CCHA Historical Studies, 72 (2006), 95-123


Fighting for the Chaplains:

Bishop Charles Leo Nelligan and the Creation of the Canadian Chaplain Service

(Roman Catholic), 1939-1945[1]





Since his appointment as Canada’s principal chaplain (Roman Catholic) in 1939, Bishop Charles Leo Nelligan worked tirelessly to ensure that all Catholics serving in Canada’s armed forces overseas and on the home front continued to have access to the sacraments. By the fourth year of his mandate, ongoing struggles to get his fellow bishops and provincials to nominate willing clerics for military duties, along with the extensive hours and demanding workload, had taken their physical and mental toll on Nelligan. In a letter to his childhood friend, Archbishop James McGuigan, Nelligan wrote in mid-1943: “I find now that the need [for chaplains] is so acute that we are almost approaching a state of desperation.”[2]  This letter underscores one of the difficulties facing the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) and its principal chaplain during the Second World War.

As bishop for all Catholics serving in Canada’s military – an appointment officially made by the Holy See but requiring recognition from the minister of national defence – Nelligan was the representative of the Canadian Catholic Church to the federal government. As Military Ordinary (or ‘Episcopus Castrensis’), Nelligan was charged with coordinating wartime religious efforts, approving the nomination of clerics to military positions, and ensuring chaplains had access to soldiers and officers and were equipped with the tools they needed to do their jobs properly. While Nelligan may have been the best choice to become principal chaplain, his effectiveness was hampered by both bishopric and military decisions. This article is a preliminary inquiry into the story of Bishop Charles Leo Nelligan and his role as principal chaplain (Roman Catholic) within the Army, one that required him to balance the personnel contribution of the Catholic Church with the realities of military life in times of war.[3]

On 7 September 1939, Bishop Nelligan received an invitation from Archbishop Forbes of Ottawa to attend a meeting of Ontario bishops in Kitchener four days later, organized by Archbishops O’Brien, of Kingston, and McGuigan, of Toronto, to discuss religious efforts following Canada’s declaration of war.[4] Because of the short notice and the significant distance from his Diocese (Pembroke), Nelligan was not able to attend.[5] Shortly after the meeting, Forbes sent a telegram to Nelligan advising him that the apostolic nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Ildebrando Antoniutti, supported by Ontario bishops, had nominated him as principal chaplain. Forbes suggested that Nelligan contact the minister of national defence, Ian Alistair McKenzie, and the minister of justice, Ernest Lapointe, to organize a meeting to discuss the recognition of Nelligan’s nomination and to begin the planning process.[6]

Although Nelligan writes about the “quite uncoveted (sic) appointment as Ordinary of the Canada Army,” it is rather unlikely McGuigan would have nominated or supported Nelligan’s appointment in his absence without having discussed the matter beforehand.”[7] Archbishop McGuigan – undoubtedly the leading voice among English-Canadian bishops – may have believed it strategically beneficial to have his boyhood friend and lifelong confidant became military ordinariate. Plus, McGuigan probably recognized that few bishops would have wanted this office for themselves in addition to their regular responsibilities. McGuigan had long acknowledged Nelligan’s “powers of resistance in bearing up under double burden,” and assumed that adding the responsibilities of the Ottawa-based chaplain service to his role as Bishop of Pembroke would be no different.[8]

As for Nelligan, he seems to have accepted the nomination for King and country. In a letter to the Radio League of St. Michael, Nelligan writes: “I gladly accept any burden that the office may impose, as in the words of a song that was much in vogue when I was a boy, ‘England expects that every man his duty will obey.’”[9]

In addition to the close friendship between McGuigan and Nelligan, and the apostolic nuncio’s endorsement, Nelligan had a long list of experiences that seemed to amply prepare him for this position. Besides his ecclesiastical responsibilities in Quebec and Ontario – the Diocese of Pembroke spans both sides of the Ottawa River – Nelligan seems to have been the only current Canadian Catholic bishop who had enlisted during the First World War, having been conscripted for duties on the home front during his two-year teaching contract in Saskatchewan.[10] As the eighth youngest Catholic bishop in Canada – he was 45 years old in 1939 – Nelligan would likely be able to endure the physical demands of the job better than older bishops.[11] Furthermore, his residence in Pembroke offered him comparatively easy access to the National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. A bishop for only two years, Nelligan had been the administrator of the Archdiocese of Edmonton for almost a decade throughout the prolonged illness of New Brunswick-native Archbishop Henry O’Leary, during which he gained significant managerial and leadership experience.[12] Fully bilingual after completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the Grand Séminaire de Québec, he had a large network of friends and contacts in the five provinces where he worked as a teacher and as a cleric: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, his native province. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Nelligan gained valuable lobbying experience on questions relating to social reforms and political appointments at the provincial and federal levels.[13] Thus his network of contacts across the country, his lobbying experience, his bilingualism, his relative youth and his leadership skills were all strong assets Nelligan brought to the office of military ordinary, a position that would ultimately challenge his physical and mental stamina.

Despite Nelligan’s impressive professional career, his nomination was not as “agreeable” to French-Canadian bishops as Ontario bishops had thought.[14] In fact, the nomination of McGuigan’s close friend to this office may have strengthened the perceived long-standing friction between Cardinal Villeneuve of Quebec City and the cardinal-to-be, Archbishop McGuigan.[15] In addition, Villeneuve knew that McGuigan’s strong endorsement of Nelligan would probably be supported by the growing number of Maritime-born bishops in English Canada, including Archbishops Duke of Vancouver and Sinnott of Winnipeg.[16] Additionally, Cardinal Villeneuve would have also recognized the difficulty of publicly opposing Nelligan’s appointment. Thus Villeneuve obtained a concession from the apostolic nuncio: that a Francophone vicar-general be appointed to assist Nelligan in matters dealing with French-Canadian military personnel and chaplains.[17] Villeneuve also provided the apostolic nuncio with a list of Francophone vicar-general candidates he would find acceptable. The decision was also made to appoint an Anglophone vicar-general, although there was no military provision at the time for two Assistant Principal Chaplains (Roman Catholic). While the responsibilities of both vicars-general were not structured along linguistic lines, in the end this compromise allowed the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) to move on.

At the time of his selection as bishop of Canada’s military personnel, Nelligan was also aware of some of the challenges the Canadian Chaplain Service had faced during the First World War. In a 6 October 1939 letter, Nelligan wrote: “I realize that (becoming Military Ordinary) will mean a great deal of work and perhaps of worry, but it gives us the opportunity of organizing the Catholic Chaplaincy Service from the very beginning of the war and not towards the end as in the last war. Unfortunately all the chaplains in the Great War were not like Monsignor French and Father Murray.” [18] By his statement, Nelligan was aware of the negative impact that the organization of a single, multi-denominational chaplain service late in the war had had on the military personnel. In fact, without a proper Chaplain Service at the start of the First World War, the appointment of chaplains was slow, leaving many regiments without spiritual ministration.[19] In addition, the appointment of senior chaplains had rested on political or family contacts, rather than performance, once again reducing the Service’s effectiveness.[20] Finally, the Department of Militia’s reluctance to separate Canada’s two largest denominations ensured continuous conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, French-Canadians and English-Canadians, resulting in the Canadian Chaplain Service being disbanded in 1921.[21]

In light of the First World War chaplain experience, the Ontario bishops, affirming “their very earnest desire to provide adequate chaplain service for the spiritual and moral welfare of the Catholic men already volunteering for service at home or overseas,” requested of the prime minister the creation of a separate but equal chaplain service. Moreover, they asked that the federal government accept only priests who had been approved by the bishop of the diocese in which they exercised their sacred ministry.[22] Thus, the biggest challenges faced during the First World War were being addressed straight out. As the Canadian Catholic Church’s representative, Nelligan set out to lobby for a separate Catholic chaplain service. In order to succeed, Nelligan needed immediate access to ministers like Norman Rogers, the new minister of national defence and Charles Gaven (Chubby) Power, postmaster general and a strong Roman Catholic voice in cabinet with a life-long interest in defence issues.[23] Strategically, Nelligan began by calling an old friend from his Alberta days, the member of Parliament for Edmonton-West, James Angus MacKinnon, who was a member of the cabinet since his January 1939 appointment as minister without portfolio. Their friendship dated back to the early 1930s when Nelligan lobbied the prime minister for a Senate appointment for MacKinnon. For his part, MacKinnon urged minister of justice Ernest Lapointe, on behalf of Nelligan, to overlook an “unlicensed” lottery to raise funds for St. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton.[24]

Two days after sending a telegraph to MacKinnon, Nelligan and his friend sat down with Chubby Power to discuss the chaplain service. At the end of the meeting, Power indicated that he would speak to Rogers about the creation of a distinct Catholic chaplain service. At the same time, to help ensure the desired response, Nelligan wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel Henri DesRosiers, acting deputy minister of militia (later Army) since early September 1939, to solicit the support of this Roman Catholic originally from Quebec City.[25] A second meeting took place on 28 September attended by Rogers, one of his senior military advisors, General Walker, Nelligan and Power. Initially, Rogers demonstrated a preference for the organizational structure used during the Great War.  However, Nelligan made it clear that this would not do, as “the Cardinal, Archbishops and bishops (sic) want the Catholic Service separate.”[26] For his part, General Walker “felt that it could be done and asked for three or four days to work out the details.”[27] Walker also provided assurances that no chaplain would be appointed before the organizational structure of the chaplain service was decided. On 3 October, General Walker reported that separate but equal chaplain structures, each headed by a senior chaplain, would be workable for the military, and the minister accepted the request.[28]

Upon receiving this information, Nelligan wrote to Archbishop Antoniutti to share the news: the Canadian episcopate had succeeded in modifying the organizational structure of the chaplain service for the benefit of all Catholic soldiers and officers. Rogers confirmed the appointment of Anglican Bishop George Anderson Wells (of the diocese of Cariboo, British Colombia,) as principal chaplain (Protestant) as well as that of Nelligan during a meeting with journalists on 11 October 1939. In his statement, the minister informed Canadians that the chaplain services would be “controlled by the adjutant-general” and would be functioning by the end of the month. More importantly, Rogers declared that the “importance of the [chaplains’] work among the troops is fully recognized,” and that only chaplains appointed by the various religious denominations would be able to serve in the chaplain service.[29] For Ontario bishops, Rogers’ announcement represented his public acceptance of their recommendations. Bishops Nelligan and Wells thus headed to Ottawa to assume their official duties as principal chaplains, with the honourary military rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.[30]

Like all other senior officers, Nelligan was facing the enormous challenge of preparing for times of war without knowing two key facts: the overall number of soldiers to be mobilized and the duration of the conflict. In addition, the disbandment of the chaplain service after the First World War greatly diminished the institutional memory of key policies and practices.[31] Not surprisingly, Nelligan turned to First World War chaplains, especially those who distinguished themselves through their valour and zeal and who were both able and willing to serve, to take on key roles in the chaplain service as vicars-general in Ottawa and senior chaplains in the eleven military districts. Writing to one of these chaplains, Nelligan stressed the crucial role they would play in establishing the Catholic chaplain service: “I am afraid that a rather sad mistake has been made in appointing me as ‘Episcopus Castrensis’ but I feel sure at the same time with the aid of military chaplains like yourself we will be able to organize an efficient chaplain service.”[32] For his Francophone vicar-general nominee, Nelligan turned to those recommended to the apostolic nuncio by Cardinal Villeneuve.[33] After conferring with Quebec bishops, especially Archbishop Gauthier of Montreal, Nelligan settled on Father Jules Georges Côté of Quebec City.[34]  For his English-speaking vicar-general, Nelligan reviewed the candidates suggested by Archbishop McGuigan following a discussion at the Ontario bishops’ conference on 10 October 1939.[35] Before officially heading to Ottawa, Nelligan publicly announced his final choice –  Father Thomas J. McCarthy of Sarnia – on 24 October.[36]

Following their appointments as principal chaplains, Nelligan felt that he was always one step behind Wells, who brought his First World War experience as a chaplain with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces to this new position.[37] Nelligan had to rely on other chaplains, like Father John Robert O’Gorman of Timmins, to navigate the bourgeoning bureaucracy of the National Defence Headquarters: “I find [Father O’Gorman’s] experience most useful, especially in connection with different points in military routine which sometimes seems unnecessarily complicated.”[38] While Wells was leading the actual organization of the separate chaplain services and the creation of training camps for clerics, Nelligan was still busy recruiting chaplains. This task was made more complicated since Nelligan had to correspond with each of the 44 Canadian sees and the provincials of each religious order. Wells’ task of recruiting Protestant clerics was greatly simplified through chaplain committees of the four Protestant denominations. In response to Nelligan’s first letter, Bishop Joseph Ryan of Hamilton offered advice about accepting those who seemed a bit too anxious to serve, fearing they were “having trouble in their Diocese.” Ryan feared that accepting such candidates without fully investigating their motivation for wanting to sign up could have a negative impact on the military chaplain service.[39] The Redemptorist provincial, the Very Reverend James Fuller, C.Ss.R. offered to “[help] out in the supplying of Chaplains for the military units in Ontario.”[40] Bishop François-Xavier Ross, from the Diocese of Gaspé, told Nelligan that he could not identify clerics willing to serve overseas because the diocese lacked the sufficient number of priests for its own proper operations.[41] This mixed reaction to Nelligan’s initial call was a foretaste of the challenges he would continue to face as the need for chaplains grew larger and larger.

In considering eligible priests for the chaplain service, both principal chaplains agreed that age and religious experience were important factors. Thus, Nelligan and Wells initially targeted priests between 30 and 50 years of age with at least three years of ministerial experience following their ordination.[42] Wells and Nelligan accepted the nomination of all First World War veterans under the age of 65.[43] After his first visit overseas in 1941, Nelligan became convinced that chaplains older than 60 years should be sent back to Canada because of the physically demanding work and tiring schedules. He reported this conclusion to the adjutant-general.[44] In making this recommendation, Nelligan could only hope that a bishop welcoming back a chaplain to his diocese would immediately recommend a younger priest to take his place within the chaplain service. As it turned out, this was not always the case. To his dismay, the adjutant-general’s final wording forced into retirement all officers over 60 years of age, and “in spite of our vigorous protests, it seems that no exception will be made in the case of Chaplains,” even for service in Canada.[45]

The increasing number of soldiers and the need to replace military chaplains older than 60 years of age led Nelligan to continue pressuring bishops and provincials to second more interested clerics. Many bishops hesitated in letting more of their priests sign up for military service, fearing that they would not be able to serve the needs of their own diocese. From Nelligan’s former diocese of Edmonton, Bishop John McDonald wrote in August 1941: “I feel sure you do not expect any more from here in the near future. About twenty asked me for permission to enlist since the war started, and my answer in every case, apart from the first five, was they were free to enlist provided they had some one to take their place here. […] But as soon as anyone can be spared I shall let them go.”[46] To make matters worse, McDonald advised him in January 1942 that he would be asking for the demobilization of Monsignor William Carleton, whose services were needed in the diocese.[47] From the Archdiocese of Winnipeg in April 1942, Archbishop Arthur Sinnott understood Nelligan’s dilemma. “My answer is that we must look after the spiritual welfare of our men in the armed forces, no matter what the sacrifice. I am going to give you another priest,” wrote Sinnott.[48] In light of so few favourable responses, Nelligan politely pressured Sinnott for more: “You have already shown yourself most generous, but as explained in my circular letter we are in constant need of chaplains to keep pace with the continued expansion in the three branches of the Service.”[49]

With Canada’s military increasing in size following the National Resources Mobilization Act of 1941, and its 1942 amendment that allowed conscription for service overseas, it was getting rather impossible for the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) to meet its military target of one chaplain for every 500 Catholic soldiers, a more challenging target than the Protestants’ one chaplain per 1,000 soldiers. In addition, the religious needs of navy and air force personnel were receiving more attention. In February 1943, Nelligan and Wells were also given official responsibility for the chaplain service needs of navy and air force personnel. With the increased level of responsibility came promotions to the rank of Honourary Brigadier as well as the titles of Chaplain of the Fleet and Director of Chaplain Services.[50]

With the limited number of Catholic military chaplains and the growing size of the armed forces, Nelligan had no choice but to issue another desperate request for his colleagues’ support. In contrast with earlier, more suggestive recruitment letters, by the fall of 1942 and throughout 1943, Nelligan’s language became unusually direct, placing the success of the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) squarely in the hands of all bishops and provincials. For example, in September 1942, Nelligan wrote candidly:

we have now reached such a critical stage, that unless every Diocese and every Religious Community (or Province) can release one more priest for appointment to the Chaplain Service, it will be quite impossible for me to continue the administration of the Chaplain Service in any effective way. I am simply your representative, and I can do my work just to the degree that you furnish me with the necessary number of Chaplains.[51]

While it may have seemed to some that Nelligan was evoking a crisis every few months, the latest reports included with the letter showed the severity of the situation, both overseas and in Canada. Nelligan concluded this letter to all bishops and provincials by saying:  “You can readily see, therefore, how absolutely necessary it is for us to procure at least fifty new Chaplains in the immediate future, if we do wish our Service personnel to receive adequate spiritual ministration.” Further insisting on the urgency of the problem, he “[confided] this matter to [their] sympathetic consideration in the hope that a remedy will be found for the present alarming situation.”[52] However, it is not clear if bishops and provincials were ignoring Nelligan’s pleas because of their own administrative needs or for ideological reasons.

By 1943, news from Canada’s dioceses was far from encouraging for Nelligan and the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic). Reports about the lack of chaplains, both Catholic and Protestant, even began to appear in Canadian newspapers, indicating that each Catholic chaplain was responsible for 1,000 men, or double the intended rate.[53] These reports notwithstanding, most Roman Catholic bishops and provincials felt they could not contribute more priests to the war effort. For example, Archbishop Richard O’Brien of Kingston indicated, “This diocese has done its part fairly well. […] We are just now pretty well handicapped for men.”[54] Archbishop William Duke of Vancouver a few months later stated that his diocese “would be glad indeed to help you if it were possible.”[55] Toronto’s Archbishop, on the other hand, sent a personal letter to those twenty-six priests in his archdiocese who had been ordained between 1924 and 1934 and asked for volunteers. Of these, twenty declined, four responded favourably and two indicated they would enlist if instructed by the Archbishop to do so.[56] As another strategy to ease the need for chaplains on the home front, Nelligan offered to bishops and provincials access to a wartime faculty, granted by the Holy See in December 1941, that allowed military chaplains the privilege of saying a third Mass on Sunday, as long as the third mass was said for military personnel on the home front.[57]  By vesting this faculty to “civilian” priests who could play a greater role on the home front, Nelligan had hoped to send more of his chaplains, currently based in Canada, to positions overseas. However, it is impossible to determine if extending this wartime faculty to “civilian” priests alleviated some of the pressures for more chaplains in Canada.

As a result of such disappointing recruitment efforts, Nelligan could only force the hand of one bishop to give up more priests: himself. In a March 1943 letter to his diocesan administrator, Rev. W. P. Breen, Nelligan wrote: “The need for chaplains is so great at the moment that it may be necessary for me to give another priest from Pembroke Diocese to the Service. It will not occasion more than a slight temporary embarrassment however, as our two fourth-year seminarians will be ordained during the month of May.”[58] It seems clear that Nelligan was taking an administrative risk by appointing more clerics from his diocese to the chaplain service. Earlier in the war, he sent a letter to Cardinal Villeneuve asking for a sickly priest who would be able to work one day a week in his Diocese. In particular, he promoted the religious needs of the Dionne Quintuplets, residents of Nelligan’s Diocese of Pembroke, as a possible means of attracting older clerics to his diocese and thus freeing up more of his own, younger priests.[59]  

According to a memorandum dated 6 May 1950 from the director of War Service Records, the overall number of Roman Catholic military chaplains appointed during the Second World War was 293.[60] Of these, the nominal roll recorded that 166 had served overseas.[61] The following tables provide the total number of Catholic military chaplains reported by diocese in comparison to the number of secular priests per diocese (table 1) and the number of chaplains representing religious orders (table 2).[62] The three most populous Catholic archdioceses in Canada-Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto – were the largest diocesan contributors of clerics to the war effort, with 17, 14 and 13 clerics, respectively.[63] As far as Quebec City was concerned, Cardinal Villeneuve was a well-known supporter of the Canadian war effort who even travelled to Europe to show his personal encouragement to the troops and to speak in favour of the “Christian” war at home. It is thus not surprising to find the Archdiocese of Quebec City among the highest contributors of clerics to the overseas war effort. That being said, only 1.4 percent of his clergy signed up for military chaplain duties – the seventh lowest ratio throughout Canada.[64] Archbishops McGuigan of Toronto and Charbonneau of Montreal were also supporters of the war effort, albeit more moderate in their actions and speeches than Villeneuve.[65] The archdiocese of Montreal ranked thirty-second of 44 dioceses, while the archdiocese of Toronto ranked eighteenth. It is clear that McGuigan lobbied his priests harder than some bishops because of the close personal friendship with Nelligan.

Among the remaining dioceses contributing ten clerics or more to the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic), there are the archdioceses of Edmonton, Ottawa and Winnipeg, as well as the diocese of Pembroke. As Bishop of Pembroke, Nelligan urged his administrator to free up priests and replace them with seminarians who were about to be ordained.

However, there is no way to assess the real impact of these requests on his diocese, which, in the end, lent 12.3 percent of his clerics to the war effort, the fifth highest percentage in Canada.[66] The exact impact on the Diocese of Pembroke is more difficult to determine as the number of priests in this diocese remained fairly constant during the war. While an ecclesiastical source lists the names of chaplains from this diocese, it is not clear if all chaplains are counted in the total number of diocesan priests.[67]

Among the other dioceses with a higher percentage ranking than Pembroke are the dioceses of Hamilton (15 percent), Winnipeg (13.7 percent), Nelson (12.5 percent) and Saskatoon (12.5 percent). However, these statistics are misleading because the total number of priests in the diocese of Saskatoon and Nelson was so low.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Diocese of Gaspé. Bishop Ross kept true to his October 1939 letter to Nelligan where he wrote: “In regards to chaplains interested in going to the front, I don’t see any in my diocese, a diocese already experiencing a lack of priests. Father Georges Bouillon, who was a First World War chaplain, belongs to my diocese … but I think best to inform you that I would never recommend him for this task.”[68] As such, Ross became the sole Canadian bishop without at least one priest in military uniform, despite having 81 diocesan priests at the start of the war.[69] Ross “even forbade [his] priests from reading announcements about victory bonds from the pulpit,” perhaps an indication of his views on this war.[70] In fact, most Quebec dioceses were at the bottom of the scale in terms of contributing clerics for service in the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic). With the exception of the diocese of Valleyfield (4.8 percent), all other Quebec dioceses contributed less than 3 percent of their secular priests to the war effort. This included the dioceses of Rimouski, Sherbrooke, St. Hyacinthe and Chicoutimi, which each had over 200 secular clerics. Although the ratio for these dioceses is comparably lower than their predominantly English-Canadian counterparts, Quebec dioceses nevertheless contributed 68 military chaplains, which represented 31.1 percent of all diocesan-based military chaplains.[71] Although French-Canadian war resistance and the conscription crisis may have played a role in limiting the number of clerics French-Canadian bishops would second to the Canadian Chaplain Service, the number of clerics from Quebec was nevertheless substantive.

For their part, religious orders contributed 136 religious priests to the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic). This represented 38.5 percent of all Catholic chaplains, which was surprisingly low, given that many religious priests do not have parochial responsibilities.[72] The Redemptorists provided the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) with the highest number of priests: twenty-four clerics from the English-speaking provinces who enlisted representing roughly 10.7 percent of their English-Canadian priests.[73] In writing to other provincials, Nelligan used his successful recruitment efforts with the Redemptorists to encourage or perhaps to fuel a self-benefiting competition among other religious orders to contribute more religious priests to the war effort.[74] While it is impossible to assess the effect such a competition might have had, the Redemptorist Provincial fulfilled the promise made to Nelligan in 1939. The Redemptorists were closely followed in numbers by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (twenty-seven priests) and then the Society of Jesus (seventeen priests). The Oblates’ strong response to Nelligan’s call for priests with twenty-seven clerics could be in part explained by Cardinal Villeneuve’s, as well as eight other members of the Canadian episcopate during the Second World War, membership within this order.[75] In regards to the Jesuits, the allocation of nine English-Canadian and eight French-Canadian priests to the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) represents 8 percent and 3 percent, respectively, of their clergy.[76]

In addition to the endless quest to increase the number of chaplains, Nelligan was also responsible for meeting the needs of his recruits, ensuring chaplain access to military personnel and transportation, and securing wartime faculties from the Holy See. While the latter represented little challenge, the other responsibilities required daily efforts from all members of the Chaplain Service. During his mandate as principal chaplain, Nelligan made it his business to embark, in 1940 and 1942, on two overseas visits to listen to the front-line chaplains and to communicate the importance of religion and morality during wartime. For his first overseas visit, Nelligan left Halifax on 17 October 1940, arriving in England nine days later.[77] He was eager to visit Canadian troops, discuss chaplain organizational structures with European Military Ordinariates and learn how his chaplains could better respond to the spiritual needs of Canada’s military personnel.[78] At several points during his four-month journey, Nelligan took advantage of meetings with Canadian senior military officials, determined to improve Canadian soldiers’ access to the sacraments. For example, with the commanding officer of the Second Canadian Division, Nelligan raised the question of making church parades compulsory for all Catholic soldiers: “[W]hile we were convinced that most of the boys would attend voluntarily, we were strongly of the opinion that church parades should have the same sanction as the other parades to which soldiers are subject in the course of their training.”[79]

Upon his return to Ottawa, Nelligan reported to the adjutant-general the “growing appreciation among practically all the officers of the importance of a chaplain in a unit not only in the matter of spiritual ministration, but also in fostering and sustaining a high spirit of morale among the men.”[80] Nelligan also painted a picture of zealous and devoted chaplains looking after the spiritual welfare of Canada’s service personnel and exerting a positive influence despite the troops’ restlessness in the absence of active combat duty. In addition, Nelligan underlined his personal commitment to ensuring the availability of dedicated and enthusiastic military chaplains: “any Chaplain who was not fulfilling his duties satisfactorily would be brought back to Canada and demobilized, as our fighting-men were deserving of the best spiritual ministration that we could possibly give them.” [81]

At the end of his report, Nelligan made four recommendations to the adjutant-general: a limited number of promotions for chaplains to recognize their work and effort; the appointment of more senior-ranked chaplains to coordinate overseas activities; the return to Canada of all chaplains 60 years of age or older; and the availability of vehicles for chaplains to visit the troops spread over a wide area.[82] Nelligan felt confident that the first three recommendations would receive immediate approval and that the adjutant-general would take the transportation request under advisement. However, Nelligan did underscore the difficulty for a chaplain to perform his duties effectively when a regimental commanding officer informed his chaplain he would be personally responsible for providing his own wartime transportation.[83] In light of the fact that all officers within the Canadian Army were each assigned a car and a batman, a commanding officer’s refusal to offering the same privilege to chaplains – who held an honourary military rank – rendered them as second-class officers.

In some cases, limiting a chaplain’s access to transportation or military personnel or even scheduling mandatory military activities during the times set aside for religious activities could be interpreted as resistance on the part of some senior regimental officers to their obligation towards the chaplain service. In fact, commanding officers were required to “make every possible effort to reduce military duties to a strict minimum in order that all ranks may be afforded the opportunity to fulfil their religious obligations.”[84] However, this clause – with its vague language around “strict minimum” – allowed a broad spectrum of interpretation. Perhaps with the objective of clarifying it, General Andrew McNaughton, the senior military official for the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom, reminded regimental commanding officers to ensure that all officers recognize the importance of chaplains. In his 1943 New Year’s Day letter to military personnel serving overseas, McNaughton wrote:

As we are fighting against the avowed enemies of the Christian Church, it logically follows that we must show that we uphold the Christian faith. This can be evidenced only if the maximum practical facilities are afforded to the Chaplain Service to minister to the spiritual needs of all ranks of the Canadian Army. Even though some men show little interest in religion, few if any in the Army are atheists. This has been clearly demonstrated both in our past wars and also in our experience in this war. In consequence there is every reason that the Chaplain Service should have all possible assistance in their efforts on behalf of the spiritual well-being of the troops.[85]

McNaughton’s personal influence among most military personnel was considerable, and such a letter of support for the chaplains’ work must have been beneficial. However, it is clear that no single letter could have changed the behaviours and the actions of all those in a leadership position. Similarly, no letter could change a perceived lack of respect for religion among Catholic soldiers. In this regard, Nelligan received a candid letter from Archbishop Peter Monahan of Regina in October 1942 in which he shared information about soldiers in training camps in his diocese. The letter illustrates the soldiers’ and the military’s lack of respect for religion.

It is useless to fool ourselves […] Religion counts for very little with Most (sic) of the Officers especially with those of the Air-Force (sic). […] What place is made for religion in the day’s work of the airman and soldier? Yes a parade once a month with 30% of the men absent for any excuse or pretext. No Bishop, when the Church has put forth every effort to make her young people God-fearing and virtuous and that our good people has striven at great cost to give their boys and girls a Catholic education and the help of their own virtuous life and then see what we all see, they wonder if Canada can honestly expect God’s help in this struggle and they wonder what kind of sons and daughters are going to return to them after the end.[86]

Monahan ended his letter with a strong criticism of the military’s moral stance: “these elementary things (church to pray in, time to pray, contact with a chaplain) are not provided for the Boys or Girls as yet. There is money for recreation centres, for wet canteens, for rubber, for prophylactics, oh yes, but no money for a chapel for mass and the sacraments, no time for religion.”[87] Two of these topics – the distribution of condoms to Canadian military personnel and the construction of chapels – were issues on which Nelligan focused considerable attention during the war years, and provide a glimpse of the relationship between Church and military in a wartime context.

The increasing rate of venereal diseases (VD) was hardly a new wartime issue. During the First World War, civilian authorities had feared that, with homebound service-personnel, Canada could be facing a postwar VD epidemic. During the interwar years, the Canadian National Council for Combating Venereal Diseases (later renamed the Canadian Social Health Council and then the Health League of Canada) embarked on an awareness campaign against VD. Despite their efforts, by 1940 one serviceman in eighteen was infected. In the Canadian Army domestically in 1941, VD represented 30.5 percent of all medical cases that rendered soldiers incapable of serving, with influenza and tonsil and adenoids diseases ranking second and third, at 19.8 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively.[88]

During the Second World War, Canadian military officials believed that sexual continence among service-personnel was a somewhat unrealistic policy, one that had not helped to reduce VD rates, and they decided to proceed with the distribution of condoms. Knowing that the chaplain service might not support this decision, Lt.-Col. Henri DesRosiers wrote to Nelligan to test the waters. Since the distribution of condoms could signal an endorsement of sexual promiscuity, DesRosiers recommended to Nelligan that they attach to each condom package a copy of the article “The Bright Shield of Continence,” which American champion boxer (and Second World War navy reserves commander) Gene Tunney had published in Reader’s Digest in August 1942. In this article, Tunney argued that “temptations to satisfy the deepest of human hungers in cheap and momentary satisfactions are constant and seemingly attractive. But no man should deceive himself by imagining that he will find consolation or anything approaching it in the arms of a prostitute who has already been handled by 30 or 40 men that day.”[89]

With its focus on moral behaviour, DesRosiers believed that this article could go a long way toward attenuating the chaplains’ criticism. In a letter to Nelligan, DesRosiers wrote: “I could make the suggestion myself, but it would carry a great deal more weight if it were put forward by the Chaplain Services. If you agree, you might address a letter to the defence minister, Colonel Ralston, in which you would say that you understand that prophylactics are to be issued, and suggest that a copy of Tunney’s article accompany each issue.”[90] As such, DesRosiers was not asking for an endorsement to distribute condoms, but rather had wished for Nelligan’s indirect support by approving the distribution of Tunney’s Reader’s Digest article.

Nelligan dismissed DesRosiers’ request, and with renewed efforts objected to the distribution of condoms. After all, the Church’s position, even prior to the Humanae Vitae encyclical issued by Paul VI in 1968, had always criticized artificial methods of birth control, while encouraging the self-discipline of man and the promotion of chastity. He pleaded with Ralston that the “onus of procuring [condoms] be placed definitely on the men themselves, and that no temptation be placed in their way by free distribution of these articles or by their sale in a public canteen.”[91] Nelligan and his chaplains were also discomforted by the military’s apparent lack of focus on morality. By distributing condoms, “the army feels that the moral side is one for Chaplains alone to treat, but we feel that the army could help us if there were included in pamphlets and movie pictures some moral reasons for avoiding the act with the physical means of avoiding the disease.”[92] Indeed, as historian Jeff Keshen recently pointed out, the military did warn the servicemen about the dangers of VD through lectures, films and posters but such tools focused on how to avoid getting infected.[93]

To strengthen morality and to prepare servicemen for their return home after the war, the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) instituted Padre’s Hour, a weekly discussion between chaplains and their soldiers on questions such as the Church, family responsibilities and life after the war.[94] In and of itself, Padre’s Hour could not solve the rising rate of venereal diseases. However, these discussions provided another forum to stress proper, Church-supported moral behaviour. To better prepare chaplains for discussing such matters, the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic), in late 1943, issued a booklet which Nelligan co-authored and bore the same title as Tunney’s article, The Bright Shield of

Continence. Nelligan had prepared this booklet with the objective of “providing chaplains, civilian clergymen, [and] doctors […] with material for sermons, talks and interviews in connection with the practice of continence in the observance of God's law, and the prevention of various social diseases.”[95] For example, chaplains were encouraged not to speak of the negative impact of VD in their sermons but to focus on the positive side of continence and purity.[96]

In a final attempt to stop the distribution of condoms, Nelligan brought up the issue at an October 1943 meeting of Quebec bishops. Following this meeting, Cardinal Villeneuve, on behalf of the Canadian episcopate, wrote to the prime minister to protest the immoral practice of distributing condoms to military personal overseas “as this tends to encourage sexual vice with lamentable consequences not only to the soul of the individual but also to the future welfare of our beloved Canadian nation.”[97] Similarly, the Cardinal strongly criticized a pamphlet on sexual health, which a military medical officer had written, for its “loss of faith in the supernatural, laxity in religious practice and laxity in sexual morality.”[98] This strong plea from the primate of Canada notwithstanding, the armed forces continued with the distribution of condoms. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, remained firm since the start of the war that “the men should be made to realize that it is sinful for them to have prophylactics in their possession.”[99]

In addition, Nelligan and his chaplains played a leading role in personal issues facing military personnel. For example, the army required chaplains to approve a Canadian soldier’s request for marriage, a request most often denied if the bride was a non-Catholic. In addition, soldiers sought advice from their chaplain if their European girlfriends became pregnant outside of the bond of marriage, or if a soldier received news from his wife in Canada announcing the birth of a child, despite his prolonged absence from her.[100] These issues consumed a significant amount of time, and there was very little Nelligan and his chaplains could seem to do other than encourage Christian dialogue and take issue with the immoral tone of some of the entertainment offered to the military personnel. Echoing the same language used by General McNaughton, Nelligan pleaded that “soldiers and civilians (who) were sacrificing their lives in defence of our Christian ideals” should be offered entertainment that reflects Christian morality.[101] He could also ensure that chaplains had the tools they needed to perform their duties, the most significant for the Catholics being a sacred location to celebrate mass, receive the sacrament of penance and counsel military personnel. The campaign to ensure the construction of chapels was another issue that compelled Nelligan to lobby the government, one that would see his efforts more successful than in the issue of distributing condoms.

During the war years, military camps were springing up in every province to serve as training centres to prepare enlisted soldiers for overseas fighting. Such bases were also being constructed near the front as needed. In pre-war training centres back home in Canada, which were being expanded to suit wartime needs, military chaplains had access to the pre-constructed chapel. For new bases or training facilities in Canada and overseas, military commanders did not initially request, as part of the general infrastructural needs, the construction of a chapel or a centre for religious services. Nelligan, however, soon identified this gap, and asked the adjutant-general to correct this omission immediately. After all, chaplains needed a physical structure where soldiers and officers could gather for mass and confession. However, Nelligan’s views were not initially shared by the principal chaplain (Protestant). Wells did not “press the authorities to build chapels at government expense” believing the chaplains had to “adapt themselves to carrying on their duties under war conditions … and chaplains with initiative got them built in the regular Army manner.”[102] Looking at the issue from the soldiers’ perspectives on the home front, Wells argued that “it occupied them in their spare time and gave them a tremendous sense of closeness and accomplishment.”[103]

Nevertheless, the lack of chapels was an issue chaplains complained about, correlating their absence to hampering their ability to minister to the soldiers. Wells, perhaps because of mounting public pressure, joined Nelligan in this request. In a letter to Wells in September 1942, Nelligan wrote: “the chapel question was still hanging fire when I left Ottawa, and I believe that we should bring all possible pressure on the Prime Minister while the question is under consideration.”[104] As such, Nelligan and Wells devised a two-pronged strategy. The first part of the strategy was for each principal chaplain to solicit the assistance of his respective episcopate colleagues, inviting them to send a letter of support to the prime minister. The second part of the strategy was to submit a joint memorandum to the War Committee of Cabinet to directly solicit a favourable decision in the matter. While many of his colleagues wrote letters to the prime minister, Bishop Patrick Bray of Saint-John, New Brunswick suggested to Nelligan an even stronger approach: “individual representation will carry little weight and will only tend to annoy some members of ‘the powers that be’. A united and clearly expressed voice of the whole Canadian Hierarchy cannot be ignored.”[105] Nelligan responded by indicating that the prime minister was reportedly “very favourably disposed towards the chapel idea. I would feel, therefore, that it would be only proper to give the War Committee of the Cabinet a couple of weeks to come to a decision before taking more drastic action. If no decision is reached by that time, however, I would be strongly in favour of having a memorandum drawn up and signed by all the members of the hierarchy throughout Canada.”[106]

In submitting this joint memorandum to the minister of national defence, Nelligan expressed his hope that the War Committee of Cabinet would come to a favourable conclusion at its next meeting. But he also let the defence minister know that he was aware of the financial commitment such a decision would entail, at a time when such resources were scarce. Consequently, Nelligan added in his letter to the defence minister: “I hope that it will be decided to construct at least a number of chapels in order to establish the principle, as otherwise the chaplains will be greatly disheartened. They realize that under the existing conditions, they are only about 50% effective. Assuring you that we shall appreciate any support you can give us in our long-standing efforts to secure suitable chapel facilities for the men.”[107] In other words, Nelligan wanted at least a sign of support for the chaplains’ work and the importance of religion, as a way out of the impasse.

In the end, the prime minister and the War Committee of Cabinet approved the cost of constructing chapels shortly afterwards. A maximum amount of $10,000 per chapel was authorized, and the chapels would need to be used by Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics alike.[108] In his 1942 year-end report to the adjutant-general, Nelligan reflected on the year past: “the chaplains were badly handicapped for a long time in their work as a result of the lack of chapel facilities, but fortunately that question was favourably settled by a decision of the War Committee of Cabinet in September of last year.”[109] By February 1943, concrete progress had been made in the erection of chapels as a considerable number were already under construction in the Army and the Navy was about to begin building its own.[110]

Nelligan’s sometimes successful, sometimes unsuccessful lobbying efforts, on top of managing the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) and his diocese, had started to show its strain on him. Nelligan had worked non-stop since September 1939, criss-crossing the country many times to visit with troops and chaplains in each of the eleven military districts. He organized conferences while he was there to discuss issues like morality and religion in times of war and religious faculties. He spent countless hours in Ottawa leading operational discussions with senior chaplains working at National Defence Headquarters. On a few occasions, he even had to fight the military brass for authorizing transfers of chaplains to other regiments with the approval of the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic).[111] He even travelled twice to Europe to make sure that the chaplains were doing everything possible to help the troops in these difficult times. He lobbied military officials and politicians to improve access to religious sacraments during the war, but some of the decisions were slow in coming. He wrote to his fellow bishops and provincials asking for the secondment of more priests, but his pleas were often unanswered. Furthermore, Nelligan could not ignore his bishopric responsibilities in Pembroke. Most weekends, Nelligan would be in his diocese celebrating mass. Each spring, he needed to take a two-week leave of absence to tour his diocese to administer the sacrament of confirmation.[112] This gruelling pace and the frustrations he had experienced had taken their toll on Nelligan’s health and spirits.

On Christmas Day, 1943, Nelligan was hospitalized at the Petawawa Military Camp with a provisional diagnosis of influenza. By New Year, his doctor concluded that Nelligan was suffering from severe depression, leaving him anxious at times and very tense.[113] Despite permission to return to light duties and report back for a medical examination on 4 February 1944, Nelligan did not recuperate as quickly as expected. By the end of that month, he was transferred to the Sacred Heart Sanatorium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and by August it had become clear that he would never be able to resume his duties as principal chaplain. As a result, Honourary Brigadier R. C. MacGillivray became acting principal chaplain (Roman Catholic) until the end of the war.[114] On 11 January 1945, the Department of National Defence received a report from Nelligan’s American physician, Dr. Robert Beck, which provided sufficient medical information to allow Nelligan to retire on medical grounds.[115]  Nelligan officially resigned as Bishop of Pembroke and Catholic Military Ordinariate of Canada on 19 May 1945.  He had planned his dual resignation undoubtedly with the assistance of Archbishop McGuigan. The same day, the Holy See appointed him to the Titular See of Phoenice, which enabled him to retain the title of bishop.

After two years of convalescence, Nelligan embarked on a new chapter of his life by returning to his first official profession: teaching.  In a letter to Father John Henry O’Loane, C.S.B., president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario, he inquired about a teaching position at his institution. O’Loane responded in the affirmative, and on 4 February 1946, Nelligan began teaching on the first day of the second semester. During the next sixteen years, he would teach a variety of subjects, including history, theology and French. Tributes in the annual yearbook underscore the students’ appreciation of Nelligan. Beyond teaching, Nelligan also assisted the bishop of London and the archbishop of Detroit with their bishopric duties. He also was a popular after-dinner speaker at a variety of religious and community gatherings, some years accepting over 100 invitations.[116] Before heading to Europe for the first of many Vatican II sessions in 1962, Nelligan officially retired from teaching at Assumption, but remained in the company of the Basilians upon his return from Rome. Nelligan took part in all of the sessions, but his role, beyond submitting a written response to Cardinal Tisserant’s 18 June 1959 letter asking all bishops to send to Pope John XXIII their suggestions for Vatican II topics, remains undocumented.[117] On 31 March 1974, Nelligan died – nine days before McGuigan’s death – and was laid to rest in the Basilian Fathers plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Windsor, Ontario.

Throughout the Second World War, Nelligan strongly believed that the Canadian episcopate had failed to live up to the promise made to the prime minister. After all, Ontario bishops asserted in 1939 that the “spiritual welfare of our country and of our soldiers is at this moment uppermost in the minds and hearts of the Bishops.”[118] But perhaps this letter focused more on the short-term goal of creating a separate but equal Catholic chaplain service, rather than imagining the long-term goal of one cleric for every 500 Catholic soldiers in light of a war that would enlist more men than the First World War.[119] Moreover, Nelligan learned from the bishops themselves that, in some dioceses, up to twenty clerics were clamouring to join the chaplain service, but their respective bishops prevented their transfer. Nelligan knew that, without these clerics, many regiments heading to the front would be unaccompanied by a priest. Furthermore, if a regiment’s chaplain died in battle, he might not be replaced before the end of the war.[120]

Despite his evident disappointment with his fellow bishops and provincials in not releasing an even greater number of clerics for the chaplain service, Nelligan was also experiencing difficulties with the military brass, difficulties which turned out to be as challenging as a shortage of chaplains. The question of morality dominated Nelligan’s interactions with the military hierarchy. While the military felt that it was their responsibility to ensure that service personnel remained healthy regardless of their social behaviour, the Church feared for the eternal well-being of sexually promiscuous soldiers. These obviously philosophical differences made reconciliation impossible. Despite the towering (and ultimately unsuccessful) challenge of changing the military’s policy regarding the distribution of condoms, Nelligan was able to secure funding from the War Committee of Cabinet for the construction of chapels at training centres overseas and at home, thus helping chaplains better respond to the spiritual needs of soldiers.

As for Nelligan, the double burden of being a principal chaplain and an active bishop during a prolonged period of time was too physically and mentally challenging.[121] As a military officer, Nelligan contributed in significant ways. He was instrumental in establishing separate but equal chaplain services for Protestants and Catholics. He lobbied successfully for the construction of chapels, despite the lack of initial support from his Protestant counterpart. He made sure that as many of Canada’s military personnel had access to the sacraments, a demand that increased as regiments approached the front.[122] He ensured that wartime faculties, like saying additional masses on Sunday, were available. He lobbied for access to transportation. He ensured that as many clerics as dioceses and religious orders were ready to second were quickly integrated with the chaplain service.  In the end, he was able to organize a successful chaplain service.

Although this article focused primarily on Nelligan’s role as the principal chaplain, it also raises questions regarding the impact of seconding 293 priests during the Second World War on Canada’s dioceses and religious orders. We now know that some dioceses, like Hamilton, Pembroke and Winnipeg, and some religious orders, like the Redemptorists, the Oblates and the Jesuits, seconded a larger percentage of their priests for military duty. But what impact did these secondments have within the diocese or religious orders? And how many bishops rejected Nelligan’s pleas based either on a legitimate lack of priests or on an ideological basis? In addition, it is impossible to determine the impact of offering to “civilian” priests a wartime faculty without further developing the administrative history of the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic). Through additional research on the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic), we will be able to ascertain fully the Second World War’s impact on dioceses and religious orders.



Table 1


Number of secular clerics from Canadian dioceses

serving as Roman Catholic chaplains during

the Second World War compared with number of

secular priests in each diocese*


Military chaplains

Secular priests[123]






Quebec City
















































































Saint-John (NB)




























St. Hyacinthe








* The list does not provide numbers from vicars apostolic of Yukon, Keewatin, Gulf of Saint Lawrence, James Bay and Mackenzie.




Table 1 – Cont’d


Number of secular clerics from Canadian dioceses

serving as Roman Catholic chaplains during

the Second World War compared with number of

secular priests in each diocese*


Military chaplains

Secular priests[124]


























Prince Albert








St. Boniface




Saint-Jean (QC)




Saint John’s (NL)












Ukrainian Rites




Canadian clerics abroad








* The list does not provide numbers from vicars apostolic of Yukon, Keewatin, Gulf of Saint Lawrence, James Bay and Mackenzie.


















Table 2



Number of religious priests serving as Roman Catholic chaplains during the Second World War

Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists)

English-Canadian province (24);

French-Canadian province (7)


Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Oblates) –

English-Canadian province (7);

French-Canadian province (18); Province of Regina (2)


Society of Jesus (Jesuits) –

English-Canadian province (9); French-Canadian province (8)


Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans)


Missionaries of China


Congregation of Holy Cross (Holy Cross Fathers)


Congregation of St. Basil (Basilians)


Clerics of Saint Viator (Viatorians)


Missionaries of the Company of Mary (Montfort Missionaries)


Congregation of St. Paul


Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Sacred Heart Missionaries)


Other religious orders


Total for all religious orders



        [1] The author wishes to thank Assumption University for granting access to Bishop Nelligan’s private papers, and Mélanie Brunet, James Trepanier, Boris Stipernitz and the three anonymous CCHA Historical Studies reviewers for their comments.

        [2] Assumption University Archives (hereafter AUA), Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 143, Bishop Nelligan to Archbishop McGuigan, 3 June 1943.

        [3] Thomas Hamilton starts his doctoral thesis by describing Nelligan as an “elusive figure.” See T. Hamilton, Padres Under Fire: A Study of the Canadian Chaplain Service (Protestant and Roman Catholic) in the Second World War, PhD thesis, University of Toronto, 2003, 12. In Canadian religious and military historiography, references to Nelligan are limited.

        [4] Hamilton indicates that the call from McGuigan to all Ontario bishops resulted from letters McGuigan had received from some of his parishioners enquiring as to how the Canadian episcopate would respond to the religious needs of soldiers. See Hamilton, Padres Under Fire, 63.

        [5] Nelligan was installed as bishop of Pembroke on 10 November 1937. It is not entirely clear whether Nelligan participated in the 11 September 1939 meeting, as there is a written report listing him as having attended, but his diary reports he was in Pembroke on 10 September. Due to the distance between Kitchener and Pembroke, this author concludes that Nelligan was not present at this meeting.

        [6] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, personal diary of Bishop Nelligan, entry for 11 September 1939.

        [7] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 47, Nelligan to Mr. Ambrose O’Brien, 6 October 1939. Mr. O’Brien was a key financial contributor to the Diocese.

        [8] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 5, File 12, McGuigan to Nelligan, 25 February 1936.

        [9] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 46, Nelligan to Rev. Charles Lamphier, 23 October 1939.

        [10] Library and Archives Canada (hereafter LAC), Record Group (hereafter RG) 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Vol. 7261–6. Also available online at, accessed on 1 June 2005. Nelligan moved to Ponteix, Saskatchewan in January 1917 to teach grade school, only to be conscripted to the Depot of the Saskatchewan Regiment on 10 July 1918. There is also indication that he was a musketeer instructor while living in Prince Edward Island. Nelligan is the only member of the Canadian episcopate at the time to have a First World War military file. Accessed file online on 15 June, 2005,,

        [11] Bernard Daly, Remembering for Tomorrow: a History of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1943-1993 (Ottawa: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1995), 206-207. Date of birth and date of appointment to the Canadian episcopate taken from the website, accessed on 15 June 2005.

        [12] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 5, File 11, Nelligan to Most Rev. Andrea Cassulo, D.D., Apostolic Delegate to Canada and Newfoundland, 6 April 1936, which provides an update on the prolonged illness of Archbishop O’Leary. In October 1930, Nelligan had become a domestic prelate.

        [13] There is a significant amount of correspondence between Nelligan and a variety of elected officials in Quebec City, Edmonton, Toronto and Ottawa. For example, AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 5, File 23, Nelligan to Premier Maurice Duplessis, 17 October 1938, regarding the sale of alcohol on Sunday, even during mass. In Alberta and Ontario, Nelligan lobbied for changes in school financing. In Ottawa, he lobbied for the appointment of Catholics to the positions of Senator and Lieutenant-Governor.

        [14] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, personal diary of Bishop Nelligan, entry for 11 September 1939: “the apostolic delegate wished me to become principal chaplain –

French bishops would no doubt be agreeable.” The Holy See confirmed Nelligan’s appointment on 22 September 1939. See Nelligan’s diary entry for 22 September 1939. The official papal decree, no. 264/40, was received in January 1940.

        [15] Peter T. McGuigan, “Cardinal James McGuigan: Tormented Prince of the Church,” MA thesis, St. Mary’s University (Halifax, Nova Scotia), August 1995, 257, fn. 26.

        [16] Mark McGowan develops the idea of the influence of Maritime-born clerics in Western Canadian sees in “The Maritime Region and the Building of a Canadian Church: The Case of the Diocese of Antigonish after Confederation,” CCHA Historical Studies, Vol. 70, 2004, 48-70.

        [17] Department of National Defence (hereafter DND), Directorate of History and Heritage (hereafter DHH), File 76/109, Cardinal Villeneuve to the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Ildebrando Antoniutti, 27 September 1939. Despite this initial tension, the Nelligan Fonds does contain many letters between Villeneuve and Nelligan relating to religious and military matters, indicating that they were able to work together. See also AUA, Nelligan Fonds, personal diary of Bishop Nelligan, entry for 22 September 1939.

        [18] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 47, Nelligan to Mr. Ambrose O’Brien, 6 October 1939.

        [19] Duff Crerar, Padres in No Man’s Land: Canadian Chaplains during the Great War (Montreal & Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995), 221.

        [20] Albert Fowler, Peacetime Padres: Canadian Protestant Military Chaplains, 1945-1995 (St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell Publishing Ltd, 1996), 14.

        [21] LAC, Order-in-Council, PC no. 1921-2002.

        [22] DND, DHH, File 76/109, Bishop Ryan of Hamilton to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, 16 September 1939.

        [23] LAC, William Lyon Mackenzie King papers, MG 26J, Series 13, Diary entry for 10 June 1940. Available online at, accessed on 20 June 2005.

        [24] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 5, File 14, J.A. MacKinnon, MP to Nelligan, 1 March 1937; MacKinnon to Nelligan, 16 March 1937.

        [25] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, personal diary of Bishop Nelligan, entry for 22 September 1939.

        [26] Ibid.

        [27] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Nelligan to McGuigan, 30 September 1939.

        [28] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, personal diary of Bishop Nelligan, entry for 3 October 1939.

        [29] Toronto Star, 12 October 1939, 8.

        [30] While not opposed to separate but equal chaplain service, it does not seem that the Protestant Churches assisted directly with this lobbying. See T. Hamilton, Padres Under Fire, 38-79; and George Anderson Wells, The Fighting Bishop (Toronto: Cardwell House, 1971), 393-406.

        [31] LAC, Order-in-Council, PC no. 1921-2002.

        [32] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 67, Nelligan to Father John Knox, Toronto, 30 September 1939.

        [33] See AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 46, McGuigan to Nelligan, 28 September 1939, where he indicated that he was following up on a request from the apostolic delegate. See DND, DHH, File 76/109, Villeneuve to apostolic delegate, 27 September 1939.

        [34] Côté was a First World War chaplain, having enlisted in August 1918. See LAC, RG 150, Box 2031, File 43, First World War military file for Jules Georges Côté,, accessed on 15 June 2005.

        [35] AUA, Nelligan Fond, Box 6, File 46, Nelligan to McGuigan, 30 September 1939. Among these experienced chaplains to head military districts, Nelligan appointed Father John Robert O’Gorman of Timmins; Father Ronald Cameron MacGillivray of Sydney (born in 1885); Father Charles Edmond Chartier of Sherbrooke; and Father John Knox of Toronto (born in 1879). DND, DHH, File 113.7 (D1), Chaplain Services: Notes and documents on Canadian Chaplain Services, 1939-1943, Confidential Report of the first year of the war, no date.

        [36] The Toronto Star, 25 October 1939, 4. When McCarthy was sent overseas to accompany the First Canadian Infantry Division, he was replaced by Rev. R.C. MacGillivray from Sydney, NS.

        [37] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, personal diary of Bishop Nelligan, entry for 24 October 1939. Nelligan wrote that Wells arrived to their first meeting accompanied by an orderly, and had access to a stenographer when needed. Nelligan had not yet secured either.

        [38] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 5, File 85, Nelligan to Father O’Neil, 24 March 1940.

        [39] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, personal diary of Bishop Nelligan, entry for 22 September 1939.

        [40] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 47, Nelligan to Fuller, 2 October 1939.

        [41] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 50, Bishop François-Xavier Ross to Nelligan, 24 October 1939.

        [42] DND, Archives of the Chaplain School at Canadian Forces Base Borden, RG II, Box 6, File 43, published booklet “Instructions for the Canadian Chaplain Service, Canadian Active Service Force,” (Ottawa, J. O. Patenaude, 1939), 5. By 1944, chaplains under 40 were being sought. See LAC, RG 24, Vol. 12,459, File “Organization and Administration-Chaplain Service, Brief Report from principal chaplain overseas,” 19 May 1944.

        [43] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, personal diary of Bishop Nelligan, entry for 31 October 1939.

        [44] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 143, “Report of the Principal Chaplain’s (RC) Overseas Visit, October 17, 1940 – January 17, 1941 to the Adjutant-General.”

        [45] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 160, Nelligan to all bishops, no date. The content of this letter suggests that it was probably sent out in August-September 1942.

        [46] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 7, File 115, Archbishop John Hugh McDonald to Nelligan, 11 August 1941.

        [47] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 138, McDonald to Nelligan, 9 January 1942.

        [48] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 145, Archbishop Arthur Alfred Sinnott to Nelligan, 4 April 1942.

        [49] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 145, Nelligan to Sinnott, 11 April 1942.

        [50] LAC, RG 150, Box 7261, File 6, Military personnel file of H/Brigadier Charles Leo Nelligan, HQ File 203-N-12, 40-00747 M. On 8 August 1940, Nelligan had been promoted to the rank of H/Colonel (RO 685, September 21, 1940).

        [51] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 140, Nelligan to all bishops, no date.

        [52] Ibid.

        [53] Globe and Mail, 21 June 1943, 7, “Forces lack chaplains: Movement overseas leaves Canada short.”

        [54] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 145, Archbishop Richard O’Brien to Nelligan, 19 February 1943.

[55] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 159, Archbishop William Duke to Nelligan, 17 July 1943.

        [56] Hamilton, Padre Under Fire, 167.

        [57] This faculty was requested from the Holy See by Nelligan through the Apostolic Nuncio in September 1941. See LAC, RG 24, Vol. 15,629, war diary of Lt.-Col. M. C. O’Neill, 27 September 1941. News from the Holy See was received in December. See LAC, RG 24, Vol. 15,628, war diary of Principal Chaplain (RC), December 1941. An example of Nelligan offering use of this faculty to “civilian” priests, see AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 159, Nelligan to Bishop Francis Carroll of Calgary, 23 January 1943.

        [58] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 153, Nelligan to Rev. W.P. Breen, administrator of the Diocese of Pembroke, 17 March 1943.

        [59] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 75, Nelligan to Villeneuve, 15 October 1940. The French term used by Nelligan to Villeneuve was “un peu maladif.”

        [60] DND, DHH, File 76/109, Memorandum from the Director of War Service Records to the Principal Chaplain (RC), 6 May 1950. This number differs from that in my first article (Y. Pelletier, “Faith on the Battlefield: Canada’s Catholic Chaplain Service during the Second World War,” CCHA Historical Studies, Vol. 69, 2003, 64-84) which based its statistics on a pre-end of the Second World War report. See LAC, RG 24, Vol. 19,182, File 2140-1/18, “Establishment of Royal Canadian Chaplain Corps, confidential letter on the Canadian Catholic Chaplain Service,” 1 May 1945.

        [61] There is a lack of consistency in reporting the number of chaplains overseas, but the official number seems to range from 162 to 166. See LAC, RG 24, Vol. 19,182, File 2141-1/18, Confidential Report – Canadian Chaplain Services – Home War Establishment (Cdn. V/575/1), 1 May 1945.

        [62] Despite significant effort, the author has been unable to locate a comprehensive and complete source of historic statistical information on religious orders in Canada.

        [63] In fact, in 1939, the Archdioceses of Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto comprised 806,356, 534,549 and 164,000 Catholics respectively. At the time, the fourth most populous Catholic diocese was the diocese of Chicoutimi (152,363 Catholics). See Le Canada ecclésiastique: Annuaire du clergé (Montréal: Librairie Beauchemin, 1939).

        [64] Thomas Hamilton is thus correct in observing that the limited support of the Quebec City archdiocese to the Canadian Chaplain Service (Roman Catholic) shows that Cardinal Villeneuve “did not encourage one of his priests to become a chaplain.” See Hamilton, Padres Under Fire, 167.

        [65] Paul-André Linteau, René Durocher, Jean-Claude Robert and François Ricard, Quebec Since 1930 (Toronto: Lorimer, 1991), 63; Peter T. McGuigan, “Cardinal James McGuigan: Tormented Prince of the Church,” M.A. thesis, Saint Mary’s University (Halifax), August 1995, 151.

        [66] In April 1943, Nelligan noted that his diocese was “rather short of priests … as a result of having taken a number for the Chaplain Service.” See AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 7, File 94, Nelligan to Rev. Joseph Brown of St. Augustine’s Seminary, 15 April 1943.

        [67] The diocesan statistics in 1940 and 1945 indicate a constant number of priests (81-83), churches with a resident priest (45-46) and Catholic population (50,000). See Le Canada ecclésiastique : Annuaire du clergé, Montréal: Librairie Beauchemin, 1940, 356; and Le Canada ecclésiastique (Montréal: Librairie Beauchemin, 1945), 308.

        [68] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 6, File 50, Ross to Nelligan, 24 October 1939. The translation was done by the author.

        [69] Le Canada ecclésiastique, 1940, 182.

        [70] Paul-André Linteau et al., Quebec Since 1930, 63.

        [71] This number is higher than the percentage of Quebec population within the Canadian census of 1941. See Table A2-14. Population of Canada, by province, census dates, 1851 to 1976,, accessed on 12 June 2005.

        [72] Telephone conversation between the author and Jacques Monet, S.J., 29 June 2005.

        [73] Paul Laverdure, Redemption and Renewal: The Redemptorists of English-Canada, 1834-1994 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1996), 311.

        [74] Paul Laverdure, Redemption and Renewal, 178.

        [75] Cardinal Villeneuve was the most prominent Oblate in Canada. The other Oblate members of the Canadian episcopate during the Second World War were: Bishops Louis Rhéaume of Timmins, Martin Lajeunesse of Keewatin, Jean-Louis Coudert of the Yukon, Henri Belleau of James Bay, Joseph Trocellier of Mackenzie, Ubald Langlois of Grouard and Marc Lacroix of Hudson Bay. See Bernard Daly, Remembering for Tomorrow: a History of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1943-1993, (Ottawa: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1995), 206-207.

        [76] Statistics for 1940 taken from the Catalogue of Jesuits from the Province of Upper-Canada and the Catalogue annuel de la province du Bas-Canada de la Compagnie de Jésus. Courtesy of the Jesuits archivist for the Province of English-Canada, Jacques Monet, S.J. By 1944, there were 155 English-Canadian Jesuits and 354 French-Canadian Jesuits.

        [77] LAC, RG 150, Box 7261, File 6, Military personnel file of H/Brigadier Charles Leo Nelligan, HQ File 203-N-12, 40-00747 M.

        [78] In particular, Bishop James Dey of the British Chaplain Service and Bishop Józef Gawlina, the Polish Military Ordinariate.

        [79] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 143, “Report of the Principal Chaplain’s (RC) Overseas Visit, October 17, 1940 – January 17, 1941 to the Adjutant-General,” 16 November diary entry.

        [80] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 143, “Report of the Principal Chaplain’s (RC) Overseas Visit, October 17, 1940 – January 17, 1941 to the Adjutant-General.”

        [81] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 143, “Report of the Principal Chaplain’s (RC) Overseas Visit, October 17, 1940 – January 17, 1941 to the Adjutant-General,” 11 November 1940 entry.

        [82] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 143, “Report of the Principal Chaplain’s (RC) Overseas Visit, October 17, 1940 – January 17, 1941 to the Adjutant-General.”

        [83] LAC, RG 24, Vol. 15,629, Chaplain Service (RC), File 3, February 1941 Monthly Report, entry for 3 February 1941.

        [84] DND, DHH, File 76/109, History of The Royal Canadian Army Chaplain Corps, 20 October 1954. In particular, see section 8 (Responsibility of commanding officers in relations to chaplains). Also of interest is section 4 (Duties and Responsibilities of Chaplains).

        [85] LAC, RG 24, Vol. 10,235, File 47/GEN/1, Lt-Gen. McNaughton, Senior Combatant Officer, Canadian Army in the United Kingdom, 1 January 1943.

        [86] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 7, File 127, Archbishop Monahan to Nelligan, 9 October 1942.

        [87] Ibid.

        [88] Jeffrey A. Keshen, Saints, Sinners and Soldiers: Canada’s Second World War (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004), 134-135, 140-141.

        [89] Gene Tunney, “The Bright Shield of Continence,” Readers’ Digest, August 1942. Reprinted in Journal of Social Hygiene, November 1942, Vol. 28, No. 8, 475.

        [90] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 7, File 129, Lt-Col. H. DesRosiers to Nelligan, 11 August 1942.

        [91] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 138, Nelligan to Ralston, 26 August 1942.

        [92] LAC, RG 24, Vol. 15,630, Principal Chaplain Overseas (RC) – CMHQ, August 1944 Report from the Deputy Assistant Principal Chaplain (RC) – 2nd Canadian Corps, entry for 10 August 1944.

        [93] Keshen, Saints, Sinners and Soldiers, 137.

        [94] For a longer explanation of Padres’ Hour, see Y. Pelletier, “Faith on the Battlefield,” 70-72.

        [95] Bishop Charles Leo Nelligan, Francis P. Schiavone, Margaret Fletcher and D. H. Williams, The Bright Shield of Continence (The Sword of the Spirit) (Ottawa, Canadian Chaplain Service (RC), 1943), 3.

        [96] DND, DHH, File 76/57, Report from the Chaplains’ conference (RC), 9-10 December 1943.

        [97] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 143, Letter signed by Cardinal Villeneuve to the prime minister entitled Re: Condoms. Col. Chisholm’s pamphlet, undated.

        [98] Ibid.

        [99] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 143, “Report of the Principal Chaplain’s (RC) Overseas Visit, October 17, 1940 – January 17, 1941 to the Adjutant-General.”

        [100] LAC, RG 24, Box 15,629, Vol. 32, War diary of H/Major Keohan, 24 May 1943.

        [101] Ibid.

        [102] G. Wells, The Fighting Bishop, 497.

        [103] G. Wells, The Fighting Bishop, 498.

        [104] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 7, File 133, Nelligan to Bishop George Wells, principal chaplain (Protestant), 10 September 1942.

        [105] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 138, Bishop Bray of Saint John, New Brunswick to Nelligan, 19 August 1942.

        [106] Ibid.

        [107] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 158, Memorandum from Nelligan to Minister Ralston regarding chapels, 1 September 1942.

        [108] G. Wells, The Fighting Bishop, 498.

        [109] LAC, RG 24, Vol. 19,838, File D – Chaplain (RC) Army, Report of Army Chaplain Service (RC) for 1942, 6 February 1943 and signed by Nelligan.

        [110] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 144, Nelligan to McGuigan, 12 February 1943.

        [111] LAC, RG 24, Vol. 15,628, War diary of the principal Catholic chaplain, entry for 5 August 1941.

        [112] AUA, Nelligan Fonds, Box 8, File 163, Nelligan to Bishop Ryan of Hamilton, 6 May 1943.

        [113] LAC, RG 150, Box 7261, File 6, Military personnel file of H/Brigadier Charles Leo Nelligan, HQ File 203-N-12, 40-00747 M.

        [114] Nelligan retained the title as Military Ordinary until Maurice Roy was appointed by the Holy See in Sacred Consistorial Congregation, no. 484/46, 6 June 1946. Roy, who had been a chaplain with the Royal 22e Régiment, became Bishop of Trois-Rivières in May 1946.

        [115] LAC, RG 150, Box 7261, File 6, Military personnel file of H/Brigadier Charles Leo Nelligan, HQ File 203-N-12, 40-00747 M.

        [116] AUA, Diary of Nelligan for years 1950 to 1968. In his diary, Nelligan recorded his speaking engagements, ranging from 40 speeches in 1961 to over 100 in 1957 and 1968. Most of his speeches dealt with the issues of patriotism, Catholic influence and Catholic education. He was known to recycle many of his jokes.

        [117] Acta et Documenta Concilio Oecumenico Vaticano II Apparando, Series I, Volumen II Consilia et Tota, Pars VI America Septemtrionalis et Centralis. Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, MCMLX, 153.

        [118] DND, DHH, File 76/109, Bishop Ryan to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, 16 September 1939.

        [119] LAC, RG 24, Vol. 15,628, War diary of the principal Catholic chaplain, October 1939.

        [120] LAC, RG 24, Military personnel file of H/Col. Charles Édouard Beaudry, 04-49435. Taken from an interview with Beaudry, 21 October 1983.

        [121] Nelligan received many voluntary service medals and was named to the Order of the British Empire, an honour reserved for senior military officials from the Commonwealth. LAC, RG 150, Box 7261, File 6, Military personnel file of H/Brigadier Charles Leo Nelligan, HQ File 203-N-12, 40-00747 M.

        [122] Y. Pelletier, Faith on the Battlefield, 64-84.


        [123] Statistics taken from Le Canada ecclésiastique: Annuaire du clergé (Montréal: Librairie Beauchemin, 1939).

        [124] Statistics taken from Le Canada ecclésiastique: Annuaire du clergé (Montréal: Librairie Beauchemin, 1939).