Henri DIONNE was born 9 Sep 1814 in Ste-Anne (La Pocatière), Kamouraska County, Lower Canada (Québec). His godparents were Henri MIVILLE and Marie de la DURANTAYE. After attending the Collège (private intermediate and high school) in Ste-Anne, he entered the seminary in Québec in preparation to become a Roman Catholic priest. He was ordained as a priest on 15 June 1840. Although he had originally planned to become a missionary among the native nations in Red River (Manitoba), he instead was sent by his superiors to the Madawaska settlement.
At first he worked as an assistant to Father Langevin at St-Basile church, serving parishioners in the areas covered by the chapel at Ste-Luce. When in 1842 the border dispute was settled by dividing the Madawaska settlement in half along the St.John river, the church decided to set up Ste-Luce as a separate parish. Father Dionne was chosen as the first pastor (curé) of Ste-Luce Church, in what is now Frenchville, Maine, establishing it as a separate parish in 1843 and overseeing the construction of a church there.
Henri Dionne appeared in the 1850 US Census, in Madawaska Plantation, as Henry Dionne. Also in his household are Presel Willet (Priscille Ouellette), age 36, Joseph Pelka (Joseph Pelletier), age 53 (both of them servants to whom he left money in his will); and Elie Marne, age 15. Father Dionne is at this time living next door to the family of his sister Hortense and her husband Antoine Gagnon.
Father Dionne served as pastor of Ste-Luce until 1860; due to his illness, as well as the efforts of some to drive him out of the parish, he resigned and moved back to Ste-Anne, where he spent the last months of his life. He died on 15 Mar 1861 in Kamouraska, Québec.
The life of Father Henri Dionne
Jacques Dionne, a descendant of Henri's brother Joseph, has done extensive
research on Henri Dionne in the archives of Ste-Anne. With his permission,
I have translated from the original French his page on Henri Dionne; the
text is below. The original can be found at his web site, at http://jacantdionne.net/ajjbah.html.
My thanks to Jacques for generously sharing this impressive piece of research
with the Upper St.John Valley web site.
Portrait of Fr. Henri Dionne
The text which follows is a biographical note, written in 1910 about the Rev. Henri Dionne, son of Antoine, whose life and portrait we will trace in a detailed way through a number of historical documents.
In 1802, a school was built near the church of Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatière. It was built across from the rectory where the agricultural school stands today. This was the first school, and Mr. Robert DUPONT was the first teacher.
Until that time, a person with a bit of education went around to the houses, gathering the children, and gave them lessons on reading and catechism from time to time. The last itinerant teacher was Miss DUPONT, nicknamed "the Prussian". The parents gave a small remuneration to this intermittant school master.
A few years after his arrival at Ste-Anne, Father Pinchaud brought in as teacher for the village school Mr. Lucien Saillant, a clergyman from the Québec Seminary, who had been forced to interrupt his theological studies due to health problems. The young Henri Dionne took lessons from this excellent professor over several years. He then entered into the Collège of Ste-Anne, in the month of October 1831, where he was a studious student, sensible and pious. He possessed a remarkable voice (attested to by his fellow students in the reports given in 1899 by Mr. P.A. Ouellet).
His talents and his good nature helped him to do well in his studies and revealed in him signs of a priestly vocation. When his courses ended, on August 11, 1837, he donned a clerical habit. He was a professeur for two years at the Collège of Ste-Anne and he finished his theological studies at the Québec Seminary, where he was ordained a priest on June 15, 1840. Neither time nor the cares of the medical arts could triumph over the cruel sickness from which he suffered. And it is in Kamouraska that he passed away, March 14, 1861, at the age of 46 years. His body rests in the sanctuary of the church of Ste-Anne, on the side of the epistles.
(SOURCE: Notes et Souvenirs, by L.A. LÉVÊQUE, parish priest of St-Camille, Montréal, 1910).
Salomée MIVILLE-DESCHÊNES gave birth to Henri in La Pocatière, 9 September 1814, the sixth in a family of 15 children. At his baptism, Henri MIVILLE was his godfather and Marie de la DURANTAYE was his godmother. It was noted that his father Antoine was absent from the baptism. Being the second boy of the family, one would imagine that Henri had to do his share of the work on the farm at La Pocatière. As mentioned earlier by Rev. Lévêque, he showed, from an early age, particular qualities and talents which allowed him to enter the classical Collège at La Pocatière, recently founded by the parish priest, Father Painchaud.
The classical Collège
In the numerous personal documents turned over to the Collège after his death, one finds mathematics notes as well as a caricature of a certain Antoine. Is this his father, or one of his classmates? It could be his father Antoine. He has a beard, and much hair, more or less curly, an aquiline nose and a prominent chin.
On July 1, 1836, one of his classmates, Germain Degagne, drowned during a picnic. On that occasion Henri wrote a remarkable poem for the eulogy of his friend. Already one could see that great sensitivity which would characterize him later in life.
The Seminary and Vicariate
Henry was tonsured by Mgr. Joseph Signay in the chapel of the Hopital Général of Québec on 23 September 1837. Here is what Mgr. Signay wrote to Mr. Alexis Mailloux, vicar-general and parish priest of Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatière on 25 February 1839: "I would be happy to find among your clergy someone zealous, friend of the missions and apt at learning the Indian languages, who could in the spring of 1840 prepare themselves to go and join Mr. Belcourt, that the Indians in the Red River [now in Manitoba] are asking for with tears in their eyes and hands clasped together. What would you say about this Mr. Henri Dionne, in relation to this, about whom you seem so content?" (RAPQ, Vol.1938-39, registre des lettres, Vol.18, p.469). One remembers that his father Antoine died on 21 July 1839, and that there followed a period of great preoccupation and worries about the succession (see the section on Succession on this subject.)
On 13 Jun 1840, a little less than a year after the death of his father Antoine, Henri was ordained a priest at Québec at the age of 26, and was named pastor at St-Gervais de Bellechase, for a short time. The proposal to leave for Red River must have pleased Henri, because on 3 March 1841, while he was still pastor at St-Gervais, he received from Rev. Chs-Félix Cazeau permission to go as a missionary to Red River in the spring of 1841. But alas, that was not the decision of Mgr. Signay who, on 27 May 1841, named him to serve the parishes of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré and St-Ferréol.
From September 1841-1843, Henri was named assistant to pastor Langevin at St-Basile in Madawaska, New Brunswick, serving the parish of Ste-Luce. It is during this period that the Ashburton Treaty (1842) divided Madawaska in two parts: American Madawaska, south of the St.John River, and Canadian Madawaska, north of the river. In a document notarized and dated 8 October 1844, it is stated that Salomée MIVILLE had become a widow and lived at Madawaska, without doubt with her son Henri.
Henri Dionne, parish priest of Ste-Luce (1843-1860)
Henri was named as founding pastor of the parish of Ste-Luce (which later became Frenchville, Maine) in 1843. He remained a great friend of his old pastor Langevin. In 1849, he founded a mission at St-François, on Canadian territory. He built there a magnificent church (known by the name "the red church") and a rectory. One can easily imagine the heavy load of Pastor Henri, who had to take care of two parishes. He did not stint in his efforts.
The Rev. Henri Dionne was without doubt very thrifty but also very generous. In 1852, he made a donation of 40 louis to the Collège at La Pocatière. On 10 October 1853, he sent another donation of 110 louis. "If death takes me by surprise," he said to Rev. François Pilote, head of the Collège, "there will be an additional donation added to the 40 louis of the previous year." Then, on 26 July 1854, he sent another donation of 200 louis to the same Collège. In the space of two years, he sent 350 louis to the Collège. In addition to charitable donations, Henri also found the means to help his family. In a letter addressed to Mr. X..., dated 26 October 1854, he writes:
"I bought a good place here in Kamouraska for which I payed £160. I will have repairs done there, to make it comfortable and I will move there with my family this coming Monday, October 30. I will therefore be in Kamouraska for at least five years.
This letter leads one to think that Henri must have been experiencing some health problems and that he would be leaving his mission at Ste-Luce. But he did not do so, continuing his ministry until 1860. It is only at that time that he came to live in this place in Kamouraska, in convalescence.
Disagreements between McGuirck and Dionne
The period 1854-1860 were very trying, not to mention fatal, for Father Henri. Differences arose with a certain minister McGuirck, undoubtedly of a different religion, exercising his ministry in a neighboring parish; [Note: Father Hugh McGuirk was a Roman Catholic priest of Irish origin from New Brunswick who in 1857 took over the parish of St-Basile as successor of Father Langevin. McGuirk established a convent at St-Basile. cg] we do not know the origin of these differences very well. Father Henri also had differences with Bishop Mgr. Connally. McGuirck succeeded in working up some of the Ste-Luce parishioners against Father Henri Dionne, which had the effect of undermining the morale and health of the good father. The Archive of the Collège of La Pocatière which we have consulted contain an abundant correspondance between Father Dionne and his bishop, Mgr. John Sweeny, of the diocese of St.Johns (New Brunswick). One knows however that one of the disputes with several parishioners, headed by Prudent Gagnon, concerned the construction of a convent. Without doubt there was disagreement on the location of the convent, which was rather frequent in parishes. This Prudent Gagnon spread malicious gossip and slander and created many scandals in the parish.
Departure of Rev. Henri Dionne
In December 1859, the health and morale of Rev. Henri Dionne were undermined to the point that he sent his resignation to Mgr. Sweeny, Bishop of St.Johns. The parishioners of Ste-Luce then expressed their feelings of indignation on the occasion of the departure of their pastor, and regretted the distress caused by some persecutors. On 29 January 1860, they offered to Rev. Dionne a long letter, accompanied by 800 signatures, which is reproduced below. This letter was also published in English in The New Brunswick Reporter, in the edition of 24 February 1860.
[The text below is from the English original published in the New Brunswick Reporter, 24 February 1860, p.2. For the French version of the letter, which is undoubtedly the version most parishioners read and signed, go to Jacques Dionne's page, noted above.
Just above the parishioners' letter in the Reporter is a note:
Madawaska, 20th February, 1860
Mr. Editor.- You will confer a great favor upon the inhabitants of these parishes by publishing in your valuable journal the accompanying address to the Rev. Henry Dionne, presented to that most excellent genteleman by his numerous friends here upon his departure for Canada, with his reply thereto. Your obdt. servant, A Signer
Letter of the Parishioners of Ste-Luce to Henri Dionne
To Mr. Henry Dionne, Parish Priest of St. Luce, Madawaska.
Venerable Father. -- May we be allowed to call you by that sweet name, now that your departure from among us, makes us feel the more acutely the pain of our separation and the full amount of our loss.
For nearly twenty years you have toiled unceasingly and consumed your life in order to found and extend this, our beautiful parish of Ste-Luce, whose rapid increase--a beautiful parish at St. François and an important mission at Aroostook--the magnificent church of Ste Luce, that of St. François, and the chapel at Aroostook are monuments of your zeal as well as of your charity. While devoting yourself beyond measure to the spiritual interests of our souls, by preaching and the administration of the sacraments, at all hours, in every season, and in the most distant and isolated part of your immense parish, you have not lost view of the temporal interests of our families.
You have been our counsel on a thousand delicate and embarrassing occasions; you have defended us in important circumstances, you have always walked at our head when the honor and interests of your parishioners needed your intervention.
If a few of your parishioners or old friends have treated you ungratefully, believe us, Venerable Father, that it is the infinitely small number and that all the others wish to remain strangers to what has been said and done against you.
We all know what you have done for us; we will be eternally grateful to you for it. By losing you, we lose a father, a friend, and a benefactor.
Believe the sincerity of our sentiments. Oh, with what painful surprise we have learned your fixed resolution to leave us. We would wish to remove the cause of the sorrows which for last few months made life a burden to you. All that we have could do was to protest in our hearts, as we do openly today, against an odious system of persecution used against you, to discourage you; a system inspired by a spirit of personal vengeance, of which the reasons are well known to us; and directed in the dark by false and hypocritical friends, strangers to this parish, and interested in your removal. If any of our own people have for a moment allowed themselves to be misled by the calumnies uttered against you, they now acknowledge their fault and heartily unite with those who have always been faithful to you.
All that we express at this moment is but trifling in comparison with what we feel and would wish to be able to express. We regret being incapable of explaining to you the liveliness of our gratitude and the bitterness of our sorrow, and ask pardon for our incapacity. We have now but to form wishes for your happiness. For whatever place Divine Providence calls you to, our respect, our gratitude and our most lively sympathies will be always with you. Deign not to forget us and pray to God for us and our families since it is now the last and only service you can tender us; we ask if of you with full confidence of not being refused.
Ste-Luce, Madawaska, Jan. 29 1860.
Hon. Francis Rice, M.L.C.
John Hart, J.P.
Dr. F.L. Fournier, J.P.
Chas. Dawson, C.L.A.
Capt. Leon Belfleur, J.P.
Capt. R. Theriautt, J.P.
Fr. Thibaudeau, J.P.
V. Thibaudeau, J.P., and 800 others
Rod. McLean, J.P.
Aug. Daigle, Sen.
Jas. Hébert, J.P.
Response of Henri Dionne to the parishioners of Ste-Luce
Ste-Luce, Madawaska, 29 January 1860
My good and true hearted friends,
I heartily thank you for your address, so full of gratitude and of generous sentiments. Your kindness of heart makes you attribute to me qualities, which, I am sorry to say I do not possess. If I have succeeded in doing any good among you, it is due to your own faith and generosity. All the glory of whatever little good my ministry has produced among you, should be rendered to God alone. Believe me my friends I have not ceased to admire the beautiful union existing among you, your respect and your devotedness to me; and I admire it today more than ever. In leaving you I never expected to be the cause of a manifestation which does so much honor to yourselves and to me. I must confess that I did not think it was so hard to sever the ties which have so long united us. The cause of my resolution is well known to you as you have so well expressed it in your address, an odious system of persecution has been employed against me. False friends, strangers to the parish and interested in my removal, aided by a few of our own misled parishioners have blown the fire of discord, and circulated the blackest of calumnies.
I will pray to God for these poor strayed souls, that they may become aware of their error at some future time. I pardon all those who may have wished the harm. Courage my true hearted friends we will try to console each other by keeping united in mind and in heart. I bequeathe you my young years, my labors and my sacrifices, and I carry with me but an impaired health and an exhausted constitution.
I will remember you in my prayers, on your part, don't forget me before God, let us remained united by the bonds of charity while we are waiting to be united in heaven. Adieu. Adieu.
H. Dionne, Priest
St. Luce, Madawaska, Jan. 29, 1860
[Note: Father Dionne served at Ste-Luce until the end of February 1860; the last sacrament he performed there was the marriage of Norbert Ouellet and Salomé Chassé on 29 February. His place was taken by Father Charles Sweron, a Belgian priest who had previously been at St-François church across the river. cg]
The Sickness of Rev. Henri Dionne
A bit after his departure from Ste-Luce, even before he could recover from the exhaustion and upset accumulated over the past years of his pastorship, Mr. Henri Dionne was invited by Mgr. C.F. Baillargeon to replace father Jacob Côté, from mid-May at St-Michel. Two months later, on 28 August 1860, he was released from his mission of the Lake by the bishop, who did not know he was sick. The bishop counseled him however to take care of himself and to live at Ste-Anne until he recovered. Here is what he wrote to him:
Archbishop of Quebec, 28 August 1860
I am happy that the Vicar general has obliged you to stay at Ste-Anne so that you can take care of yourself. If I had known of your illness, I would not have proposed that you run the mission of the Lake. You need rest; and this mission would have obliged you to travel constantly. I am grateful for your good will; but I release you for now; take the time to care for yourself and to recover. Stay at Ste-Anne until you are well enough to start working again. The stay in this house will be useful for you in more than one respect, because at the same time your health is recovering, as I hope, you will have all the means, living in a milieu of exemplary and educated men who live there, to prepare yourself to take up again the exercise of the holy Ministry with new zeal, and to do so with more results for others and for yourself.
C. J. Evêque de St-....
M. H. DIONNE, ptre
Collège de Ste-Anne
One notes, in reading this letter, that Henri is very sick and needs rest. No document permits us to know the exact cause of this illness, except for a few indications drawn from a letter addressed to Mr. Henri Dionne by his nephew Germain LÉVESQUE, residing at Ste-Luce, dated 6 February 1861. Germain inquires about the health of his uncle and sends him the recipe and the prescription of remedies for his sickness (tar, roots, bark). I hope, he says, that you will come to give us good sermons which we have not heard since your departure. Another letter addressed to Rev. Henri Dionne by Mr. James Madigan indicates the seriousness of his illness. Madigan suggests that he go to Boston for treatment. He is happy that Priscille Ouellet had come to care for Mr. Dionne, and he is unstinting in his encouragements at the same time recalling the good memories of Ste-Luce.
The correspondence between Mr. Dionne and his nephew Germain Lévesque also informs us that Rev. Henri had to make some loans of money in order to come to the assistance of certain of his former parishioners; maybe this itself is implicated in certain affairs. Here is the transcription of one of these letters:
Ste-Luce, Madawaska, November 10, 1860
I just received your letter of the 28th of October with the procuration, I am hurrying to respond to it in order to tell you that money is extremely rare. I have spoken with several people at the top. Today I had an announcement made at church giving another eight days, but I think that it is still lost time, because those who have money do not owe it, and those who owe it don't have it. It is therefore necessary to pursue and have sold the possessions of these people. I say sell rather than give because it is impossible to find six piasters in money for a cow. I have offered your foal for 35 piasters and no one wants it; you can judge by that that there is no money, because that foal is worth about 60 piasters.
I have posted your two notices, one here and one at Fish River, but I not yet sworn the other one. As soon as I can go to Fish River, I will swear it before Mr. Page who is the justice of the peace. Georges Lauzier is offering me a steer and some lard in payment for his note which is payed effectively as you know, he says that he will bring it to you if you want to pay for his trip and also what is the price that you would give the steer and lard. Paul Long payed me and I have managed to pay father Lauzier, who had great need of it.
Before pursuing, I will await your response, please believe me,
Your devoted servant,
In another letter, from the 1st of February 1861, the same Germain Lévesque, son of Germain and Salomée Dionne, gave an account to Rev. Henri Dionne of his business in Madawaska. This confirms that Dionne maintained business relations with Ste-Luce. It is possible that this is the origin of the problems which he knew during his Ministry.
Testament and death of Reverend Henri Dionne
Mr. Dionne finally wrote his last testament on 6 March 1861 before the Notary Morin, in the house of Charles Dery, esquire, where he was supposed to receive his medical treatment, at St-Louis de Kamouraska, of which here are some extracts:
Firstly, give and bequeath to my brothers and sisters, Joseph Dionne, Ubald Dionne, Augustin Dionne, Olympe Dionne, Hortense Dionne, Cyprien Dionne, Salomée Dionne, Zoé Dionne and Julie Dionne, each the sum of forty piasters in cash,
Sixthly, I give and bequeath to Priscille Ouellet, my servant, the sum of 25 louis in cash and the right, during her lifetime, to enjoy the use of and the right of usufruct of a circuit of land or place belonging to me, situated in the parish of Ste-Luce of Madawaska.
Seventhly, I give and bequeath to Josephte Pelletier, my other servant, the sum of 10 louis cash.
No.9024, 6 March 1861
Reverend Henri Dionne died on 14 March 1861, at Kamouraska, at the age of 46 years and six months, of the effects of an unknown illness. He was buried in the parish church of Ste-Anne.
Various testimonies, including that of Mgr. Wilfrid Lebon in his Histoire du Collège de Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, published in 1948, confirm the great quantities of generosity and devotion of the late Henri Dionne. "He left to the Collège of Ste-Anne, over the course of three years, without interest, the sum of 360 louis which he gave after 1852, with the intentoin of giving it to the Collège at the time of his death," one can read. "At the beginning of 1860, tired of the ministry, Mr. Dionne returned to the diocese of Québec to seek peace and rest. He used little of the hospitality offered him by the Collège and put himself, in Kamouraska, under the care of doctor Michaud who had his confidence. Generous to all, he never forgot his alma mater (The monstrance of the chapel is a gift of Mr. Dionne), to which he bequeathed his succession, with the unique charge of having the studies of 3 students continued."
One could prolong the list of witnesses of admiration for the work of Rev. Henri Dionne. We will mention only the eulogy of Mgr. Dugal, historian and former pastor of St-Basile, from 1876 to 1929, in his monograph on the parish of Ste-Luce, now Frenchville Maine. During his two years of vicariat Father Dionne came to be known and appreciated so much by the people of St-Basile and Ste-Luce, as well as by the pastor Langevin. Of a sensitive heart and a cultivated spirit, this young priest knew how to please all and gain universal confidence. Then, in 1860, the venerated, devoted father Henri Dionne, exhausted by the fatigues of a heavy ministry, always carried out with an admirable care and precision (witness his precious parish registers), decided to retire. He chose as the place of rest for his older days the privileged region of his youth, the region of Kamouraska. This priest, endowed with a sweet and affable character, with engaging manners, left and unforgetable memory in the entire Madawaskan country.
[end of Jacque Dionne's article on Henri
This history also clears up something of a small family mystery; my dad, who is from Frenchville, says that his family often used the last name "Belzile" as a negative and insulting term, and had in general a negative opinion of the Belziles. Belzile is a "dit name" , that is, part of a double name, that some people with the last name Gagnon go by (in particular, the descendants of Robert Gagnon and Marie Parenteau, cousin of the three Gagnon brothers who came to New France in the 1630s).
The Prudent Gagnon mentioned above as one of the ring-leaders in the campaign against Father Dionne, is from the Belzile branch of the Gagnon family. Given that Father Dionne was the brother of my grandfather's grandmother (his sister Hortense was my great-great grandmother, wife of Antoine Gagnon, and apparently very close to her brother Henri), and given the degree to which these events must have shaken that small parish, it seems likely that Prudent Gagnon-Belzile's role in them earned his family and descendants the approbation of the family and descendants of Henri Dionne and his siblings in the Frenchville area.
If you have any other information about Father Henri Dionne, I'd love to hear from you, please email me.
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Last revised 16 Jan 2006