QUIBLIER, JOSEPH-VINCENT (baptized Josephe and often referred to simply as Joseph), Roman Catholic priest, Sulpician, and educator; b. 26 June 1796 in Colombier, France, son of Jean Quiblier, a day-labourer, and Catherine Quiblier; d. 12 Sept. 1852 at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France.
Little is known about Joseph-Vincent Quiblier’s early years. After a classical education, he studied theology from 1816 to 1819 at the Séminaire Saint-Irénée in Lyons, which was run by the Sulpicians. He was ordained priest at Grenoble on 7 March 1819; that year he ministered as curate in a parish at Montbrison, in the department of the Loire, and then for nearly six years held a similar charge at Notre-Dame in Saint-Étienne. In the summer of 1825 Quiblier broke off his pastoral career and left France in haste without having undergone the spiritual training usual with the Sulpicians; the reasons for this radical switch are unknown.
In September 1825 Quiblier arrived at Montreal with a young theology student named Joseph-Alexandre Baile*. It was probably to help Quiblier integrate himself into Sulpician and Montreal life, as well as to meet the urgent need of replacing Antoine-Jacques Houdet*, whose health had suddenly deteriorated, that he was immediately appointed professor of philosophy and natural sciences at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal. Although he was young, inexperienced, and largely untrained, he did have access to the detailed lecture notes of his predecessor. He was appointed director of the Petit Séminaire in August 1828 but continued to work until 1830 within the group of full-time professors; he later encouraged the publication of their lecture notes as textbooks. His appointment came at the time when the superior of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal, Jean-Henry-Auguste Roux*, was returning from London after negotiating an agreement with the British authorities about the problem of the seigneurial rights of the institution. The agreement, which provided for the seminary to cede its rights of lods et ventes to the government of Lower Canada in return for an annuity, precipitated an acute internal conflict between the French Sulpicians, who supported it, and the French Canadian Sulpicians, who opposed it. In this context, Quiblier’s rapid rise to the office of director testifies to the confidence he had inspired among the French members of the seminary, who were in the majority; he would quickly become the key person among them because of his dominant personality and his youth. He shared this group’s royalist leanings as far as the state was concerned, and its gallican tendency as to the position of the church (and of the seminary); this fact closely linked the fate of the seminary to decisions of the British government and explains the endemic opposition of the institution to the rival episcopal power of Jean-Jacques Lartigue*, the auxiliary bishop in Montreal to the archbishop of Quebec.
Quiblier succeeded Jacques-Guillaume Roque* as vice-superior of the seminary in August 1830. Bernard-Claude Panet*, the archbishop of Quebec, recognized Quiblier as such, but refused to accord him the dignity of vicar general or to acknowledge that he had an automatic right to the cure of Notre-Dame in Montreal before the Holy See, to which the seminary had appealed, decided who the titular priest was. In 1831 Panet, Lartigue, and Quiblier had a unique opportunity to build a common front against the bill on fabriques, by which the Patriote party wanted to throw parish deliberations open to all landed proprietors [see Louis Bourdages*]. But the internal ecclesiastical quarrel evidently overrode the general interest of the clerical group. Quiblier’s offer to publish an important work by Roux on the question of the right of the fabriques came to nothing in the end. He had wanted to assert the autonomy of the seminary by publishing the work on its own authority, whereas Panet and more particularly Lartigue insisted on approving and amending it in advance of publication.
Roux, having suffered increasing infirmity and the deterioration of his faculties, died in April 1831, and Quiblier thus became superior. The quarrel over his powers and those of the bishops then continued in various ways. It was brought out into the open with the furore over the appointment of the coadjutor to the archbishop of Quebec. The seminary promoted its own candidate, Jean-Baptiste Saint-Germain*, a priest dedicated to its interests, and not the archbishop of Quebec’s candidate, Pierre-Flavien Turgeon*. After Panet died in February 1833, the choice of Turgeon by the new archbishop of Quebec, Joseph Signay*, and its immediate confirmation by London were interpreted as acts hostile to the seminary’s interests. Consequently it resorted to secret manœuvres at the Holy See, using its agent, Jean-Baptiste Thavenet*, to get the nomination process reversed in Rome. Warned in April of Thavenet’s intrigues and of the small likelihood that his cause would succeed, Signay waited until August before broaching the nub of the matter with Quiblier. He then asked Quiblier to allow him to silence the rumours that Saint-Sulpice – still seen as a group of foreigners – wanted to halt the normal process of episcopal appointment in Lower Canada. As far as the archbishop of Quebec was concerned, the seminary must disavow publicly every single step taken in Rome by Thavenet. From then on Quiblier resorted to mental reservations in his dealings with Signay, giving only vague answers to questions. But, finally backed against the wall by Signay’s repeated demands, Quiblier got all the members of the seminary to sign a formal disavowal of having taken part directly or indirectly in the intrigues against the issuing of the papal bulls for Bishop Turgeon. This approach allowed him to plead the persistent reluctance of some members of the seminary to give their signature, a reluctance he justified by resorting to the ordinary rules of canon law, and of the constitutions of the Society of Saint-Sulpice, with which Signay was unfamiliar.
Beginning in October 1833 the Lower Canadian newspapers had taken up the whole affair, interpreting it as a sign of hostility to French Canadians on the part of the seminary, whose refusal to repudiate the accusations being spread by the papers now constituted, even in Signay’s eyes, an admission of guilt. But, in the light of the seminary’s participation in the intrigue, Quiblier could only take refuge in the decision awaited from Rome and the respect owed to the supreme authority of the Holy See. Ultimately it was Signay who put an end to what was probably one of the worst cases of tension between the seminary and the archbishop. At the beginning of 1834 he described his attitude as that of a protector of the seminary against public opinion. He thought it regrettable that the seminary’s refusal to comply with his request for a public statement had deprived him of an important means of counter-attack. He had to content himself with the rather ambiguous disavowal by the Conseil des Douze, the governing body of the seminary, and now regarded the matter as closed. In March, Rome granted Signay the victory when it issued the bulls for Bishop Turgeon. It was a major defeat for Quiblier’s diplomacy in Rome. He now had to heal the wounds caused by the open dissension among the clergy.
The winter of 1834–35 marked a turning-point in Quiblier’s relations with the episcopacy. Bishop Lartigue had conveyed to him that he was favourably disposed towards the seminary. He wanted to have a Sulpician succeed him as bishop of Telmesse so the two institutions could support each other. To link the seminary with the episcopate, he was even ready to accept Quiblier’s proposal for a successor, Jean-Baptiste Roupe, a less independent man than his own choice, Nicolas Dufresne*. Thus nearly 15 years after Lartigue had assumed episcopal office at Montreal, the superior of the Sulpicians and the bishop would reach an agreement. The celebration at Notre-Dame on 24 Sept. 1835 of Roque’s jubilee as a priest was the occasion for publicly manifesting the reconciliation. A few days later Quiblier acknowledged that the erection of an episcopal see at Montreal depended on his intervention, and stated that Lartigue would be its first incumbent. With Lartigue’s consent he drafted a petition to the Holy See and a letter to the archbishop of Quebec, which he signed and had all the members of the seminary and parish priests of the district of Montreal sign; he also informed Rome of the step taken by the Montreal clergy. In March 1836 Quiblier learned that Rome had reached favourable decisions: the district of Montreal was to be erected into a diocese; Bishop Lartigue would hold the see; subsequently a coadjutor acceptable to the bishop and the seminary would be appointed. After Lartigue’s solemn enthronement in the cathedral on 8 September, the new bishop of Montreal lacked only the civil recognition that would incorporate the diocese and accord it the power to acquire and own landed property. Here again it seems that Quiblier interceded effectively, this time with the governor-in-chief of British North America, Lord Gosford [Acheson*], and later with his successor, Sir John Colborne*, as well as with the attorney general of Lower Canada, Charles Richard Ogden*.
In 1836 the seminary still did not have any formal recognition clarifying the nature of its seigneurial property rights. The sharp reaction of the French Canadian Sulpicians and the episcopate, who saw in the agreement negotiated by Roux in October 1827 the veritable spoliation of a Canadian patrimony, had prevented both the British government and the seminary from implementing it. In the spring of 1832 Archbishop Panet remained afraid that Quiblier would give in to pressure from Britain, and the superior’s evasive replies did not reassure him. Yet the archbishop of Quebec was being prevailed upon by Rome to facilitate the arrangements already sketched out, and to promote an agreement on the part of the Sulpicians to alienate their property rights in return for government provision of other landed property as compensation. At the beginning of 1834 some members of the Lower Canadian House of Assembly took the initiative of drawing up a bill authorizing the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice at Montreal to come to terms with those of its censitaires in the city who wanted to convert the rights of lods et ventes into freehold tenure. Quiblier showed great interest in this solution, which might obtain unanimous support, satisfy the citizens of Montreal, and rule out any excuse for later settlements.
It took the social and political upheaval occasioned by the rebellion of 1837–38 to make the British government decide on this course of action. The loyal conduct of Quiblier and the seminary at this period certainly helped clear the way. As early as 1832 Quiblier, who was aware that it was in the seminary’s interest to display the strictest loyalty, had encouraged Pierre-Édouard Leclère*, the chief of police in Montreal, and John Jones, the king’s printer, to launch L’Ami du peuple, de l’ordre et des lois. Under Quiblier’s unofficial guidance the newspaper was to defend “the true interests” of Lower Canada, advocating obedience to the law and the respect due to legitimate authority [see Alfred-Xavier Rambau]. This loyalty would inevitably arouse the Patriotes’ anger. In the autumn of 1837 the seminary, knowing it was the object of the Patriotes’ hatred and covetousness since its assets could finance the uprising, burned a number of compromising documents, lest they should fall into the hands of a crowd of rebel demonstrators. But Quiblier’s principal endeavour was to prevent the Irish community from mobilizing in support of the Patriotes. First he used his great influence with the leaders Peter Dunn and Joseph Macnaughton, who withdrew their backing from the Patriotes at the time of a meeting at which Irishman Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan* and Thomas Storrow Brown* were to speak. He also encouraged the Irish to shift from the neutrality he had at first recommended they adopt and begin enlisting in the British militia.
In February 1838 Quiblier agreed to undertake the ambivalent and dangerous mission of bringing back into Lower Canada the Patriotes who had sought refuge in the area of Lake Champlain. Few Patriotes accepted the safe conduct offered to them, but because of his actions Quiblier was treated as a patriotic hero by Charles Buller*, the secretary to the new governor-in chief, Lord Durham [Lambton*], and gained quite a reputation at the Colonial Office in London. That was how he also came to serve as an intermediary seeking clemency for some of the accused at a time when Bishop Lartigue, who was considered unreliable because of family ties with the Patriote leaders Denis-Benjamin Viger* and Louis-Joseph Papineau*, was thought by the principal Lower Canadian political figures to have swung towards those whom the authorities suspected of being disaffected.
Quiblier knew that his loyalty might count in his favour when the issue of the seminary’s property was being settled; consequently he had reason to be pleased with the admission by the former governor, Lord Gosford, in January 1838 that without this “liberal conduct and public spirit” on Quiblier’s part Lord Durham’s commission would have had nothing positive to propose for the seminary. The settlement of the property would now move towards a happy solution. Quiblier agreed to hand over the seminary’s statements of accounts for the preceding five years, lavished assiduous attention upon Lord Durham, secured changes in Colborne’s draft legislation granting civil incorporation to the seminary in April 1839, and had the satisfaction of seeing his friends get the bill passed in London in the spring of 1840. By the terms of the new law, the seminary could draw from various sources an average annual income of £14,200 between 1840 and 1846 to meet expenses of £12,202, of which 12 1/2 per cent would go to social welfare and nearly 25 per cent to education.
At the outset of the 19th century the seminary had begun setting up free primary schools in Montreal. Quiblier pursued this organizational and financial endeavour, bending it to fit the clericalizing strategy of Lartigue, who sought to replace lay teachers by members of religious orders on whom the episcopate could rely. From the beginning of his administration, Quiblier took steps to bring in the Christian Brothers; his efforts culminated in the arrival in November 1837 of four brothers, who were quickly installed by the seminary in new buildings and fully subsidized [see Louis Roblot*]. The seminary thus found itself occupying an influential field that the bishop of Montreal himself would have liked to control. Quiblier gave impetus to the expansion of education for girls, urging the sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame to open classes for non-resident pupils in the faubourgs (in 1846 there would be 1,359 in attendance). In the autumn of 1838 Quiblier continued to give support to the Petit Séminaire de Montréal, then being loudly decried in Patriote circles for its teachers’ “despotic” ideology. He held out to Arthur William Buller*, the commissioner inquiring into education in Lower Canada, the attractive prospect of turning the seminary into a university. Whether this was an additional argument to justify the immense economic resources of the seminary, or a serious plan, cannot be determined. As for the original mission of Saint-Sulpice, which was to train candidates for the priesthood, the Montreal establishment had not discharged its essential duty for two centuries since it had never functioned as a grand séminaire. Calmer relations between the Sulpician seminary and the episcopate, and the growing number of vocations, prompted the new bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget*, to ask it to undertake the theological and spiritual education of future clergy. When the Conseil des Douze met on 24 Aug. 1840 it gave its assent, and an agreement spelling out the direct authority of the bishop over the candidates of his diocese was signed in November.
With regard to cultural matters, mention must be made of Quiblier’s connection with the Paris publishing house of Gaume et Frères for the purchase of books, and of the fact that he stood surety for the solvency of bookseller Édouard-Raymond Fabre, a source of anxiety for the Gaume firm. In 1844 he took part in launching the first collectively owned francophone library in Montreal, the Œuvre des Bons Livres, whose books came from the holdings of the confraternities and the Sulpicians; it was intended to combat bad books, provide the means to while away winter evenings, and extend the work of the schools.
Paradoxically, the specifically pastoral role of the seminary’s superior may be the one least remembered by historians. From the time of his appointment in April 1831, Quiblier had insisted on discharging his legal duty as titular priest of the parish of Notre-Dame in Montreal, despite the episcopal opposition – which lasted until May 1843 – to this type of permanent incumbency. He had not, however, deemed it advisable to replace Claude Fay, who had been appointed by Roux, even though his talents as ex officio parish priest were not impressive. Before the exceptional religious revival brought about in 1840 through the 40 days of preaching by Bishop Charles-Marie-Auguste-Joseph de Forbin-Janson*, the spiritual life of the parish remained at a low ebb. Between 35 and 45 per cent of the parishioners took Easter communion in 1831, but the rate declined progressively until 1841 when the figure increased by more than a half. This phenomenon, doubtless linked with the religious interpretation of the rebellion and of its failure, gave rise to a new period of pastoral initiatives under the leadership of Bourget, a period that found the Montreal Sulpicians inactive and wedded to routine. Their situation was marked by the increasing age of the priests, inability to cope with the visibly larger number of the faithful, and defensive, reactionary attitudes. For this state of affairs Quiblier was no doubt in good measure responsible.
In any case, Bourget apparently was of this opinion and, as Quiblier’s third term as superior was drawing to an end, he made strong representations to him and to the other members of the seminary, even demanding an audience at a new meeting of the Conseil des Douze. The struggle for power between the seminary and the bishop now worked in favour of the latter, for on 21 April 1846 Quiblier, sensing the wish of the majority, resigned; he was replaced by Pierre-Louis Billaudèle*, the director of the Grand Séminaire. It may be supposed that this gesture was also a significant moment in his personal religious experience: he was obeying his bishop in renouncing his own wishes and judgement – no small thing, considering the Sulpician superiors’ long tradition of independence. Quiblier set off quietly to spend some time outside Lower Canada; he attended the council at Baltimore at the beginning of May and then went to Kingston in Upper Canada, where he remained until the end of July. It had been his wish to stay at the seminary for the rest of his life, but the process which had led him to resign created such a climate of opinion within the house, and among the public, that Quiblier thought it wiser to leave in October for Europe.
Quiblier never saw Montreal again, but in 1847 and 1848 he spent some time, particularly in Ireland, giving talks on the work of the seminary in Lower Canada in order to recruit new associates. One of these was Patrick Dowd*, who was to become priest in charge of St Patrick’s in Montreal, a church Quiblier had helped to build. But he gained the impression that the seminary was not backing his initiatives; thus, on the advice of the bishop of Westminster, Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman, he undertook pastoral ministry to the Irish who were flocking into England. He established a mission for them at Norwood (London) which he installed in a spacious church. Hostile feeling towards the Catholics was apparently beginning to change. Quiblier devoted his attention to young nuns newly converted from Protestantism. Then in September 1848 he received a group of French nuns who had come to start an orphanage. The following year he set up a mission at Spitalfields (London), where there were 6,000 Irish living in poverty and an endemic problem of mixed marriages. On a trip to Lyons, in France, he managed to obtain the help of the Marist Fathers.
Joseph-Vincent Quiblier finished his career as he had begun it, ministering to a parish. He had never had to worry about supporting himself, since the seminary provided for the needs of its former superior. Aware that his health was failing, he went to Paris in 1851 and again in the summer of 1852. He had to take to his bed then and he died at Issy-les-Moulineaux on 12 Sept. 1852. Quiblier was buried in France, in the little cemetery at Lorette where the superior generals of Saint-Sulpice traditionally are interred.
Joseph-Vincent Quiblier is the author of “Notice sur le séminaire de Montréal,” a collection of notes about events during his 15-year administration. The manuscript is held at Arch. de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (Paris), mss 1208.
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