Cardinal, archbishop of Montreal, missionary; b. St. Anicet, Quebec, April 26, 1904; d. Montreal, Nov. 13, 1991. Léger was the son of Ernest and Alva (Beauvais) Léger. Required to leave school at an early age because of ill health, he apprenticed first as a butcher and then as a mechanic before he resolved one Christmas morning to be a priest. He was accepted by the Société de St. Sulpice and proceeded with his priestly studies at Montreal's Grand Séminaire.
Ordained in 1929, Léger was sent for further studies to the Institut Catholique in Paris. He spent some years in Japan establishing a new seminary in Fukuoka. After a term as rector of the Pontifical Canadian College in Rome, he was appointed archbishop of Montreal in 1950.
In 1953, Léger was created a cardinal by Pope PiusXII. A member of the preparatory commission for the Second Vatican Council and a confidant of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, Léger was identified with the leading progressives of the Council—Alfrink, Suenens, and Lercaro. He spoke eloquently of the primacy of love over law and repeatedly reminded the hierarchy that the laity, particularly in the area of sexual morality, had an indispensable role to play in the life of the Church. They must be listened to, he argued, and their experience and wisdom given heavy weight by Church authorities.
In 1967, Léger amazed the world by resigning as archbishop of Montreal. He exchanged the vermilion robes of the cardinal prince for the white soutane of the missionary priest. He reasoned: "I have reached the age when a certain sclerosis of soul and body sets in. The spur must be used to get out of the rut." He went to work among the lepers of Cameroon.
Bibliography: k. bell, A Man and his Mission: Cardinal Léger in Africa (Scarborough 1976). j. duggan, Paul-Emile Léger (Don Mills 1981). l. lachance, Le prince et les lépreux (Montreal 1972). p. e. lÉger, Les origines de l'homme: Conférence prononcée a l'Université de Montréal (Montreal 1961).