Remembering Claude Ryan

Remembering Claude Ryan McGill University

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McGill Reporter
February 19, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 11
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Remembering Claude Ryan

As a provincial politician, and former editor of Le Devoir, Claude Ryan led a very public life. But it is as man on a spiritual quest that he is remembered at the Newman Centre.

Newman Centre director Daniel Cere said that Ryan's involvement with the Centre started in the '50s, when Ryan wrote the occasional article for the Centre's journal. Knowing of Ryan's interest in Cardinal Newman's work, the Centre called him up and invited him to give a lecture seven years ago.

"I remember he arrived in one of those February blizzards," said Cere.

"He delivered this stunning lecture on Newman's legacy. Newman wrote over 40 volumes, and Ryan's lecture showed this amazing grasp of Newman's work."

That lecture marked the beginning of a partnership that Cere believes was beneficial to both the Centre and the ex-politician, who was Liberal leader from 1978–1982, and who led the "No" side during the first separation referendum. After his talk, Ryan began dropping by the Centre on Peel Street on a regular basis — giving talks, leading discussion groups or engaging in conversation with the students and staff.

"He said in that first lecture that he had first encountered Newman's writings in the '50s, and since then it's been an ongoing journey for him. I believe he found in the Centre a place where he could explore that," said Cere.

In 2002 Ryan was asked to teach a course on Catholic social thought. For this course, Ryan wrote a 600-page monograph, which will soon be published as a book.

Cere said right until the end, Ryan continued to invest time and energy into this project. Not too long before Ryan died, Cere visited him in the hospital.

"He wanted to go over the reader's comments (on the manuscript). He had all his papers lined up beside his bed. He wasn't able to read anymore — I had to read the comments to him," said Cere.

Even at the age of 79, having led his province during one of its most tumultuous periods, Ryan was not content to rest on his laurels.

"We got a little glimpse of his spirituality, the layers of it," said Cere.

"He was a very warm guy — he seemed austere from a distance, but around the Centre he was jovial, with a real love of life. Despite his great faith he wasn't particularly delighted with the prospect of leaving this life. He felt he had other things to do."

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