Politicians without pigeonholes
by Jamie Swift and Bob Chodos
It is one of the ironies of recent Quebec history that the same Catholic Church that was the central institution in the old, pre–Quiet Revolution Quebec also nurtured some of the leading figures in the new, more secular society that succeeded it. Two such figures were Claude Ryan and Eric Kierans, both of whom died earlier this year.
Both grew up in struggling but ambitious families in modest neighbourhoods in southwestern Montreal – Kierans in Saint-Henri, Ryan in Ville Émard. Both made it to postsecondary education through their own ability. Ryan, later the most intellectual of politicians, left the University of Montreal after two years because “it wasn’t serious enough and I didn’t really need it.” For Kierans, however, Montreal’s Jesuit-run Loyola College was formative.
Aside from the intense regime of classical studies, the young Jesuit scholastics who carried much of the teaching load at Loyola offered a wealth of extracurricular activities from dramatics to journalism and, of course, debating. The Jesuits, always good talent-spotters, were not only impressed by Kierans’s lively mind and keen competitive spirit. They were also able to offer as teachers two towering young intellectuals who became Kierans’s lifelong friends.