LA COLOMBIÈRE, JOSEPH DE, priest, canon, vicar general, archdeacon, ecclesiastical councillor on the Conseil Supérieur, precentor; b. 1651 at Vienne (province of Dauphiné), son of Bertrand de La Colombière, a magistrate, and Marguerite Coindat; d. 18 July 1723 at Quebec.
Joseph, who has been incorrectly called Serré de La Colombière or La Colombière-Serré, was the younger brother of the Jesuit Claude de La Colombière, who was famous for his preaching of the devotion to the Sacred Heart and who was to be beatified in 1929. Joseph had been a lawyer for five or six years when he joined the Sulpicians. Shortly after receiving the priesthood he left for New France and arrived in the colony on 21 July 1682. He was highly recommended by his superior in Paris, M. Tronson, and was considered by him as a possible replacement for Dollier de Casson, with whom he went to work at Montreal.
At first he carried out his ministry there to everyone’s satisfaction and was confessor for the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu and the Congrégation de Notre-Dame. In addition, he quickly acquired renown as a sacred orator. In 1690, when he was chaplain to the troops from Montreal who had gone to aid the inhabitants of Quebec during its siege by Phips*, La Colombière preached a sermon as part of the ceremony of thanksgiving for the victory. In the presence of Buade* de Frontenac and the assembled military forces he was not afraid to attribute all the credit for the defeat of the English exclusively to the Virgin. The following year he was recalled to France for having supported the cause of Sister Tardy, a visionary whose influence was a menace to authority in the different religious communities in Montreal.
La Colombière landed in France in the middle of July 1691, along with Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix]. Despairing of ever obtaining permission to return to New France, he left Saint-Sulpice to go to live in the seminary of the Missions Étrangères. The bishop brought him back to Quebec on 9 Aug. 1692, against Tronson’s advice.
It was not long before the former Sulpician fell a victim to the quarrelsome prelate. In December the procedure of his elevation to the canonry was the subject of a serious difference between the bishop and the chapter of Quebec. According to Bishop Laval, M. de Merlac*, precentor of the chapter, was trying to destroy Bishop Saint-Vallier’s confidence in La Colombière. The latter, for his part, was writing to various religious and civil authorities about the crisis that the church was going through in Canada, a crisis that frightened him, he said, much more than did the Iroquois. He laid the blame for this crisis mainly on Laval’s successor and demanded Bishop Saint-Vallier’s resignation, as much for the bishop’s own spiritual welfare as for the sake of the colony. Bishop Laval said that providence wanted to use La Colombière “to defend the truth”; he added that “he has an upright and sincere heart and acts in all things with much prudence and truly in the spirit of God; and it seems as if he were sent here this year for the sole purpose of perceiving clearly the evil spirit by which the bishop of Quebec is impelled and animated. . . .”
Saint-Vallier was not long, however, in regaining his esteem for La Colombière, since in 1694 he made him the ecclesiastical superior of the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec. In addition, on 2 May 1698 he appointed him vicar general, and on the following 14 August archdeacon of the chapter of Quebec, offices which were to be especially heavy during Bishop Saint-Vallier’s absence from 1700 till 1713. On 16 June 1703 the bishop added to these offices that of ecclesiastical councillor of the Conseil Supérieur of New France, a position which, unfortunately for the holder’s disastrous financial situation, did not entail any remuneration. But in 1709, being dissatisfied with the manner in which La Colombière was carrying out his duties as confessor to the Nuns Hospitallers of the Hôtel-Dieu, Bishop Saint-Vallier relieved him of these duties. La Colombière was definitively restored to favour five years later, and on 11 Jan. 1722 he was promoted to be precentor of the chapter of Quebec. This was the last dignity he achieved.
On 18 July 1723, after being paralyzed for a few days, La Colombière died at the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec, where he had been living for some years. Although he had been reconciled with the Sulpicians, he had never been able to obtain his readmission among them, which had not prevented the authorities of the order from favouring his appointment to the office of superior of the Charon Brothers [see François Charon de La Barre], whose work the archdeacon had at heart. He left behind him the memory of an eloquent, cordial man, devoted, modest, charitable, disinterested, and much attached to the worship of the Virgin Mary. He had even been thought of at one time as the coadjutor to Bishop Saint-Vallier. Bishop Laval (whose funeral sermon he later pronounced), the seminary of the Missions Étrangères, and the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec in particular extolled his merits. Pontchartrain for his part said of La Colombière in 1710: “He is a fine person, who is labouring in New France with good results, through the purity of his morals and through his preachings.”
What, however, perhaps distinguishes him even more is that, in the troubled period in which he lived, people counted on him “to handle matters gently.”
ASQ, Chapitre, 69, 101, 139a; Lettres, M, 12, 13, 37, 7f.; 38, 36–38; N, 99, 101, 10; 102, 4; 129, 5; O, 12, 7; 45, 48; R, 6; Paroisse de Quebec, 3a, 33; Polygraphie, XVIII, 54. Caron, “Inventaire de documents,” APQ Rapport, 1939-40; 1940-41. Juchereau, Annales (Jamet). Jug. et délib., V, VI. Taillemite, Inventaire analytique, série B, I.
Casgrain, Histoire de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. [É.-M. Faillon], Vie de la Sœur Bourgeoys, fondatrice de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Villemarie en Canada, suivie de l’histoire de cet institut jusqu’à ce jour (2v., Ville-Marie [Montréal], 1853), I, 378–96. Gosselin, L’Église du Canada, II. Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier et l’Hôpital Général de Québec. Ernest Myrand, M. de la Colombière, orateur: historique d’un sermon célèbre prononcé à Notre-Dame de Québec, le 5 novembre 1690, à l’occasion de la levée du siège de cette ville . . . , suivi des relations officielles de Frontenac, Monseignat et Juchereau de Saint-Ignace . . . (Montréal, 1898). Les Ursulines de Québec (1866–78), II, 27–29. Amédée Gosselin, “Essai de biographie de l’abbé Joseph de La Colombière,” RSCT, 3d ser., XXIX (1935), sect.i, 87–108. Alfred Rambaud, “La vie orageuse et douloureuse de Mgr de Saint-Vallier,” RUL, IX (1954), 96.