Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Cardinal Louis-Nazaire Bégin


[This text was written in 1934 by abbé Élie J. Auclair. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]

BÉGIN, LOUIS NAZAIRE (1840-1925) Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, was born at Lévis, 10 January, 1840 , into a humble family of farmers. Louis Bégin a native of Normandy and his earliest ancestor in Canada, had obtained a grant of land on the seigniory of Lauzon about 1655, and from father to son, they cultivated the soil in that place. The father of the future Archbishop and Cardinal was Charles Bégin and his mother was Luce Paradis. The family was numerous. Louis Nazaire was educated at the Quebec Seminary and won great success there. In 1861, he was the first holder of the Prince of Wales prize, established that year by the future Edward VII on a visit to Canada . In the autumn of 1863, after a year in the higher seminary, he set out for Rome . While living at the French seminary of Santa Chiara, he attended the courses of the Gregorian University, and, without difficulty, won his diploma as Doctor in theology and in canonical law. He was ordained priest at Rome by Cardinal Patrizzi, 10 June, 1865. He then made a stay at Inspruck, in Germany, for further study.


From his return to the Quebec seminary in the summer of 1868, until 1884, Begin was, in turn, professor, study prefect, director of the junior school and of the senior seminary. In these capacities, he was soon recognized as a master of eminent worth. Between times, he published important pamphlets on various topics, philosophy, theology, history and social science. In 1882, he was one of the original members who founded the Royal Society of Canada. In 1884, Begin accompanied Archbishop Taschereau on one of his journeys to Rome. On his return, he was appointed principal of the Quebec Normal School, a position which he held until 1888. In October of that year, he was chosen and dedicated Bishop of Chicoutimi, and he governed this diocese for three years. In December, 1891, Bégin became the coadjutor of Cardinal Taschereau at Quebec, with the title of Archbishop of Cyrène. In March, 1894, the Cardinal, worn out by his advancing age and his labours, gave over to him the management of the diocese. In April, 1898, on the death of the Cardinal, he succeeded to his authority. Finally, in May, 1914, after an interval of sixteen years, Begin himself was created Cardinal by Pope Pius X, with the title of Saints Vital and Gervais. In April, 1908, Rome had given him a first assistant, Mgr Paul Eugene Roy who became his coadjutor in June 1920, and who followed him after July, 1925. In July, 1924, a second assisting Bishop had been granted him, Mgr Joseph Alfred Langlois, today Bishop of Valleyfield. Bégin died at Quebec, 18 July, 1925, at the age of eighty-five, after an administration of more than thirty years.


Tall in stature, aristocratic and refined in countenance, with regular and delicate features, gentle, kind eyes, a penetrating glance, distinguished in bearing and demeanour, yet pleasant and prepossessing to acquaintances, Bégin was above all a man of gentleness and of peace. His episcopal emblem was in fide et lenitate - "in faith and good-will" - and, indeed, he always did rule through patience and kindness, without, however, lacking resolution and firmness when it was necessary. Possessing much learning in philosophy, theology, law and sociology, versed in letters as in sciences, speaking five or six languages with equal ease, he was a reserved and subtle, if not a vigorously eloquent speaker. A writer with a free, fluent style, gifted, besides, with the power of observation, he possessed instinctively the difficult art of command. He excelled in teaching, in directing and in exacting obedience. This he did by first making himself loved and respected by all. He was a good father as well as a wise, industrious and understanding master. Thus, in the course of his long episcopate, he multiplied good deeds of the most diverse and praiseworthy kind, all without strife, without agitation, and without appearing to attach any merit to them.


Bégin constantly and carefully followed the day by day movements of Catholic life in his huge diocese, and indeed in the whole country. He faithfully visited his numerous parishes, taking pleasure in presiding over the ceremonies of ordination to the priesthood, in order to promote and stimulate this vocation. During a period of thirty years, he established no fewer than seventy new parishes. He added several orders or communities of men and women to those which already existed. The old seminary of Quebec and Laval University , as indeed all the teaching houses, were the object of his predilections. He re-established the chapter of canons for the Cathedral-Basilica, favoured the creation of an apostolical school and of a seminary for those of backward development, and fostered all charitable projects and associations. It was in his time, in 1909, that the first plenary council of Canada held its sessions at Quebec , under the presidency of the Papal delegate, Mgr Sbarretti. He was greatly interested in working men and his arbitration judgment of 1901, at the time of a serious conflict between employers and employees in his episcopal city, has remained famous. In 1907, with the concurrence of Mgr Paul Eugene Roy, Abbé Lortie and certain others, he founded L'Action Catholique, whose activities, especially through their paper, have produced important and extremely useful results.


In short, as has been repeated over and over again, the administration of the great and worthy Archbishop Bégin, which we often take pleasure in comparing with that of Saint Francis of Sales, the pious and sympathetic Bishop of Geneva, has been, in every way, supremely beneficial for his diocese, for the Church of which he was the head in this country, and as a result for the whole of Canada. If he were justly honoured by the bestowal of the cardinalate, we can say with all reverence, that he himself honoured the cardinalate by his beautiful life and his good works.


[Morgan, Can. Men , 1898 and 1912; J., B. A. Allaire, Dictionnaire biographique du clergé canadien français , St. Hyacinthe, 1908; L. M. Lejeune, Dictionnaire Général du Canada , 2 vols. Ottawa, 1931; A. Robert, S.E. le Cardinal Bégin , in Canada Français , 1925; Cyc. Am. Biog. ; personal knowledge.] Translated from the French by A.M.D.


Source: abbé Élie-J. AUCLAIR, in Charles G. D. ROBERTS and Arthur L. TUNNELL, A Standard Dictionary of Canadian Biography. The Canadian Who Was Who, Vol. 1, Toronto, Trans Canada Press, 1934, pp. 33-34. A few minor typographical errors have been corrected.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College