Plourde was the seventh archbishop of Ottawa, serving from 1967 until 1989.
Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast broadcast the news of his death via Twitter Saturday and in a blog post on Sunday.
“Commended to our prayers: the soul of Mgr Joseph-Aurele Plourde, emeritus archbishop of Ottawa, who passed away today a week short of 98 yrs,” Prendergast tweeted.
On his blog, the bishop wrote, “May the Lord, whose Church the Archbishop served faithfully, grant him the reward of his labours.”
Plourde was born in New Brunswick in 1915 and was ordained a priest in 1944. Twenty years later, he was ordained a bishop and soon after appointed to the archbishop’s post in Ottawa.
He was the official host to Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s visit in 1984.
He also spent a day with Mother Teresa, who came to Ottawa in 1988 to attend an anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill.
Among his major achievements, Plourde told the Citizen upon his retirement in 1989 that he was particularly proud of the annual charity dinners started by the diocese, which generally result in a contribution of about $100,000 a year to the poor.
He played a key role in setting up several consultative bodies, which he said have become “a model of co-responsibility and participation” in both languages. He introduced a senate of priests to improve communication with the clergy in the diocese and a committee to study the role of women.
As a young man, he envisioned a life for himself as a lawyer and politician. He was registered in law school at Laval University, but decided on the first day of classes to leave and enrolled at a Halifax seminary.
But he still approached the world as a man who wanted to change it.
He was not afraid to criticize the Third Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1971, wondering out loud whether they would remain relevant if they didn’t become more open to input.
Poverty was a major issue for him. Shortly after becoming archbishop, he said that poverty was “the number one problem in the modern world.”
He fought against that poverty both in Ottawa and beyond. Under his watch, the diocese gave a property to the Shepherds of Good Hope on Murray Street for a soup kitchen and shelter.
Plourde’s compassion also led to one of his most surprising moves, the adoption of a Cambodian orphan in 1979. The then-17-year-old Tea Huot was the only survivor from his family of five from under the Khmer Rouge and Plourde brought him to Ottawa from a refugee camp in Thailand where he had fled. For 10 years, he lived in the residence of the archbishop, whom he called “Papa,” before moving out on his own.
During his 23 years as head of the Ottawa diocese — a bilingual district considered the most demanding in Canada — Plourde was often at the centre of controversy.
Considered a progressive, he incurred the wrath of conservative Catholics when he banished four traditionalist priests from St. Brigid’s church in Lowertown after they had converted the parish to old-style Oratorian mass in 1989.
He was criticized by parents of children who had been sexually assaulted by Nepean priest Dale Crampton, who was convicted in 1987. They insisted Plourde knew about the incidents, but didn’t act. Plourde denied he knew.
He took some heat for allowing some “general absolution” services, without the requirement of confession, as a way of bringing people back to the church.
He was practical, defending the selling of souvenirs to help pay for the pope’s visit in 1984.
On the flip side, he objected to the idea of raising church revenue through bingo.
“I don’t miss the criticism of the people who are never satisfied,” Plourde once told the Citizen. “I don’t miss the administration part of the job at all.”
What the officer of the Order of Canada liked most, he said, was to spend time with the faithful.
“I want to spend 75 per cent of my time with the people in my parishes,” he said in 1973, “not in an office being a bureaucrat.”
A smooth, sociable man who was famous for networking on the diplomatic party circuit, Plourde was forced to retire sooner than expected because of a heart condition. He found the transition a difficult adjustment.
“At first I was wondering why I was on Earth,” he told the Citizen in 1991. “I missed being overloaded with work.”