The funeral cortege for former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney takes to the snowy streets of Montreal on March 23, 2024. Mr. Mulroney’s hearse was accompanied by eight RCMP pallbearers, along with four RCMP officers on horseback, a Canadian Armed Forces escort and guard of honour and the Royal Canadian Air Force Band. (Peter Stockland photo)

Prime Minister Mulroney’s funeral: ‘Mulroney was the last. There are no statesmen left in the world’

Msgr. Francis Coyle shared more with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney than having an Irish name.

Msgr. Coyle is pastor of Montreal’s St. Patrick’s Basilica, which he says the Mulroney children referred to as “Dad’s church.” He presided over the 2008 wedding of the former Prime Minister’s eldest son, Ben, and from March 21 to 23, he would look out his bedroom window as the crowds gathered in St. Patrick’s parking lot to pay their respects while Mulroney lay in repose inside the basilica.

Then he concelebrated, at Notre Dame Basilica one kilometre away, the funeral of the man who led Canada from 1983 to 1993.

Mr. Mulroney died Feb. 29 at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, a few days shy of his 85th birthday.

Archbishop Christian Lépine, who presided over the funeral at Notre Dame, told Msgr. Coyle, “You have to be there because of the Irish element.”

In many ways, that “Irish element” joined pastor and prime minister at the spiritual hip. St. Patrick’s is the historic spiritual home for Montreal’s Irish Catholic diaspora. In her eulogy, Mr. Mulroney’s daughter Caroline called her father’s “Irish heritage the rock from which his character was cut.”

In the days leading up to the funeral, wife Mila Mulroney and children Ben, Caroline, Mark, and Nicholas tirelessly greeted the thousands of Canadians who came to pay their respects in Ottawa and Montreal.

Msgr. Coyle had a ringside seat to the flinty display of filial duty by the Mulroney clan.

“It never stopped. They would take little breaks, but then they went back out.”

Msgr. Coyle said the personal warmth and resolve of the family reflected their father’s character.

“He was like that. I went to the reception after (Ben and Jessica Mulroney’s) wedding, and I sat right next to Brian. I never met a man like that. You would just meet him for five minutes and he was your friend. He was so warm. He had that Irish thing in him. We just have that, you know?”

Msgr. Coyle concelebrated along with Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič and Father Miguel Castellanos, rector of Notre Dame Basilica.

“All of Canada, including Canadians from all walks of life and elected officials past and present, share your grief and have made it their own,” Archbishop Lépine told Mila Mulroney directly in his homily.

“The generosity of his family, the gratitude of the state and all the citizens of this country have made the death and funeral of Brian Mulroney an event, an event that brings us together with our similarities and differences.”

In the French portion of the homily, Archbishop Lépine noted that “what happens in our life is important…but there is something even more important.” He alluded to the contemporary challenges facing Canada and mentioned in particular “threats to life and the family.”

The Canadian-style pomp and circumstance surrounding Mr. Mulroney’s funeral seemed a pageant from a bygone era.

The funeral cortege that proceeded from St. Patrick’s Basilica to Notre Dame comprised four Royal Canadian Mounted Police on horseback, a Canadian Armed Forces escort and guard of honour, and the Royal Canadian Air Force Band. The band played the solemn and familiar Beethoven and Chopin funeral marches.

Eight RCMP pallbearers accompanied the hearse carrying Mr. Mulroney’s casket. A typical March storm ensured a stark white background for the Mounties’ iconic red serge dress uniform and a slippery surface for their riding boots. The snow quickly accumulated in the ridges of their brown Biltmore hats.

The weather and the heavy security that blocked access to Square Place d’Armes in front of Notre Dame ensured the crowds for the funeral itself were sparse, in stark contrast to the stream of well-wishers who bid Mr. Mulroney goodbye at St. Patrick’s.

One lone woman began to applaud as the cortege turned the corner of Rene-Levesque and Bleury. A couple of people joined her. Further on, another woman wearing a keffiyeh scarf began to shout at the limousines carrying the family. The police quickly moved in, moving her out of sight and shouting distance.

An older gentleman, taking cover from the biting March wind and blowing snow in an Old Port doorway, remarked as he watched the cortege pass by, “Mulroney was the last. There are no more statesmen left in the world.”


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