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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Louis-Zéphirin Moreau

May 24, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In the late 19th century the Canadians endured a crisis of education called the Manitoba question. Prelates, priests, politicians, and laity joined in both the private and the public debate that lasted for years. The Catholic Church was deeply divided over the question of the schools and letters crossed the Atlantic to and from Rome in efforts to find a solution. In the middle of this controversy was Blessed Louis-Zéphirin.
Halfway between Montreal and Quebec in the village of Bécancour, Louis Zephirin and Marie-Marguerite Champoux welcomed the fifth of their thirteen children into their family on April 1, 1824. The son, Louis Zéphirin, was born prematurely and was sickly.
Their parish priest, Fr. Charles Dion, urged Louis and Marie to allow their son to study. They readily agreed. Louis began his studies in Bécancour studying Latin with Jean Lacourse. In 1839 he went to the Seminaire de Nicolet — about 15 miles southwest of Bécancour — where he studied for the next five years.
When he graduated in May 1844, one of the teachers became ill, so Louis replaced him, teaching fourth form poetry. During this time he met Archbishop Joseph Signay of Quebec when he made his pastoral visit to the seminary. This led to the archbishop accepting Moreau as a candidate for the priesthood, and Moreau continuing his studies.
Sadly, the following year, his frail health declined and he was forced to return to Bécancour in November 1845. He stayed in the rectory and continued to study at a more relaxed pace. When he met Signay again in September 1846, he was still weak so the archbishop urged him to give up his hope of becoming a religious.
It was not a direct order, so Moreau was not obliged to obey it, so he did not give up his aspirations. He obtained letters of recommendation from Fr. Dion and his teachers at Nicolet, taking them to Montreal where he met privately with Bishop Ignace Bourget. Since the bishop had been called to Europe, he referred Louis-Zéphirin to his coadjutor, Bishop Jean-Charles Prince.
Without hesitation, Prince opened his door to Louis and there he completed his preparations for Ordination at the episcopal palace. Bishop Prince monitored Louis’ progress and rushed him through his orders. By October 1846, Louis received minor orders and was ordained to the sub-deaconate on December 6, the diaconate on December 13, and to the priesthood on December 19.
He had been examined and deemed properly prepared for the responsibilities of the priesthood, but Louis continued his theological studies for the rest of his life since he believed he did not have a deep enough grasp of theological matters.
When Bishop Bourget returned from Europe in 1847, he appointed Louis as master of ceremonies at the cathedral as well as an assistant in the administrative office of the chancellery. He quickly moved up in the ranks to become titular secretary. He also served as chaplain to the Little Sisters of Charity of Providence.
Just one year after his Ordination, Fr. Moreau was assigned to be chaplain at the cathedral where he served daily Mass, preached on Sundays, and heard Confessions. These pastoral duties overwhelmed him, requiring him to return to the secretariat where he became director of the Good Shepherd community.
Fr. Moreau enjoyed living in the episcopal palace once again. The communal life pleased him as did the spirituality of Bishop Bourget, which included devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, love for the Holy Eucharist, and spending much time in prayer.
Following the bishop’s example, Fr. Moreau became known as the “good Monsieur Moreau.” From 1852 to 1875 he served as an adviser to the bishop. Additional responsibilities included procurator for the episcopal offices, secretary of the diocesan council, and administering the diocese when the bishop was away.
Pastorally, he acted as chaplain to a boarding school run by the Congregation of Notre Dame and to the Hotel Dieu of Saint-Hyacinthe — a hospital — and to the Sisters of the Presentation of Maria, an order of nuns. Between 1854 and 1860 and again between 1869 and 1875 he was curé of the cathedral. Administratively, his peers described him as well-organized, highly efficient, and financially astute as he worked to reduce the bishopric’s debts.
In 1874 he followed the example of some priests in Europe and formed an organization to help the workers of the Industrial Revolution: the Union of St. Joseph. This was very similar to the Knights of Columbus which was formed in the United States in 1882. The union grew and began publishing L’Echo in 1891 and established a life insurance company to assist widows and orphans.
After Bishop Charles La Rocque of Saint-Hyacinthe died on July 15, 1875, the bishops of Quebec recommended Moreau to fill the empty seat. The Sacred Congregation of Propaganda ratified their decision on September 21, and Pope Leo XIII approved it on November 19, 1875. Thus on January 16, 1976, Fr. Moreau was consecrated as bishop of Saint-Hyacinthe much to the delight of the clergy and laity of the diocese. He served the people for 25 years, delegating much of the administration involving travel to his coadjutor, Bishop Maxime Decelles. Bishop Moreau’s previous experience proved helpful in navigating the troubled waters of the years ahead.
He had no fear of collecting men more qualified in theological, spiritual, and administrative matters than himself. These men highly respected the bishop and appreciated the way he fostered cordial relations throughout the diocese not only with the clergy, but also with the laity.
He held synods, conferences, and annual retreats for priests. He also reopened the palace and founded two orders of sisters: the Sisters of St. Joseph of Saint-Hyacinthe in 1877 and Sisters of St. Martha in 1883. He promoted extended ecclesiastical studies for both priests and seminaries.
During his service, he continued his interest in the Union of St. Joseph as he urged similar formations for farmers. He also opened the door of the palace for the poor on Mondays and helped the sick. When a rash of fires devastated Saint-Hyacinthe, he made special efforts to care for the victims.
During his tenure as bishop, the number of clergy increased from 154 to 203. The number of orders brought in or established increased as well, with eight additional orders of teaching brothers and seven more of women who taught and helped with charitable work.
When the rift in Canada caused by the Manitoba school problem intensified in the late 1800s, Bishop Moreau tried to keep in the background while searching for a solution. When the issue eventually made it to Rome, Pope Leo XIII released an encyclical, Affari Vos, on December 8, 1897. Although it was not what the bishop had hoped for, he urged his people to “receive the word of the Vicar of Christ in a profound spirit of faith and gratitude.”
Bishop Moreau never did recover his health and he died on May 24, 1901. Pope St. John Paul II beatified him on May 10, 1987 at St. Peter’s Square.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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