Early Missionaries of Madawaska Territory


Prior to the arrival of Acadians in the upper St.John River valley, French missionaries consciously worked to convert the Maliseets and other first nations in the Maritimes region to Roman Catholicism.

The Bishop of Québec, Joseph-Octave Plessis, noted that the Maliseets living at Madawaska had requested Father Adrien Leclerc of L'Isle Verte to visit them once a year. Beginning in 1786, Leclerc spent several weeks each summer with them, as did his successor, Joseph Pâquet. Maliseets from other villages would come to Madawaska at these times.

Plessis notes, however, that as more and more Acadians and Canadians established themselves around the Maliseet village at Madawaska, the Maliseet moved away:

The curés of Saint-André (Kamouraska), Monseigneurs Amiot, Vézina, Dorval, who were charged, after the priests from L'Isle Verte, with serving this mission, ended up no longer finding any Indians, but rather French who already numbered 24 families in 1792, when they addressed the Bishop of Quebec for permission to build a chapel. [Plessis, p.124]

Indeed, it appears that the Church was purposely encouraging the Maliseet to settle down in Tobique.  John Jennings, in his history of the Catholic Church in New Brunswick, notes that Father François Ciquard, assigned to the mission from 1794 to 1798, wrote to the Bishop of Québec:

Ciquard reported his effort to deal with two difficulties associated with the Maliseet missions, the mobility of the population and the effects of alcohol.  Father Ciquard's approach was to try to settle the Maliseet at Tobique and insist that he would serve them only there or at Madawaska.

Ciquard reported that shortly after his arrival in the colony, he had discussed the question of the settlement of the Maliseets with the governor in Fredericton, Thomas Carleton.  He indicated that both he and the governor were in agreement that it was best that the Natives be given land at Tobique where they could take up agriculture and be protected from alcohol.  This would then be the focus of the missionary's service to them, although he would still have some traveling for special purposes and to serve the settlements of French Catholics.  This cooperatoin with the British officials extended even to financial support, for the colonial authorities paid a stipend to the missionary serving the Natievs in the St.John River Valley.  For Ciquard, this stipend was £50... [Jennings, p.127]

Thus the first missionaries in the valley were serving the Maliseet population.   But the Acadians, who were Roman Catholics, also relied on the services of these missionaries. And as Plessis noted above, as the native population dwindled, the Acadian and Canadian population grew, thus providing more demand for the missionaries' services.  These were missionaries not in the sense that they were sent to convert people; rather, they were sent to watch over and tend to the religious needs of the Catholic population in an area that did not have its own established parish infrastructure.

Below is a list of the early missionary priests who were responsible for the Madawaska settlements, the dates of their tenure, and their home parishes. As you can see, they all came from either L'Isle Verte or Kamouraska, both of which were the major sources of settlers from Québec in the Valley. With the establishment of St. Basile parish (St-Basile-le-Grand) in about 1804, and especially after 1807, the priests were resident at (assigned permanently to) St. Basile.

At first the parish of St. Basile included the entire upper St. John Valley. In 1838 St. Bruno was formed into a separate parish; the church of St. Bruno had already existed for a number of years before that (before 1831), but with priests residing at St. Basile. Likewise, Ste-Luce in Frenchville had had a church or chapel for many years before it was set aside as its own parish, with the coming of Father Henri Dionne in August 1843. The dividing line between St. Basile and Ste. Luce parishes was however set much before this; by 1831, in their report on the Madawaska settlements, Deane and Kavanagh note that the dividing line between these two parishes was "Harford Brook" (now, probably, Three Mile Brook, in N.B.)

Adrien Leclerc, curé of L'Isle Verte, Témiscouata County, Québec 1786-1790
Joseph Pacquet, curé de L'Isle Verte 1791-1795
François Ciquard, Sulpcian, residing at St. Basil and at Isle Verte 1794-1798
Amiot, curé of St. André Church, Kamouraska, Québec 1799
Vazina, curé of St. André Church, Kamouraska 1800-1802
Dorval, curé of St. André Church, Kamouraska 1803-1804
Charles Hott, resident at St. Basil 1804-1806
Amiot, curé of St. André, Kamouraska, returns 1807-1808
Jean-Baptiste Kelly, resident at St. Basil 1808-1810
Louis Raby, resident at St. Basil 1810 - Oct. 1813
Louis Marcoux, resident at St. Basile Nov. 1813 - Aug. 1818
André Lagarde, resident at St. Basile Sep. 1818 - Aug. 1821
Michel Ringuette, resident at St. Basile Nov. 1821 - Aug. 1826
Jean Élie Sirois, resident at St. Basile Oct. 1826 - Aug. 1831
Romuald Mercier, resident at St. Basile Oct. 1831 - Sep. 1835
Antoine Langevin, resident at St. Basile Oct. 1835 - Apr. 1857

Source: "Report of Messrs. Deane and Kavanagh," edited by W.O. Raymond, in Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society, no.9 (1914), p.454 (footnote).

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Last revised 2 Oct 2004
©2004 C.Gagnon