Georges Vanier, the best of our past, a model for the future


National Post, 8 March 2017

Heroic soldier, diplomat, passionate defender of Canadian unity, devoutly religious — can any other figure be so easily proposed as a model for Canadians today?

Governor General Georges Vanier died 50 years ago this week, on March 5, 1967, a Sunday morning at Rideau Hall. He had watched the Montreal Canadiens defeat the Detroit Red Wings on television the night before, after which he asked for assistance to visit the chapel where he and his wife Pauline attended Mass every morning, and prayed at length together each evening. Upon moving into Rideau Hall, the Vaniers asked for only two modifications — a bilingual sign at the entrance to the estate and a chapel in the residence.

That Sunday morning Vanier was too weak to attend Mass in the chapel and so he received Holy Communion in his bedroom. Madame Vanier went to Mass down the hall, and upon her return her husband died.

Thus died the greatest Canadian in history.

That’s not my judgment, though I do not demur from it. For Dominion Day 1998, Maclean’s magazine commissioned a panel of historians, publishers, artists and scholars to list 100 individuals they considered the most significant in the history of Canada, those who made an indispensable contribution and who could be considered heroic. They chose Vanier — decorated soldier, diplomat and vice-regal representative. His lifetime of exemplary service was motivated by both patriotism and his deep Catholic faith, summarized in the motto he chose upon his appointment by Queen Elizabeth in 1959, Fiat Voluntas DeiMay God’s Will Be Done.

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