Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > AUGUST 2015 - On 31 August 1940, Bishop Charbonneau becomes Archbishop of Montreal

AUGUST 2015 - On 31 August 1940, Bishop Charbonneau becomes Archbishop of Montreal


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In many respects, Archbishop Joseph Charbonneau remains the most misunderstood bishop of Montreal. Despite spending ten years at the service of our diocese, his surprising and unexpected resignation has absorbed everyone's attention. Unfortunately, this has lead us to forget all that he did for the Church of Montreal. Titular bishop during a difficult decade which witnessed the Second World War and the post-war period, Bishop Charbonneau arrived in Montreal after a brief appointment in Hearst where he had been the city's first bishop.

In May 1940, the Cathedral Chapter received the Papal Bull that can be read below. This document, signed by cardinal Boggiani, Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, appointed to the surprise of all, Joseph Charbonneau as Archbishop-coadjutor of Montreal with right of succession. The title of coadjutor with right of succession meant that on the death of Archbishop Gauthier, Joseph Charbonneau would immediately become titular bishop of Montreal with no further formality. This period would allow Archbishop Charbonneau to familiarize himself with the administration of what was, at the time, the largest Canadian diocese. Montreal's Archbishop, Georges Gauthier, although still active, was then very ill and aging. However, the death of Archbishop Gauthier occurred earlier than anyone could have expected. On 31 August 1940, Archbishop Gauthier passed away after a three-day agony. The succession clause, found in the Roman document that we replicate below took effect immediately. With this new grief, the diocese lost a third bishop in less than a year. Archbishop Bruchesi had died in September 1939 and Bishop Deschamps in June 1940.

It is in these difficult circumstances, 75 years ago, that Joseph Charbonneau became Archbishop of Montreal. Now Pastor of Montreal's Church, he had only spent a few weeks in his new diocese. As Denise Robillard mentions in her book Monseigneur Joseph Charbonneau: bouc émissaire d'une lutte de pouvoirs, Charbonneau was welcomed rather coldly at the bishopric (Robillard, 184). For the first time since the foundation of the diocese of Montreal in 1836, the titular bishop did not have the privilege of intimately knowing his predecessor and of living at his side for several years. Archbishop Charbonneau had only attended two meetings of the Cathedral Chapter and knew very little about his diocese. Unwittingly, Archbishop Charbonneau was breaking with a century-old tradition where new bishops had learned from their predecessors.

Archbishop Charbonneau's episcopate was not less significant for our diocese. From 1940 to 1950, he set up several initiatives which impact can still be perceived today. He was the first to appoint an English-speaking auxiliary bishop and he also founded l'œuvre des Vocations. The Diocesan archives are also greatly indebted to him. In 1941, he appointed Father Louis-Adélard Desrosiers as the first Diocesan Archivist. His task included making an inventory of all the letters of our first bishops. Thanks to this work and with the approval of Archbishop Charbonneau, an inventory of the correspondence of Bishop Lartigue was published in the Rapports de l'archiviste de la province de Québec, a valuable instrument that we continue to use regularly.

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