ALLENOU DE LAVILLANGEVIN, RENÉ-JEAN, canon, vicar general, theologal, and official; b. 1685 or 1686 at Pordic (dept. of Côtes-du-Nord), France, in a small manor house called La Ville-Angevin; d. 16 Nov. 1753 in Quebec.
René-Jean Allenou de Lavillangevin, who, according to Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil], was a “man of good family,” was ordained a priest in 1711. He had no degree in theology, even though he had studied it for four years with the Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. He was doubtless a good preacher, since he was accorded the broadest powers to preach and hear confessions in the dioceses of Brittany. Later he became parish priest at Plérin, in the diocese of Saint-Brieuc, and took an interest in the community of the Filles du Saint-Esprit, founded by his uncle Jean Leuduger. He drew up definitive rules for the community and gave it such good care that in 1768 its annals would speak of Allenou de Lavillangevin as its “founding saint.” When he decided in 1741 to go to “the distant missions” in Canada, thus giving up “a considerable living,” the former parish priest of Plérin, as he liked to call himself, had 30 years of fruitful ministry in France to his credit.
On 29 Aug. 1741 the missionary arrived in Quebec with Bishop Pontbriand, who had asked him to accompany him. Bonds of friendship linked the former parish priest of Plérin, who was in his fifties, and the young bishop, in his thirties, and the bishop reserved some important tasks for his old friend. Indeed, two days after their arrival Allenou de Lavillangevin was made a canon of the cathedral of Quebec, then the bishop’s vicar general and official of the diocese. The new canon let the bishop dispose of his Canadian benefices and lived on what he had brought from France, without entering into any “mad expenses”; until 1750 he resided in the episcopal palace with the bishop and had his entire confidence. Upon becoming theologal of the chapter in 1747 after the death of François-Elzéar Vallier, who had been ecclesiastical councillor on the Conseil Supérieur and superior of the seminary, Allenou de Lavillangevin intended to take his role seriously; he wished to assume all the functions the law recognized for the theologal, especially the responsibility for teaching theology and Holy Scripture to the clergy and for preaching in the cathedral church. The new theologal’s demands surprised many ecclesiastics. In Quebec the dignity of theologal had always been simply a title, for since Bishop Laval*’s episcopate the incumbent of the parish of Quebec had been chosen from among the directors of the seminary, who were also members of the chapter. According to custom, since the cathedral served as the parish church, the parish priest of Quebec acted as the regular preacher for the cathedral. In insisting on the theologal’s right to be preacher, Allenou posed a problem for Pontbriand, who could not categorically refuse him. But, if he gave in to his demands the bishop would offend the seminary and the Jesuits, who had always been responsible for teaching theology, and also the new parish priest of Quebec, Jean-Félix Récher. As was his habit in difficult circumstances, Pontbriand decided on a compromise, letting the theologal preach only on the 13 great feast days throughout the year and empowering him to give three theological lectures a week. The theologal could oblige the canons to attend them, but Pontbriand reserved the right to rule on the attendance of the ecclesiastics of the town and the seminarists. The theologal was compelled to hire at his own expense a hall big enough for his audience and to admit those who came to hear him free of charge. A.-H. Gosselin* claims it was Pontbriand’s compromise that brought about the break or at least the beginning of the difficulties between the theologal and the bishop; the evidence, however, is that the two men remained on terms of confidence. Not until 1750, at the time of a dispute between the chapter and the seminary over the parish of Quebec [see Récher; Charles-Antoine Godefroy de Tonnancour], did the two old friends have a difference of opinion and, at least as far as the bishop was concerned, come to a quarrel which was to mean the disgrace of the former parish priest of Plérin.
With the approval of the chapter, which was anxious to know its rights and duties concerning the parish of Quebec, the bishop gave Allenou de Lavillangevin the task of “putting into order and examining” the chapter’s papers. Among other documents Clement X’s bull of 1674 was discovered, which in addition to setting up the diocese of Quebec converted the parish church into the cathedral and gave the chapter the widest powers over its temporal affairs as well as the task of ministering to it. This discovery would lead the chapter, with Lavillangevin at its head, into a never-ending struggle with the seminary to assume its rights over temporal matters and the ministry of the cathedral church of Quebec. In the period from 12 January to 27 Feb. 1750 the chapter held five meetings under Lavillangevin’s chairmanship. The latter decided to appeal to the Conseil Supérieur in order to assert the chapter’s rights, despite a compromise suggested by the bishop, who would have liked to avoid so much fuss. Pontbriand suggested to the seminary’s directors and the canons that they should either come to an understanding among themselves or rely on an arbitrator. But the dispute had a hearing and the canons lost their lawsuit as far as the conferring of the parish charge was concerned; on 16 Oct. 1750 they were sentenced to a fine and costs. The question of the ownership of the cathedral was then taken to France.
In the meantime Pontbriand had tried to make the theologal of the chapter, who lived in his palace, listen to reason, but the former parish priest of Plérin put the rights of the chapter ahead of the bishop’s friendship, or to be more exact, he would not give up either. The bishop expelled him from the palace, as he considered the theologal the ringleader of the chapter in the continuing struggle. Allenou de Lavillangevin thus lost the bishop’s friendship; despite the latter’s opposition he found refuge with the Jesuits. He continued to go every day to the canons’ office and to the meetings of the chapter on the appointed days. He upheld the chapter’s interests vigorously and kept the esteem of the other canons. While protesting his friendship and submission towards the bishop, he declared that he had only done his duty: “I do not think that I have done anything against either my obligation or the respect that I owe your Grace, whom I still love and honour infinitely.” In 1752 he thought of returning to France, but he was retained by illness in Canada where he died on 16 Nov. 1753. Pontbriand consented to give him the last rites and to attend his funeral, held on 17 November.
The canons of Quebec paid Lavillangevin the finest tribute: “We considered him rightly as our father,” they said, “and we miss him as such.” If it had not been for conflict between the chapter and the seminary, which was settled necessarily with the conquest, Pontbriand would himself have given witness to his merit. In any event, the historian can only recognize his honesty and sincerity, and the passage of time allows us to maintain that the quarrel in which the former parish priest of Plérin was engaged derived not so much from the people concerned as from the particular law governing the church of Canada at that time and the changes which had taken place since the institution of that law.
[To our knowledge, there is no study specifically on René-Jean Allenou de Lavillangevin. Interesting material on him is found, however, in the following works: Paul-Marie Du Breil de Pontbriand, Le dernier évêque du Canada français, Monseigneur de Pontbriand, 1740–1760 (Paris, 1910). Gosselin, L’Église du Canada jusqu’à la conquête, III. Henri Têtu, Notices biographigues: les évêques de Québec (Québec, 1889); “Le chapitre de la cathédrale de Québec et ses délégués en France,” BRH, XIV (1908), 134, 200, 202, 259, 263; XV (1909), 68, 75–76; XVI (1910), 138; “M. Jean-Félix Récher, curé de Québec, et son journal, 1757–1760,” BRH, IX (1903), 101; “Souvenirs d’un voyage en Bretagne,” BRH, XVII (1911), 133, 138. j.-g.l.]