Bishop Jean-Louis Coudert, OMI was born in France on August 9, 1895. In 1914, his family migrated to the United States. At the end of his theological studies in Baltimore, the young man entered the Oblates in Texas and was ordained to the priesthood on November 2, 1919, in San Antonio. He was sent to the Mackenzie missions in 1923, where he conducted a fruitful ministry among the Amerindians until 1936, when he was named Bishop of the Yukon.


First visit to the Vatican
At the end of 1938 he made his first visit to Pope Pius XI. He was expecting a rather stiff formal reception, in accordance with the customary rules of the time. Imagine his surprise when, at the beginning of the interview, he saw the Pope just naturally rest his leg on a corner of the bureau, so as to facilitate the blood circulation in a leg which was causing him considerable pain. “You know” said the Pope, who was then eighty-one, “when you get old and you realize that you have to face death, you don’t attach much importance to etiquette… You knew Bishop Grouard, the Apostolic Vicar of Mackenzie? Well, your presence here reminds me of the first audience I accorded as Pope to that venerable old man.”

A surprising apparition
“As the door opened,” continued the Pope, “this old patriarch appeared with an immense white beard. He paused as he entered and shouted in a loud voice: ‘Your Holiness, I’m too stiff to make the prescribed genuflections; you will have to be satisfied with this simple bow.’ On saying this he made a slight head inclination. Then he sat facing me. After giving a few particulars about his vicariate and bringing up certain requests he suddenly changed the tone of his conversation. ‘Your Holiness,’ he said, ‘you have a lot of worries and the visitors who come add even more to them. Please allow me to divert you a little and show you how we, in the Far North, catch hares.’ “

A hunting lesson
“He then rose, went to the bookshelves at the end of this room, removed a few volumes, piled them on the floor next to me, and used these books to build a trap. Next, he drew a small cord from his pocket, made a collar with it, and proceeded to show me in detail how the hare falls into this noose and hangs himself . Then, he placed the cord around his own neck and imitated the shriek of the poor hare. I was so taken in by this object lesson that I turned my chair, and rested my elbows on my knees while I gave all my attention to the details of the demonstration. I had completely forgotten about protocol and the governance of the Church.”

Before leaving, Bishop Grouard made one last request of Pope Pius XI: “Your Holiness,” he said tearfully, “I am old and would like to retire after working sixty years in the polar missions. But I would ask to remain up there, even after I have a successor.” “If that’s all you desire,” replied the Pope, “I will see that your request is granted.”