By Charles Chiniquy
On the morning of the 25th August, 1842, we blessed and opened the seventh school of Beauport. From that day all the children were to receive as good an education as could be given in any country place of Canada. Those schools had been raised on the ruins of the seven taverns which had so long spread ruin, shame, desolation, and death over that splendid parish. My heart was filled with an unspeakable joy at the sight of the marvelous things which, by the hand of God, had been wrought in such a short time.
At about two p.m. of that never-to-be-forgotten day, after I had said my vespers, and was alone, pacing the alleys of my garden, under the shade of the old maple trees bordering the northern part of that beautiful spot, I was reviewing the struggles and the victories of these last four years: it seemed that everything around me, not only the giant trees which were protecting me from the burning sun, but even the humblest grasses and flowers of my garden, had a voice to tell me, "Bless the Lord for His mercies."
At my feet the majestic St. Lawrence was rolling its deep waters; beyond, the old capital of Canada, Quebec, with its massive citadel, its proud towers, its bristling cannons, its numerous houses and steeples, with their tin roofs reflecting the light of the sun in myriads of rays, formed such a spectacle of fairy beauty as no pen can describe. The fresh breeze from the river, mingled with the perfume of the thousand flowers of my parterre, bathed me in an atmosphere of fragrance. Never yet had I enjoyed life as at that hour. All the sanguine desires of my heart and the holy aspirations of my soul had been more than realized. Peace, harmony, industry, abundance, happiness, religion, and education had come on the heels of temperance, to gladden and cheer the families which God had entrusted to me. The former hard feelings of my ecclesiastical superiors had been changed into sentiments and acts of kindness, much above my merits. With the most sincere feelings of gratitude to God, I said with the old prophet, "Bless the Lord, O my soul."
By the great mercy of God that parish of Beauport, which at first had appeared to me as a bottomless abyss in which I was to perish, had been changed for me into an earthly paradise. There was only one desire in my heart. It was that I never should be removed from it. Like Peter on Mount Tabor, I wanted to pitch my tent in Beauport to the end of my life. But the rebuke which had shamed Peter came as quickly as lightning to show me the folly and vanity of my dreams.
Suddenly the carosse of the Bishop of Quebec came in sight, and rolled down to the door of the parsonage. The sub-secretary, the Rev. Mr. Belisle, alighting from it, directed his steps towards the garden, where he had seen me, and handed me the following letter from the Right Rev. Turgeon, Coadjutor of Quebec:
My Dear Mons. Chiniquy:
His lordship Bishop Signaie and I wish to confer with you on a most important matter. We have sent our carriage to bring you to Quebec. Please come without the least delay.
Truly yours, Flav. Turgeon.
One hour after, I was with the two bishops. My Lord Signaie said:
"Monseigneur Turgeon will tell you why we have sent for you in such haste."
"Mons. Chiniquy," said Bishop Turgeon, "is not Kamouraska your birth-place?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Do you like that place, and do you interest yourself much in its wel-fare?"
"Of course, my lord, I like Kamouraska; not only because it is my birth-place, and the most happy hours of my youth were spent in it, but also because, in my humble opinion, the beauties of its scenery, the purity of its atmosphere, the fine manners and proverbial intelligence of its people, make it the very gem of Canada."
"You know," rejoined the bishop, "that Rev. Mons. Varin has been too infirm, these last years, to superintend the spiritual interest of that important place, it is impossible to continue putting a young vicar at the head of such a parish, where hundreds of the best families of our aristocracy of Quebec and Montreal resort every summer. We have, too long, tried that experiment of young priests in the midst of such a people. It has been a failure. Drunkenness, luxury, and immoralities of the most degrading kind are eating up the very life of Kamouraska to-day. Not less than thirty illegitimate births are known and registered in different places from Kamouraska these last twelve months. It is quite time to stop that state of affairs, and you are the only one, Mons. Chiniquy, on whom we can rely for that great and difficult work."
These last words passed through my soul as a two-edged sword. My lips quivered, I felt as if I were choking, and my tongue, with difficulty muttered: "My lord, I hope it is not your intention to remove me from my dear parish of Beauport."
"No, Mons. Chiniquy, we will not make use of our authority to break the sacred and sweet ties which unite you to the parish of Beauport. But we will put before your conscience the reasons we have to wish you at the head of the great and important parish of Kamouraska."
For more than an hour the two bishops made strong appeals to my charity for the multitudes who were sunk into the abyss of drunkenness and every vice, and had no one to save them.
"See how God and men are blessing you to-day," added the Archbishop Signaie, "for what you have done in Beauport! Will they not bless you still more, if you save that great and splendid parish of Kamouraska, as you have saved Beauport? Will not a double crown be put upon your fore-head by your bishops, your country, and your God, if you consent to be the instrument of the mercies of God towards the people of your own birthplace, and the surrounding country, as you have just been for Beauport and its surrounding parishes? Can you rest and live in peace now in Beauport, when you hear day and night the voice of the multitudes, who cry: 'Come to our help, we are perishing'? What will you answer to God, at the last day, when He will show you the thousands of precious souls lost at Kamouraska, because you refused to go to their rescue? As Monseigneur Turgeon has said, we will not make use of our authority to force you to leave your present position; we hope that the prayers of your bishops will be enough for you. We know what a great sacrifice it will be for you to leave Beauport to-day; but do not forget that the greater the sacrifice, the more precious will the crown be."
My bishops had spoken to me with such kindness! Their paternal and friendly appeals had surely more power over me than orders. Not without many tears, but with a true good will, I consented to give up the prospects of peace and comfort which were in store for me in Beauport, to plunge myself again into a future of endless troubles and warfare, by going to Kamouraska.
There is no need of saying that the people of Beauport did all in their power to induce the bishops to let me remain among them some time longer. But the sacrifice had to be made. I gave my farewell address on the second Sabbath of September, in the midst of indescribable cries, sobs, and tears; and on the 17th of the same month, I was on my way to Kamouraska. I had left everything behind me at Beauport, even to my books, in order to be freer in that formidable conflict which seemed to be in store for me in my new parish. When I took leave of the Bishop of Quebec, they showed me a letter just received by them from Mons. Varin, filled with the most bitter expressions of indignation on account of the choice of such a fanatic and firebrand as Chiniquy, for a place as well known for its peaceful habits and harmony among all classes. The last words of the letter were as follows:
"The clergy and people of Kamouraska and vicinity consider the appointment of Mons. Chiniquy to this parish as an insult, and we hope and pray that your lordship may change your mind on the subject."
In showing me the letter, my lords Signaie and Turgeon said: "We fear that you will have more trouble than we expected with the old curate and his partisans, but we commend you to the grace of God and the protection of the Virgin Mary, remembering that our Saviour has said: 'Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world'" (John xvi. 33).
I arrived at Kamouraska the 21st of September, 1842, on one of the finest days of the year.
But my heart was filled with an unspeakable desolation, for all along the way the curates had told me that the people, with their old pastor, were unanimous in their opposition to my going there. It was even rumoured that the doors of the church would be shut against me the next Sunday. To this bad news were added two very strange facts. My brother Achilles, who was living at St. Michael, was to drive me from that place to St. Roch des Aulnets, whence my other brother Louis, would take me to Kamouraska. But we had not traveled more than five or six miles, when the wheel of the newly-finished and beautifully painted buggy, having struck a stone, the seat was broken into fragments, and we both fell to the ground.
By chance, as my brother was blessing the man who had sold him that rig for a new and first-class conveyance, a traveler going the same way passed by. I asked him for a place in his caleche, bade adieu to my brother, and consoled him by saying: "As you have lost your fine buggy in my service, I will give you a better one."
Two days after, my second brother was driving me to my destination, and when about three or four miles from Kamouraska, his fine horse stepped on a long nail which was on the road, fell down and died in the awful convulsions of tetanus. I took leave of him, and consoled him also by promising to give him another horse.
Another carriage took me safely to the end of my journey. However, having to pass by the church, which was about two hundred yards from the parsonage, I dismissed my driver at the door of the sacred edifice, and took my satchel in hand, which was my only baggage, entered the church, and spent more than an hour in fervent prayers, or rather in cries and tears. I felt so heart-sick that I needed that hour of rest and prayer. The tears I shed there relieved my burdened spirit.
A few steps from me, in the cemetery, lay the sacred remains of my beloved mother, whose angelic face and memory were constantly before me. Facing me was the altar where I had made my first communion; at my left was the pulpit which was to be the battlefield where I had to fight the enemies of my people and of my God, who, I had been repeatedly told, were cursing and grinding their teeth at me. But the vision of that old curate I had soon to confront, and who had written such an impudent letter against me to the bishops, and the public opposition of the surrounding priests to my coming into their midst, were the most discouraging aspects of my new position. I felt as if my soul had been crushed. My very existence seemed an unbearable burden.
My new responsibilities came so vividly before my mind in that distressing hour, that my courage for a moment failed me. I reproached myself for the act of folly in yielding to the request of the bishops. It seemed evident that I had accepted a burden too heavy for me to bear. But I prayed with all the fervour of my soul to God and to the Virgin Mary, and wept to my heart's content.
There is a marvelous power in the prayers and tears which come from the heart. I felt like a new man. I seemed to hear the trumpet of God calling me to the battlefield. My only business then was to go and fight, relying on Him alone for victory. I took my traveling bag, went out of the church and walked slowly towards the parsonage, which has been burnt since. It was a splendid two-storey building, eighty feet in length, with capacious cellars. It had been built shortly after the conquest of Canada, as a store for contraband goods; but after a few years of failure became the parsonage of the parish.
The Rev. Mons. Varin, though infirm and sick, had watched me from his window, and felt bewildered at my entering the church and remaining so long.
I knocked at the first door, but as nobody answered, I opened it, and crossed the first large room to knock at the second door; but, here also, no answer came except from two furious little dogs. I entered the room, fighting the dogs, which bit me several times. I knocked at the third and fourth doors with the same results—no one to receive me.
I knew that the next was the old curate's sleeping room. At my knocking, an angry voice called out: "Walk in."
I entered, made a step toward the old and infirm curate, who was sitting in his large arm-chair. As I was about to salute him, he angrily said: "The people of Beauport have made great efforts to keep you in their midst, but the people of Kamouraska will make as great efforts to turn you out of this place."
"Mon. le Cure," I answered calmly, "God knoweth that I never desired to leave Beauport for this place. But I think it is that great and merciful God who has brought me here by the hand; and I hope He will help me to overcome all opposition, from whatever quarter it may come."
He replied angrily: "Is it to insult me that you call me 'Mons. le Cure?' I am no more the curate of Kamouraska. You are the curate now, Mr. Chiniquy."
"I beg your pardon, my dear Mr. Varin; you are still, I hope you will remain all your life, the honoured and beloved curate of Kamouraska. The respect and gratitude I owe you have caused me to refuse the titles and honours which our bishop wanted to give me."
"But, then, if I am the curate, what are you?" replied the old priest, with more calmness.
"I am nothing but a simple soldier of Christ, and a sower of the good seed of the Gospel!" I answered. "When I fight the common enemy in the plain, as Joshua did, you, like Moses, will stand on the top of the mountain, lift up your hands to heaven, send your prayers to the mercy seat, and we will gain the day. Then both will bless the God of our salvation for the victory."
"Well! well! this is beautiful, grand, and sublime," said the old priest, with a voice filled with friendly emotions. "But whence is your household furniture, your library?"
"My household furniture," I answered, "is in this little bag, which I hold in my hand. I do not want any of my books as long as I have the pleasure and honour to be with the good Mons. Varin, who will allow me, I am sure of it, to ransack his splendid library, and study his rare and learned books."
"But what rooms do you wish to occupy?" rejoined the good old curate.
"As the parsonage is yours and not mine," I answered, "please tell me where you want me to sleep and rest. I will accept, with gratitude, any room you will offer me, even if it were in your cellar or granary. I do not want to bother you in any way. When I was young, a poor orphan in your parish, some twenty years ago, were you not a father to me? Please continue to look upon me as your own child, for I have always loved and considered you as a father, and I still do the same. Were you not my guide and adviser in my first steps in the ways of God? Please continue to be my guide and adviser to the end of your life. My only ambition is to be your right-hand man, and to learn from your old experience and your sincere piety, how to live and work as a good priest of Jesus Christ." I had not finished the last sentence when the old man burst into tears, threw himself into my arms, pressed me to his heart, bathed me with his tears, and said, with a voice half-suffocated by his sobs: "Dear Mr. Chiniquy, forgive me the evil things I have written and said about you. You are welcome in my parsonage, and I bless God to have sent me such a young friend, who will help me to carry the burden of my old age."
I then handed him the bishop's letter, which had confirmed all I had said about my mission of peace towards him.
From that day to his death, which occurred six months after, I never had a more sincere friend than Mr. Varin.
I thanked God, who had enabled me at once, not only to disarm the chief of my opponents, but to transform him into my most sincere and devoted friend. My hope was that the people would soon follow their chief and be reconciled to me, but I did not expect that this would be so soon and from such a unforeseen and unexpected cause.
The principal reason the people had to oppose my coming to Kamouraska was that I was the nephew of the Hon. Amable Dionne, who had made a colossal fortune at their expense. The Rev. Mr. Varin, who was always in debt, was also forced by the circumstances, to buy everything, both for himself and the church, from him, and had to pay without murmur the most exorbitant prices for everything.
In that way, the church and the curate, though they had very large revenues, had never enough to clear their accounts. When the people heard that the nephew of Mons. Dionne was their curate, they said to each other: "Now our poor church is for ever ruined, for the nephew will, still more than the curate, favour his uncle, and the uncle will be less scrupulous than ever in asking more unreasonable prices for his merchandise." They felt they had more than fallen from Charybdis into Scylla.
The very next day after my arrival, the beadle told me that the church needed a few yards of cotton for some repairs, and asked me if he would not go, as usual, to Mr. Dionne's store. I told him to go there first, ask the price of that article, and then go to the other stores, ordering him to buy at the cheapest one. Thirty cents was asked at Mr. Dionne's, and only fifteen cents at Mr. St. Pierre's; of course, we bought at the latter's store.
The day was not over, before this apparently insignificant fact was known all over the parish, and was taking the most extraordinary and unforeseen proportions. Farmers would meet with their neighbours and congratulate themselves that, at last, the yoke imposed upon them by the old curate and Mr. Dionne, was broken; that the taxes they had to pay the store were at an end, with the monopoly which had cost them so much money. Many came to Mr. St. Pierre to hear from his own lips that their new curate had, at once, freed them from what they considered the long and ignominious bondage, against which they had so often but so vainly protested. For the rest of this week this was the only subject of conversation. They congratulated themselves that they had, at last, a priest with such an independent and honest mind, that he would not do them any injustice even to please a relative in whose house he had spent the years of his childhood. This simple act of fair play towards that people won over their affection. Only one little dark spot remained in their minds against me. They had been told that the only subject on which I could preach was: Rum, whiskey, and drunkenness. And it seemed to them exceedingly tedious to hear nothing else from the curate, particularly when they were more than ever determined to continue drinking their social glasses of brandy, rum, and wine.
There was an immense crowd at church, the next Sunday. My text was: "As the Father has love Me, so have I loved you" (John xv. 9). Showing them how Jesus had proved that He was their friend. But their sentiments of piety and pleasure at what they had heard were nothing compared to their surprise when they saw that I preached nearly an hour without saying a word on whiskey, rum or beer. People are often compared to the waters of the sea, in the Holy Scriptures. When you see the roaring waves dashing on that rock to-day, as if they wanted to demolish it, do not fear that this fury will last long. The very next day, if the wind has changed, the same waters will leave that rock alone, to spend their fury on the opposite rock. So it was in Kamouraska. They were full of indignation and wrath when I set my feet in their midst; but a few days later, those very men would have given the last drop of their blood to protect me. The dear Saviour had evidently seen the threatening storm which was to destroy His poor unprofitable servant. He had heard the roaring waves which were dashing against me. So He came down and bid the storm "be still" and the waves be calm.
Two days after my arrival at Kamouraska, I received a letter from the surrounding priests, at the head of whom was the Grand Vicar Mailloux, expressing the hope that I would not try to form any temperance society in my new parish, as I had done in Beauport; for the good reasons they said, that drunkenness was not prevailing in that part of Canada, as it was in the city of Quebec. I answered them, politely, that so long as I should be at the head of this new parish, I would try, as I had ever done, to mind my own business, and I hoped that my neighbouring friends would do the same. Not long after, I saw that the curates felt ashamed of their vain attempt to intimidate me. The next Sabbath, the crowd was greater than at the first. Having heard that the merchants were to start the next day, with their schooners, to buy their winter provisions or rum, I said, in a very solemn way, before my sermon:
"My friends, I know that, to-morrow, the merchants leave for Quebec to purchase their rum. Let me advise them, as their best friend, not to buy any; and as the ambassador of Christ, I forbid them to bring a single drop of those poisonous drinks here. It will surely be their ruin, if they pay no attention to this friendly advice; for they will not sell a single drop of it, after next Sabbath. That day, I will show to the intelligent people of this parish, that rum and all the other drugs, sold here, under the name of brandy, wine, and beer, are nothing else than disgusting, deadly, and cursed poisons."
I then preached on the words of our Saviour: "Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh: (Matt. xxiv. 44). Though the people seemed much pleased and impressed by that second sermon, they felt exceedingly irritated at my few warning words to the merchants. When the service was over, they all rallied around the merchants to tell them not to mind what they had heard.
"If our young curate," said they, "thinks he will lead us by the nose, as he has done with the drunkards of Beauport, he will soon see his mistake. Instead of one hundred tons, as you brought last fall, bring us two hundred, this year; we will drink them to his health. We have a good crop and we want to spend a jolly winter."
It is probable that the church of Kamouraska had never seen within its walls such a crowd as on the second Sabbath of October, 1842. It was literally crammed. Curiosity had attracted the people who, not less eager to hear my first sermon against rum, than to see the failure they expected, and wished, of my first efforts to form a temperance society. Long before the public service, at the door of the church, as well as during the whole preceding week, the people had pledged themselves never to give up their strong drink, and never to join the temperance society. But what are the resolutions of man against God? Is He not their master? The half of that first sermon on temperance was not heard, when that whole multitude had forgotten their public promises. The hearts were not only touched—they were melted and changed by God, who wanted to show, once more, that His works of mercy were above all the works of His hands.
From the very day of my arrival in Kamouraska, I had made a serious and exact inquiry about the untold miseries brought upon the people by intoxicating drinks. I had found that, during the last twenty years, twelve men had been drowned and eight had been frozen to death, who had left twenty widows and sixty orphans in the most distressing poverty. Sixty farmers had lost their lands and had been obliged to emigrate to other places, where they were suffering all the pangs of poverty from the drunkenness of their parents; several other families had their properties mortgaged for their whole value to the rum merchants, and were expected, every day, to be turned out from their inheritances, to pay their rum bills. Seven mothers had died in delirium tremens, one had hung herself, another drowned herself when drunk. One hundred thousand dollars had been paid to the rum merchants during the last fifteen years. Two hundred thousand more were due to the storekeeper; three-fourths of which were for strong drink. Four men had been murdered, among whom was their landlord, Achilles Tache, through their drunken habits!
When I had recapitulated all these facts, which were public and undeniable, and depicted the desolation of the ruined families, composed of their own brothers, sisters, and dear children; when I brought before their minds, the tears of the widows, the cries of the starving and naked children, the shame of the families, the red hand of the murderers and the mangled bodies of their victims; the eternal cries of the lost from drunkenness, the broken-hearted fathers and mothers whose children had been destroyed by strong drink; when I proved to them that there was not a single one in their midst who had not suffered, either in his own person, or in that of his father or mother, brothers, sisters or children—yes, when I had given them the simple and awful story of the crimes committed in their midst; the ruin and deaths, the misery of thousands of precious souls for whom Christ died in vain, the church was filled with such sobs and cries that I often could not be heard. Many times my voice was drowned by the indescribable confusion and lamentation of that whole multitude. Unable to contain myself, several times I stopped and mingled my sobs and cries with those of my people.
When the sermon, which lasted two hours, was finished, I asked all those who were determined to help me in stopping the ravages of intoxicating drinks, in drying the tears which they caused to flow, and saving the precious souls they were destroying, to come forward and take the public pledge of temperance by kissing a crucifix which I held in my hand. Thirteen hundred and ten came. Not fifty of the people had refused to enroll themselves under the blessed and glorious banners of temperance! and these few recalcitrants came forward, with a very few exceptions, the next time I spoke on the subject.
The very same day, the wives of the merchants sent dispatches to their husbands in Quebec, to tell them what had been done, and not a single barrel of intoxicating drinks was brought by them. The generous example of the admirable people of Kamouraska spoke with an irresistible eloquence to the other parishes of that district, and before long, the banners of temperance floated over all the populations of St. Pascal, St. Andrew, Isle Verte, Cacouna, Riviere du Loup, Rimouski, Matane, St. Anne, St. Roch, Madawaska, St. Benoit, St. Luce, ect., on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and the Eboulements, La Malbaye, and the other parishes on the north side of the river; and the people kept their pledge with such fidelity that the trade in rum was literally killed in that part of Canada, as it had been in Beauport and its vicinity.
The blessed fruits of this reform were soon felt and seen everywhere, in the public prosperity and the spread of education. Kamouraska, which was owing two hundred thousand dollars to the merchants in 1842, had not only paid its interest, but had reduced its debt to one hundred thousand, when I left it to go to Montreal in 1846. God only knows my joy at these admirable manifestations of His mercies towards my country. However, the joys of man are never without their mixture of sadness.
In the good providence of God, being invited by all the curates to establish temperance societies among their people, I had the sad opportunity, as no priest ever had in Canada, to know the secret and public scandals of each parish. When I went to the Eboulements, on the north side of the river, invited by the Rev. Noel Toussignant, I learned from the very lips of that young priest, and the ex-priest Tetreau, the history of the most shameful scandals.
In 1830, a young priest of Quebec, called Derome, had fallen in love with one of his young female penitents of Vercheres, where he had preached a few days, and he had persuaded her to follow him to the parsonage of Quebec. The better to conceal their iniquity from the public, he persuaded his victim to dress herself as a young man, and throw her dress into the river, to make her parents and the whole parish believe that she was drowned. I had seen her many times at the parsonage of Quebec, under the name of Joseph, and had much admired her refined manners, though more than once I was very much inclined to think that the smart Joseph was no one else than a lost girl. But the respect I had for the curate of Quebec (who was the coadjutor of the bishop) and his young vicars, caused me to reject those suspicions as unfounded. However many even among the first citizens of the city had the same suspicions, and they pressed me to go to the coadjutor and warn him; but I refused, and told those gentlemen to do that delicate work themselves, and they did it.
The position of that high dignitary and his vicar was not then a very agreeable one. Their bark had evidently drifted into dangerous waters. To keep Joseph among themselves was impossible, after the friendly advice from such high quarters, and to dismiss him was not less dangerous. He knew too well how the curate of Quebec, with his vicars, were keeping their vows of celibacy, to dismiss him without danger to themselves; a single word from his lips would destroy them. Happily for them, Mr. Clement, then curate of the Eboulements, was in search of such a servant, and took him to his parsonage, after persuading the bishop-coadjutor to give Joseph a large sum of money to seal his lips.
Things went on pretty smoothly between Joseph and the priest for several years, till some suspicions arose in the minds of the sharp-sighted people of the parish, who told the curate that it would be safer and more honourable for him to get rid of his servant. In order to put an end to those suspicions, and to retain him in the parsonage, the curate persuaded him to marry the daughter of a poor neighbour.
The banns were published three times, and the two girls were duly married by the curate, who continued his criminal intimacies, in the hope that no one would trouble him any more on that subject. But not long after he was removed to La Petite Riviere, and in 1838 the Rev. M. Tetreau was appointed curate of the Eboulements. This new priest, knowing of the abominations which his predecessor had practiced, continued to employ Joseph. One day, when Joseph was working at the gate of the parsonage, in the presence of several people, a stranger came and asked him if Mr. Tetreau was at home.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Curate is at home," answered Joseph; "but as you seem a stranger to the place, would you allow me to ask you from what parish you come?"
"I am not ashamed of my parish," answered the stranger. "I come from Vercheres."
At the word "Vercheres," Joseph turned so pale that the stranger was puzzled. He looked carefully at him, and exclaimed:
"Oh! my God! What do I see here? Genevieve! Genevieve! over whom we have mourned so long as drowned! Here you are disguised as a man!"
"Dear uncle" (it was her uncle); "for God's sake, not a word more here!"
But it was too late; the people who were there had heard the uncle and the niece. Their long and secret suspicions were well-founded. One of their former priests had kept a girl, under the disguise of a man, in his house; and to blind his people more thoroughly, he had married that girl to another, in order to have them both in his house when he pleased, without awakening any suspicion!
The news went, almost as quickly as lightning, from one end to the other of the parish, and spread all over the country, on both sides of the St. Lawrence. I had heard of that horror, but could not believe it. However, I had to believe it, when, on the spot, I heard from the lips of the ex-curate, M. Tetreau, and the new curate, M. Noel Toussignant, and from the lips of the landlord, the Honourable Laterriere, the following details, which had come to light only a short time before.
The justice of the peace had investigated the matter, in the name of public morality. Joseph was brought before the magistrates, who decided that a physician should be charged to make, not a post-mortem, but an ante-mortem inquest. The Honourable Laterriere, who made the inquest, declared that Joseph was a girl, and the bonds of marriage were legally dissolved.
At the same time, the curate M. Tetreau, had sent a dispatch to the Right Rev. Bishop-coadjutor of Quebec, informing him that the young man whom he had kept in his house, several years, was legally proved a girl; a fact which, I need hardly state, was well-known by the bishop and his vicars! They immediately sent a trustworthy man with $500, to induce the girl to leave the country without delay, lest she should be prosecuted and sent to the penitentiary. She accepted the offer, and crossed the lines to the United States with her two thousand dollars, where she was soon married, and where she still lives.
I wished that this story had never been told me, or at least, that I might be allowed to doubt some of its circumstances; but there was no help. I was forced to acknowledge that in my Church of Rome, there was such corruption from head to foot, which could scarcely be surpassed in Sodom. I remember what the Rev. Mr. Perras had told me of the tears and desolation of Bishop Plessis, when he had discovered that all the priests of Canada, with the exception of three, were atheists.
I should not be honest, did I not confess that the personal knowledge of that fact, which I learned in all its scandalous details from the very lips of unimpeachable witnesses, saddened me, and for a time, shook my faith in my religion, to its foundation. I felt secretly ashamed to belong to a body of men so completely lost to every sense of honesty, as the priests and bishops of Canada. I had heard of many scandals before. The infamies of the Grand Vicar Manceau and Quiblier of Montreal, Cadieux at Three Rivers, and Viau at Riviere Oulle; the public acts of depravity of the priests Lelievre, Tabeau, Pouliot, Belisle, Brunet, Quevillon, Huot, Lajuste, Rabby, Crevier, Bellecourt, Valle, Nignault, Noel, Pinet, Duguez, Davely and many others, were known by me, as well as by the whole clergy. But the abominations of which Joseph was the victim seemed to overstep the conceivable limits of infamy. For the first time, I sincerely regretted that I was a priest. The priesthood of Rome seemed then, to me, the very fulfillment of the prophecy of Revelation, about the great prostitute who made the nations drunk with wine of her prostitution (Rev. xvii. 1 - 5).
Auricular confession, which I knew to be the first, if not the only cause, of these abominations, appeared to me, what it really is, a school of perdition for the priest and his female penitents. The priest's oath of celibacy was, to my eyes, in those hours of distress, but a shameful mask to conceal a corruption which was unknown in the most depraved days of old paganism. New and bright lights came, then, before my mind which, had I followed them, would have guided me to the truth of the gospel. But I was blind! The Good Master had not yet touched my eyes with His divine and life-giving hand. I had no idea that there could be any other church than the Church of Rome in which I could be saved. I was, however, often saying to myself: "How can I hope to conquer on a battlefield where so many, as strong and even much stronger than I am, have perished?"
I felt no longer at peace. My soul was filled with trouble and anxiety. I not only distrusted myself, but I lost confidence in the rest of the priests and bishops. In fact, I could not see any one in whom I could trust. Though my beautiful and dear parish of Kamouraska was, more than ever, overwhelming me with tokens of its affection, gratitude, and respect, it had lost its attraction for me. To whatever side I turned my eyes, I saw nothing but the most seducing examples of perversion.It seemed as if I were surrounded by numberless snares, from which it was impossible to escape. I wished to depart from this deceitful and lost world.
When my soul was as drowned under the waves of a bitter sea, the Rev. Mr. Guignes, Superior of the Monastery of the Fathers of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, at Longueil, near Montreal, came to pass a few days with me, for the benefit of his health. I spoke to him of that shameful scandal, and did not conceal from him that my courage failed me, when I looked at the torrent of iniquity which was sweeping everything, under our eyes, with an irresistible force. "We are here alone, in the presence of God," I said to him. "I confess that I feel an unspeakable horror at the moral ruin which I see everywhere in our church. My priesthood, of which I was so proud till lately, seems to me, to-day, the most ignominious yoke, when I see it dragged in the mud of the most infamous vices, not only by the immense majority of the priests, but even by our bishops. How can I hope to save myself, when I see so many, stronger than I am, perishing all around me?"
The Reverend Superior, with the kindness of a father and becoming gravity, answered me: "I understand your fears, perfectly. They are legitimate and too well-founded. Like you, I am a priest; and like you, if not more than you, I know the numberless and formidable dangers which surround the priest. It is because I know them too well, that I have not dared to be a secular priest a single day. I knew the humiliating and disgraceful history of Joseph and the coadjutor Bishop of Quebec. Nay! I know many things still more horrible and unspeakable which I have learned when preaching and hearing confessions in France and in Canada. My fear is that, to-day, there are not many more undefiled souls among the priests than in Sodom, in the days of Lot. The fact is, that it is morally impossible for a secular priest to keep his vows of celibacy, except by a miracle of the grace of God. Our holy church would be a modern Sodom long ago, had not our merciful God granted her the grace that many of her priests have always enrolled themselves among the armies of the regular priests in the different religious orders which are, to the church, what the ark was to Noah and his children in the days of the deluge. Only the priests whom God calls, in His mercy, to become members of any of those orders, are safe. For they are under the paternal care and surveillance of superiors whose zeal and charity are like a shield to protect them. Their holy and strict laws are like strong walls and high towers which the enemy cannot storm."
He then spoke to me, with an irresistible eloquence, of the peace of soul which a regular priest enjoys within the walls of his monastery. He represented, in the most attractive colours, the spiritual and constant joys of the heart which one feels when living, day and night, under the eyes of a superior to whom he has vowed a perfect submission. He added, "Your providential work is finished in the diocese of Quebec. The temperance societies are established almost everywhere. We are in need of your long experience and your profound studies on that subject in the diocese of Montreal. It is true that the good Bishop de Nancy had done what he could to support that holy cause, but, though he is working with the utmost zeal, he has not studies that subject enough to make a lasting impression on the people. Come with us. We are more than thirty priests, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who will be too happy to second your efforts in that noble work, which is too much for one man alone. Moreover, you cannot do justice to your great parish of Kamouraska and to the temperance cause together. You must give up one, to consecrate yourself to the other. Take courage, my young friend! Offer to God the sacrifice of your dear Kamouraska, as you made the sacrifice of your beautiful Beauport, some years ago, for the good of Canada and in the interest of the Church, which calls you to its help."
It seemed to me that I could oppose no reasonable argument to these considerations. I fell on my knees, and made the sacrifice of my beautiful and precious Kamouraska. The last Sabbath of September I gave my farewell address to the dear and intelligent people of Kamouraska, to go to Longueil and become a novice of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. 50year15.htm