Thursday, February 12, 2004

The Faithful Claude Ryan

News came this weekend of the recent death of Claude Ryan. Other obituaries will note his many contributions to the public life of Canada. Here I would like to note a few observations about the man for the record.

Apart from his encouragement to the Centre, which meant a great deal to us, he was a wonderful example of what is sorely needed in Western Countries today - - people who know how to link their religious faiths with their public actions.

Mr. Ryan spoke twice for the Centre in recent years. First as a responder to Professor Marvin Olasky the Centre's first Hill Lecturer in 2001 and more recently, in October 2002 at the Centre/McGill Conference where he was on a panel "Religion in Canada Today" with Preston Manning and Paul Reed.

He was a wise and knowledgeable Catholic layman. At home with the works of John Henry Cardinal Newman or various Encyclicals on Catholic Social thought, he was the embodiment of one who spent his time doing and trying to contribute to both his Church and the society within which he lived. He did a great deal for Quebec and for Canada. On the personal level those of us who knew him will never forget him.

On one occasion, hilarious as I recall, he drove me to the airport in Montreal and we laughed all the way there as he told me story after story of those in high office he had known over the years. One story dealt with when he was editor of Le Devoir and was visited by a hopeful "young man" who said to M. Ryan that he was "considering going into politics".

Mr. Ryan chuckled his deep chuckle and told me that after speaking with the man for about 45 minutes, he considered that the person had no particularly outstanding traits but that he told him "well, go into politics, I don't think you will go far, but it cannot do any great harm".

That man was Jean Chretien! Oh, how Claude Ryan laughed as he recounted that story. Ironically the airport he drove me to, we missed the turnoff as I recall, eliciting another laugh from M. Ryan, is now called Pierre Trudeau airport. In my view it would have been more fitting had it been named after Claude Ryan- - a more worthy representative of his Church and society.

Perhaps I will be forgiven for relating a very personal reminiscence. At Mass at McGill's superb Newman Centre some years ago, Mr. Ryan and I sat side by side. It is the custom of that student Mass that, at the recital of the Lord's Prayer, those at the Mass join hands.

Mr. Ryan and I held hands and I was struck by his hand for it was strong, as befits a person who has worked hard all his life. He betrayed no embarrassment at this new and affectionate addition to the liturgy. Of him it can be said that his life was lived to the full and in his death he will, if what he and many of us believe is true, go to join his late wife of whom he could never speak without his own eyes misting.

May he rest in peace. I was told that after his diagnosis - - when he was told his cancer was inoperable, he matter-of-factly got about the business of seeing that his work continued. His name shall certainly be remembered when we reflect on those who gave us examples of how to use our time well.

Iain T. BensonĀ©