Adam Joseph Exner (December 24, 1928 – September 5, 2023) was a respected Canadian Catholic figure who served as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Vancouver from 1991 to 2004. Let’s take a closer look at his life and contributions.
Training and Early Religious Life
Adam Exner’s journey in the Catholic faith was marked by a dedication to learning and education. He earned Master’s degrees in philosophy and theology from the prestigious Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, showcasing his commitment to deepening his understanding of religious matters. Additionally, he achieved a Doctoral degree in theology from the University of Ottawa.
Before his tenure as Archbishop, Exner held various positions within the Catholic community. He served as a professor, rector, and superior at the St. Charles Scholasticate in Battleford, Saskatchewan. His expertise extended to moral theology when he became a professor at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta.
Adam Exner’s journey towards priesthood began in 1950 when he entered the religious institute of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in St. Norbert, Manitoba. His dedication culminated in his ordination as a priest in 1957. Later in his career, in 1974, Exner was appointed as the Bishop of Kamloops, and in 1982, he was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Winnipeg.
Archbishop of Vancouver
One of the significant milestones in Exner’s religious career was his appointment as the Archbishop of Vancouver on May 25, 1991. He dedicated over a decade to this position, serving until reaching the mandatory retirement age for Archbishops in January 2004. During his tenure, he made notable contributions to the Catholic community.
In honor of his dedicated service, the Catholic Civil Rights League established the Archbishop Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life in 2004. After stepping down from his Archbishop role, Exner resided at St. Joseph’s Residence in Vancouver before eventually relocating to his family’s home area in Grayson, Saskatchewan.
Advocacy and Activities
Archbishop Exner was known for his active involvement in various advocacy and community activities. In 1995, he secured a significant legacy for the Catholic community from then-Premier Michael Harcourt through the Denominational Health Association. This legacy had been established by his predecessor, Archbishop James Francis Carney.
During his tenure as Archbishop of Vancouver, Exner played a vital role in preventing the closure of several Catholic institutions. Notably, he worked tirelessly to protect the assets of the Congregation of Christian Brothers in British Columbia, which included institutions like Vancouver College and St. Thomas More Collegiate. These efforts were aimed at compensating victims of the Mount Cashel Orphanage sexual and physical abuse scandal.
Additionally, Archbishop Exner was a strong supporter of Covenant House, a shelter for runaway street kids. He also took an active role in legal matters, seeking intervenor status in the litigation involving Trinity Western University and the British Columbia College of Teachers over training policies.
In 2003, Exner directed four Catholic schools to divest from a school banking program operated by VanCity, protesting the bank’s alleged promotion of homosexuality through its sponsorship of a homosexual film festival and awarding a lesbian bookstore.
Honours and Memberships
Archbishop Exner received several honors during his lifetime. He was appointed as the Knight Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and served as the Grand Prior of the Lieutenancy of Canada.
In his role as Archbishop, Exner became a member of several important organizations, including the Sacred Congregation for Bishops, the Permanent Council of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (where he contributed to the Theology and Christian Education Commissions and the National Catholic-Lutheran dialogue), and the Social Communications Commission.
On September 5, 2023, Archbishop Adam Joseph Exner passed away at the age of 94 at his residence in Grayson, Saskatchewan. His life was marked by a deep commitment to his faith and tireless efforts to serve the Catholic community and the broader public.