BILLAUDÈLE, PIERRE-LOUIS, priest, Sulpician, and superior of the Séminaire Saint-Sulpice in Montreal; b. 20 Nov. 1796 at Tourteron (dept of Ardennes, France), son of Pierre Billaudèle and Catherine François; d. 19 Oct. 1869 in Montreal.
Pierre-Louis Billaudèle began his secondary education under the direction of a priest, and in 1812 went into the Petit Séminaire de Charleville, dept of Ardennes, where he entered the priesthood. In 1813 he began his career as an educator by becoming tutor to a local nobleman’s children. In 1816 he entered the Grand Séminaire de Charleville for his theological studies, and there he received holy orders.
On 30 Nov. 1819, a few months before his ordination to the priesthood, his bishop appointed him director of the Petit Séminaire de Charleville, a position he combined with teaching and preaching. After five years of this absorbing ministry, he obtained permission to enter the Society of Saint-Sulpice. He spent two years in the novitiate at the Solitude d’Issy-les-Moulineaux near Paris (1824–26), and then was sent to the Grand Séminaire de Clermont-Ferrand. He remained there nearly 11 years, first as professor of philosophy, then as director of philosophy students and professor of dogma. Thus he was an experienced priest when he was asked to go to Montreal in 1837 to develop the educational work of Saint-Sulpice. He arrived in Montreal in November, accompanied by two other Sulpicians and the first four Brothers of the Christian Schools to come to Canada [see Louis Roblot].
Billaudèle was entrusted at first with a ministry at Notre-Dame de Montreal. As part of his work, he was responsible for giving a course of religious instruction, and because of his preaching ability he quickly attracted a large audience. He was soon obliged to add teaching ethics to the ecclesiastics of the Collège de Montréal to his duties. Billaudèle was thus moving towards the important position soon to be given to him, the direction of the first Grand Séminaire de Montréal.
This institution was founded in November 1840 and was immediately placed under the direction of the priests of Saint-Sulpice. On the recommendation of Joseph-Vincent Quiblier*, superior of the Séminaire Saint-Sulpice, Bishop Ignace Bourget* accepted Pierre-Louis Billaudèle as its first director. The latter’s knowledge of theology and spirituality, his affable nature, and his experience of seminary life in France, all spoke in his favour. His position remained a delicate one, however; he had to introduce in Montreal the regulations governing the Sulpician seminaries in France, thereby imposing a new kind of life, with a spirit, customs, and traditions unknown to Canadians. Because of Billaudèle’s skill and tact, the change was made smoothly. The small number of seminarists also facilitated his task: during the six years of his administration there were never more than 30.
On 21 April 1846 Billaudèle was elected superior of the Sulpicians in Canada, in succession to M. Quiblier. It was a radical change for him. Used to the calm, regular life of the seminary, he would have to direct an extensive and complicated operation at a time when everything in the parish of Notre-Dame and the teaching houses was being questioned. The parish first engaged his attention. Three weeks after his election, Billaudèle received a letter from Bishop Bourget raising the matter of the deficiency of personnel and the subdivision of the parish. The council of the seminary entirely shared the bishop’s concerns, but lack of resources and of priests prevented it from deferring to his wishes.
Several incidents delayed the solution of the problems raised by the bishop: the latter’s trip to Europe in 1846–47, during which he discussed the subdivision and administration of the parish of Notre-Dame with the superior general of the Sulpicians; and the typhus epidemic, brought on by the arrival of nearly a thousand Irish in early June 1847, which occupied the bishop on his return. As parish priest of Notre-Dame, Billaudèle mobilized almost all the staff of the seminary, the Collège de Montréal, and the religious communities of the parish to meet the needs of the sick. During the epidemic, which lasted nearly three months, the seminary lost five of its members; several others, stricken by the disease, were forced to give up all their activities for several months, which made the problem of recruitment even more serious. In the end, it was necessary to await the arrival of the French visitor, Étienne-Michel Faillon, in 1849, before attempting to solve the problems relating to the parish and to education.
At the first meeting with the visitor, the council of the seminary decided to build three subsidiary churches within the boundaries of the parish of Notre-Dame: one at Notre-Dame-de-Grâces, another in the faubourg Sainte-Anne, and a third in the faubourg Sainte-Marie. Bishop Bourget approved only the first two. Then in July 1852 fire destroyed the cathedral and the bishop’s palace and in 1853 Bishop Bourget agreed to the seminary’s offer to reconstruct the church of Saint-Jacques and make it a subsidiary of Notre-Dame.
In a letter to Billaudèle in April 1846, Bishop Bourget had suggested several other measures designed to strengthen the parish ministry. Long before the churches were built Billaudèle made a serious effort, both as superior and as parish priest, to follow his bishop’s advice. He increased considerably the number of pastoral retreats, so as to be able to reach all classes of society. He reorganized the teaching of religion by entrusting the priests of the parish with the catechisms preparing children for first communion and confirmation, and he re-established the catéchismes de persévérance for young people leaving school at an early age. Pastoral visits in the town and the suburbs became more frequent and more regular. In addition, pious associations and charitable organizations experienced renewed growth. Existing associations and congregations were augmented by new ones including the Association de l’Amour de la Très-Sainte-Vierge, established in 1847 by Billaudèle, and the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society conferences, introduced in the parish in 1848.
The problem of the location of the grand seminary was of even greater interest to Billaudèle. At the time the institution was founded, it had been understood that its installation in a wing of the Collège de Montréal was only temporary. In 1850 the council of the seminary decided to erect its building near the church of Notre-Dame, on the site of the old seminary built by François Dollier* de Casson. Construction began immediately, and in 1853 the wing intended for the priests responsible for parish ministry was completed. There work stopped, for it had been decided in the mean time to look for a much larger lot. In 1854, during Faillon’s second visit to Quebec, the decision was taken, at last, to construct the new building on the site of the Fort de la Montagne. The visitor’s council approved the plans of the new grand seminary on 25 Aug. 1854, and in October the superior general, Joseph Carrière, ratified the decision. On 8 Sept. 1855 Billaudèle laid the foundation stone, one of the last official ceremonies over which he presided as superior. On 21 April 1856 he warned the council of the seminary that because of poor health he would not accept re-election for a third term.
During the last 12 years of his life, Billaudèle devoted himself almost entirely to preaching. Until the last he was able to make the most of his exceptional oratorical gifts: a voice of magnificent quality, elegant diction, an elevated mind, fertile imagination, prodigious memory, and great facility for expression and improvisation. He adapted readily to all audiences, and directed countless retreats, in the diocese of Montreal and neighbouring dioceses. This beneficent but exacting work finally exhausted him. During the last year of his life Billaudèle had to retire to the community’s infirmary; he passed away in October 1869, after 50 years in the priesthood.
ASSM, 11; 21; 24, Dossier 2; 25, Dossier 1. Allaire, Dictionnaire. Henri Gauthier, Sulpitiana (2e éd., Montréal, 1926). Léon Pouliot, “Inventaire analytique de la correspondance de Mgr Ignace Bourget pour 1846,” ANQ Rapport, 1965, 91. Léon Pouliot et François Beaudin, “Inventaire analytique de la correspondance de Mgr Ignace Bourget . . . [1847–50],” ANQ Rapport, 1966, 195; 1967; 1969, 3. Louis Bertrand, Bibliothèque sulpicienne, ou histoire littéraire de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (3v., Paris, 1900), II, 311–12. [Pierre] Boisard, La Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice; trois siècles d’histoire (s.l., s.d.). [A.-C.-G. Desmazures], M. Faillon, prêtre de St. Sulpice; sa vie et ses œuvres (Montréal, 1879), 231–47. Frédéric Langevin, Monseigneur Ignace Bourget: deuxième évêque de Montréal (Montréal, 1931), 190–93. Pouliot, Mgr Bourget, I, II. Pierre Rousseau, Vie de M. Pierre-Louis Billaudèle, grand-vicaire et dixième supérieur du séminaire de Montréal (Montréal, 1885). Rumilly, Hist. de Montréal, II. Émile Boucher, “L’œuvre sulpicienne de la formation cléricale, les supérieurs du grand séminaire,” Le Séminaire (Montréal), XXII (1957), 219–23. “Le grand séminaire de Montréal de 1840 à 1857,” Annuaire du grand séminaire (Montréal), 3 (1930–31), 84–87. Olivier Maurault, “Grand séminaire de Montréal, I: son histoire,” Le Séminaire (Montréal), V (1940), 9–64. Pierre Rousseau, “Notice biographique sur le révérend messire Pierre Billaudèle, s.s.,” L’Écho du cabinet de lecture pariossial de Montréal, XII (1870), 274, 365, 408, 535, 620. “Vie de Monsieur Pierre-Louis Billaudèle, premier directeur du grand séminaire de Montréal,” Annuaire du grand séminaire (Montréal), 3 (1930–31), 74–84.