one hundred participants from four continents took part.

In 1982-83, he represented the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on an interdenominational national committee that prepared for the Sixth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, held in Vancouver in July-August 1983.

In 1983, he spent three weeks in China, at the invitation of an ecumenical group from Lyon, France. He wrote a 24-page report on this experience. (See the archives of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism.

In the 1960`s, a kind of crisis arose and spread quickly within the Church. Lay people became estranged from religious practices; priests abandoned the priesthood; religious men and women left their communities. Father Beaubien felt strongly compelled to act in response to this new phenomenon. In the fall of 1983, he went to the Lumen Vitae Centre to reflect, together with some friends. He devoted the final week of December to his annual retreat in Rome. There he met with the General of Jesuits. On January 2, 1984, he concelebrated the Eucharist with Pope John Paul II in his private chapel. Then he returned to Montreal.

In March 1984, after twenty-one years as executive director of the Centre for Ecumenism, Father Beaubien asked to be relieved of his duties, effective July 1, 1984. One of his assistants, Thomas Ryan, C.S.P., succeeded him as executive director. In September 2013, the Board entrusted this important position to Dr. Adriana Bara.

At a press conference on September 28, 1984, he announced the official opening of Sentiers de foi, a new organization serving Christians who for various reasons, no longer had any formal relationship with their Church.

On September 13, 1988, for services rendered to the ecumenical movement, the American Biographical Institute inducted Father Beaubien into its international Directory of Distinguished Leadership Hall of Fame.

In 1995, Father Beaubien stepped down as executive director of Sentiers de foi and, in 1996, at 80 years of age, he resigned from its Board of Directors, leaving it to others to take over. He wrote his “memoirs“ and remained available for ministry on an ad hoc basis.

From 1998 to 2000, he acted as a consultant to the Christian Pavilion (Christus Pavilion) at the International and Universal Exposition 2000 in Hanover, Germany.

On May 8, 2000, the Montreal Diocesan Theological College of the Anglican Church, affiliated with McGill University, honoured Father Beaubien, bestowing on him an Honorary Doctorate. The presentation emphasized “his remarkable contribution, over more than 40 years, to the advancement of the ecumenical movement in Montreal, Canada and abroad.“

In October 10, 2002, he was named on Officer of the Order of Canada (O.C.). He received the insignia of the Order from Her Excellency the Gouvernor General of Canada at Rideau Hall on May 9, 2003. That same year, in a book published by Novalis, entitled Témoins au coeur du monde, he authored a chapter that he called Vers un Royaume universel.

The quarterly bulletin Ecumenism published a special issue (dated March-June 2004), marking the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal. Father Beaubien contributed an article on the origin and history of the Centre (Le Centre canadien d’oecuménisme : d’où vient-il?).

At the Gesù Church in Montreal, on August 15, 2009, a social and spiritual celebration was held to mark the 60th anniversary of the priestly ordination of Father Beaubien and his brother-Jesuit, Jean-Louis d’Aragon, S.J., Professor Emeritus of Sacred Scripture.

On January 27, 2012, in an official document, Pope Benedict XVI granted Father Beaubien a pontifical distinction : the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice“ Cross.

On January 26, 2016 Father Beaubien celebrated his 100th anniversary. Among the messages received, there is a personal blessing of Pope Francis.

Irénée Beaubien, S.J., gives thanks to God for his many blessings. He cherishes with deep gratitude the memory of the men and women who have accompanied him down through the years as co-workers, benefactors and friends.

March 2016

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