PANET, JACQUES, Roman Catholic priest; b. 14 Feb. 1754 at Quebec, son of Jean-Claude Panet*, a notary, and Marie-Louise Barolet; d. 23 May 1834 in L’Islet, Lower Canada, and was buried under the step of the high altar in the parish church.
Like his brother Bernard-Claude, Jacques Panet chose to become a priest. He was ordained by Bishop Jean-Olivier Briand* on 29 May 1779 and in October was named parish priest of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours at L’Islet, which he served until his retirement on 7 Oct. 1829. To be priest of the same parish for 50 years might well suggest an unusual career as an ecclesiastic. This irremovable curé had in fact refused a new appointment to Saint-Thomas (at Montmagny) in 1798. Twenty years later his parishioners at L’Islet presented Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis with a demand that he be moved, maintaining that he was no longer capable of doing his job. The bishop assigned a curate to the controversial incumbent. Almost immediately Panet began quarrelling with his assistant, and dismissed him. Despite offers from the bishop and grumbling from the parishioners, Panet remained in office.
Panet certainly had more bookish education than most people. In 1810 his library contained 150 volumes. His sermons and correspondence give proof of his exceptional knowledge of theological, moral, and legal matters. The other side of this eccentric figure was not so engaging. He not only failed to get along with his curate, but also was often on bad terms with his flock, when he was not quarrelling with his bishop. On one occasion Plessis reproached him for not always having scrupulously respected the requirements of civil law concerning the consent of parents or guardians to the marriage of minors. Another time, Panet’s strict interpretation of the canonical condemnation of lending at interest prompted him to question the law. Referring to the permissibility of usury under civil law he declared, “As for obviously unjust laws, there is no power capable of making me respect them, though it had me burned or chopped up alive like minced meat.” The legal grounds he found for his opinions are wonderfully elucidated in a discussion he had with Plessis about tithes.
Since he had charge of a densely populated parish, Panet had a large income. Every year he hired a sailing ship to take the product of his tithes to Quebec for sale. When potato growing was on the rise and the wheat crop decreased, he sent Plessis two long treatises to convince him that in his parish the tithe applied to potatoes. He was prepared to state under oath that Bishop Briand had reached a decision favourable to him on the matter. And what if his parishioners planted potatoes as a way to avoid the tithe? A refusal to support his claims would force him to institute legal proceedings. Plessis reminded his correspondent that the courts had dismissed a suit brought by the parish priest of Saint-Philippe-de-Laprairie for the same claim in 1809. A contestation of tithes in 1817, which originated among the people, received the bishop’s support; in a letter of 27 Jan. 1818 Plessis told Panet, “Your incumbent churchwarden has asked me if he had to pay the tithe on potatoes; I have replied that he does not.”
Whether through mystical ecstasy or a whim, a few days after this reply from Plessis, Panet informed him that he had been “electrified for many years” by the Holy Trinity. In a letter dated 8 Jan. 1825 Panet stated explicitly that he had been “electrified for eighteen years, nine months, and two days.” He noted in his diary that he considered himself “exhausted by the work of the holy ministry and much more still by the adoration that I am even obliged to render often every day and even every night . . . to the eternal Trinity.” There is every reason to believe he was in the grip of a phantasm born of a desire to escape from the traumatizing constraints of reality. Panet first reported his supernatural secrets following the disputes about tithes and the parishioners’ request at the same time for his recall. In his diary he laid emphasis on his mystical ecstasies in the middle of an argument designed to refute those who had accused him of lining his own pockets. Panet explained that all his life he had deprived himself in order to distribute what he possessed to the poor, to relatives, and to the fabrique. He mentioned specifically that while parish priest he had given the fabrique some 3,000 livres, not to mention the consecrated vessels in gold that he had bequeathed to the parish – a chalice, ciborium, and monstrance executed by François Ranvoyzé* and paid for from 1810 to 1812 out of his own money. The old, retired priest was upset that he was known as stingy and was shocked that “priests who are rich and Catholic buy gold watches, gold snuff-boxes,” but not consecrated vessels fashioned from the precious metal.
The Panet rock, rising out of the St Lawrence off L’Islet, recalls the name of Jacques Panet; it is there that he is said to have exorcised a young girl guilty of having sold her soul to the devil.
AAQ, 210 A. ANQ-Q, CE2-3, 26 mai 1834; P-197. Arch. de l’évêché de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière, Qué.), L’Islet, I. Allaire, Dictionnaire, vol.1. P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, 2: 112–14. Léon Bélanger, L’Islet, 1677–1977 (s.l., 1977). Fernand Ouellet, Éléments d’histoire sociale du Bas-Canada (Montréal, 1972). P.-G. Roy, La famille Panet (Lévis, Qué., 1906), 30–31. Léon Trépanier, On veut savoir (4v., Montréal, 1960–62), 1: 92–94.