BOIRET, URBAIN, priest and superior of the Séminaire de Québec; b. 6 Sept. 1731 in the parish of Saint-Thomas, La Flèche, France, son of René Boiret, master gardener; d. 5 Nov. 1774 in Quebec.
Urbain Boiret arrived in Canada on 26 July 1755. He had probably been ordained priest in Rouen, France, on 15 March of that year, at the same time as his travelling companion, Henri-François Gravé* de La Rive. He wanted to devote himself to the mission to the Tamaroas (Cahokia, now East St Louis, Ill.), but he never reached the banks of the Mississippi; he was kept at the Séminaire de Québec where he held various offices, including those of bursar and professor of theology. He also became a director of the seminary on 16 Feb. 1759.
At the beginning of the siege of Quebec in the summer of 1759, all the priests left the seminary, including the superior, Colomban-Sébastien Pressart; only Boiret and Joseph-André-Mathurin Jacrau remained. When the latter fell ill in September and had to be hospitalized, Boiret was left alone to watch over the seminary. The building, situated just within Upper Town, was an easy target for the British guns and was seriously damaged; only two or three rooms remained fit for occupation. After the capitulation Boiret, who was still the bursar of the seminary, went to spend the winter at Saint-Joachim to take stock of the damage to its properties there and to replace the parish priest, Philippe-René Robinau* de Portneuf, who had been killed by the British. Everything had been destroyed, and the accounts of the bursar’s office emphasize that during this winter Boiret “was housed in a hut in the middle of the fields and during the coldest periods . . . he had no ink nor any of the comforts of life.” In the autumn of 1761 he was back in Quebec.
In 1762 the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris appointed a new superior for the Séminaire de Québec, Pierre Maillard*, vicar general of Acadia; Gravé de La Rive was nominated for the post in the event that Maillard could not go to Quebec. Governor Murray rejected this appointment, which had been made in France, and insisted on a local election, omitting the two names put forward by Paris. On 4 July Boiret was elected unanimously, and his three-year term of office was extended for a second term in 1765. It was during his six years as superior that the seminary painfully rebuilt on the ruins in Quebec and on its domains, particularly in the seigneury of Beaupré, where Boiret had spent the winter of 1759–60. The sale of some suburban lots to Murray and the merchant Thomas Ainslie*, among others, brought in the funds needed for reconstruction.
From 1764 to 1768 Boiret was also chaplain to the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu, and in the autumn of 1765 he had to take on the delicate task of reopening the Petit Séminaire. The role of the Petit Séminaire had changed considerably: under the French régime it had accepted only pupils intending to enter the priesthood; now it was replacing the Jesuit college, which had been forced to close, and it had to provide means of instruction for all those with the ability to undertake classical studies. Boiret became its director at the end of his second term as superior of the seminary, in 1768. He ran it successfully until the summer of 1773, when the seminary council promoted him to head the Grand Séminaire. On 28 Sept. 1774 he was again elected superior, but he did not retain the office for long: he was already ill. He went to the Hôpital Général on 26 June and died there on 5 November. He was buried in the crypt of the seminary chapel. On 10 November the Quebec Gazette published an anonymous obituary notice in the form of a rather inflated poem in both Latin and French, to which another anonymous reader replied humorously in the issue of 17 November.
In the 19th century Bishop Edmond Langevin*, finding a parchment text in the attic of a Quebec printing house, made the surprising discovery that Boiret had received the dignity of apostolic protonotary from the Holy See. Abbé Boiret likely kept his appointment secret for fear of offending his fellow priests by having himself called “Monseigneur,” since he was the first person to receive this dignity under the British régime. Rome had probably decided to accord him the honour at the prompting of his younger brother, Denis Boiret, a priest with the Missions Étrangéres in Paris, who lived in the Holy City from 1771 to 1773 to promote the interests of the mission in Cochin China (Vietnam). It was to him that Abbé Boiret left some family property in France; his personal effects and library of 180 volumes went to the seminary.
AD, Sarthe (Le Mans), État civil, Saint-Thomas de La Flèche, 6 sept. 1731. ASQ, C 9; C 11; C 22; Lettres, M, 116, 117; P, 124; R, 20; mss, 12, ff.30, 31, 32, 36, 41; Séminaire, 8, nos.43, 44. Le séminaire de Québec (Provost), 450–51. Quebec Gazette, 10, 17 Nov. 1774. Allaire, Dictionnaire, I, 61. Casgrain, Hist. de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, 574. A.-H. Gosselin, L’Église du Canada après la Conquête, I. Adrien Launay, Mémorial de la Société des Missions étrangères (2v., Paris, 1912–16), II, 61–63. M. Trudel, L’Église canadienne, II, 27–96. J.-E. Roy, “L’abbé Urbain Boiret,” BRH, II (1896), 93–94. P.-G. Roy, “Mgr Urbain Boiret,” BRH, II (1896), 139.