Greater Victoria is mourning the loss of former Bishop Remi de Roo, who died at the age of 97 on Feb. 1.
Born in Swan Lake, Man., De Roo served as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria from 1962 until his retirement in 1999 and gained recognition both in Greater Victoria and beyond as a champion of social justice and a progressive both within the church and outside of it.
Patrick Jamieson, managing editor of Island Catholic News and author of three books on de Roo, said he embodied a little-known, but deeply rooted tradition of progressive thinking in the Catholic church, which led to him playing a notable role in all four sessions of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (Vatican II), which led to much change in the church globally.
“He was always pushing for more power to the people, the laity of the church,” Jamieson said. “Vatican II was called in the 1960s, and lo and behold those changes came about in the church. He was probably the leading proponent for the reforms of Vatican II, which were pretty radical if you were a traditional Catholic.”
While his progressive thinking earned him a reputation for being ahead of his time or even prophetic, Jamieson said, de Roo was also a source of controversy during his time as bishop. Despite this, he received high honours including a meeting with Pope Francis, where Francis knelt down and kissed de Roo’s ring in recognition of his role in Vatican II.
Closer to home, de Roo was involved in many notable activities, including helping to establish the University of Victoria’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, which serves as a secular academic hub for research on all religions and society in general.
“He was very excited by the centre’s mandate,” said centre director Paul Bramadat. “His role within the Catholic community was to always push it forward and always asking the community, not just the Catholic community, to take research and progressive thinking and critical thinking as seriously as possible. I think he saw that there was a real benefit to the religious life from paying attention to the academic or scientific world, and the centre was the space where that could happen.”
Describing de Roo as having a unique mixture of charisma and care for others, Bramadat said he would always interact with researchers at the centre equally and passionately, whether they were a tenured scholar or someone early in their academic career.
“He was a tremendously warm and patient person,” he said.
Current Bishop of Victoria Gary Gordon said de Roo was always a very gracious person who made friends readily and easily.
“He certainly worked at bringing to the whole diocese and the church an understanding of church as the people of God, which I think is something that is still ongoing, but I think it was a great launch that he did,” Gordon said. “The other thing he championed was social justice issues around poverty … and a just distribution of wealth so that all can participate in society.”
Gordon said the Diocese is organizing funeral services for de Roo, with vigil prayers scheduled for Feb. 11 at 5 p.m. and the funeral mass of Christian burial the following day at 11 a.m., both at St. Andrew’s Cathedral on Blanshard Street in downtown Victoria. The public is welcome to attend, though due to capacity restrictions, those looking to attend are asked to contact the church at 250-388-5571 to RSVP.