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CHAMPAGNEUR, ÉTIENNE, Roman Catholic teaching brother and priest; b. 8 Aug. 1808 in the village of Recoules, dept of Aveyron, France; d. 18 Jan. 1882 at Camonil-sous-Rodez, France; in 1905 his remains were brought back to Joliette, Que., where they were buried the following year.

Although almost nothing is known about Étienne Champagneur’s family, they must have been landowning farmers. He evidently did well in his preparatory studies for the priesthood, but he left the seminary to become a lay teacher for six years. His indecision can no doubt be attributed to timidity, conscientiousness, and introspection but also to a desire to develop himself through ascetic practices and by the eventual exercise of authority. In December 1844 he entered the noviciate of the Clerics of St Viator at Vourles, Rhône, France; twice, however, he interrupted his stay there, first to settle family affairs, and then to join the Trappists, where, despite the attraction for him, he stayed only six or eight weeks. In January 1847 Champagneur took his first vows, and in April, as a consequence of a visit to France by Bishop Ignace Bourget who sought to bring the Clerics of St Viator to Canada, he left France charged with the task of establishing the Viatorians in Canada. He was accompanied by two other teaching brothers, Augustin Fayard and Louis Chrétien.

They were the first of the Viatorians in Canada. Reaching Montreal with Bishop Bourget at the end of May, they were immediately sent to the village of L’Industrie (Joliette). There they took charge of the parish school and of a college which had opened the year before through the combined efforts of parish priest Antoine Manseau* and businessman Barthélemy Joliette*. The Collège de Joliette claimed to be breaking new ground in education through a five-year study programme centred around industrial arts and science, liberal arts, and the modern languages, French and English.

The Viatorians, usually assigned to small country schools in France, were ill prepared for this task, since only Brother Champagneur was well enough educated and could give leadership. However, the somewhat unexpected arrival of reinforcements in the persons of Thérèse Lahaye and Antoine Thibaudier, two French religious who had been working in the United States since 1841, and the presence of two tonsured clerics among the nine Canadian recruits to the community (five from the newly founded Brothers of the Holy Cross in Chambly), helped to ensure the college’s success in its first year.

Deprived of some of his authority by the “Americans,” who had recently been ordained priests, Brother Champagneur withdrew to devote himself to training the Canadian recruits, a task which Thibaudier and Lahaye considered a waste of time. Indeed he believed that “not being a priest, it was better . . . to remain in the background and give wide latitude to the new Fathers.” In 1849 he accepted the priesthood that Bishop Bourget offered him, and soon after resumed the office of superior, and held as well the posts of principal of the college and novice master. However, in 1852 his direction of the Collège de Joliette led to a “rebellion” of the staff: the French religious were unable to fit themselves into the tradition of classical colleges, since most of them had not pursued studies at an advanced level. Abbé Pascal Lajoie succeeded him as principal that year. By that date the bishop of Montreal had entrusted two other colleges to the Viatorians, one at Chambly [see Pierre-Marie Mignault*] in 1849 and the other at Rigaud in 1850. At Rigaud, the modern teaching programme of Joliette served as model and inspiration, but in both colleges instruction in Latin was also offered.

In 1852 the congregation agreed to teach deaf and dumb boys, and so had the opportunity to establish itself in Montreal, as Bishop Bourget had wanted [see Charles-Irénée Lagorce*]. After this development Father Champagneur steered those he trained mainly towards the primary schools. Bourget, who spent six weeks at the mother house of the congregation at Vourles at the end of 1855, encouraged this orientation. He also busied himself strengthening the congregation’s links with France; meanwhile Father Champagneur was hoping to have some freedom in the choice of work to be undertaken in Canada. The bishop ordered him to send some religious to Victoria on Vancouver Island in 1858, in fulfilment of his promise to Bishop Modeste Demers*, and others to Bourbonnais, Ill., in 1865, in order to undo the “harm” that Abbé Charles-Paschal-Télesphore Chiniquy* had done to the Franco-American population. Five years later, in response to his repeated requests, Champagneur was replaced as superior by Pascal Lajoie; he still retained the post of novice master.

The Canadianization and “clericalization” of the Clerics of St Viator were soon ensured by a small number of French brothers (never more than five), the recruitment of at least ten Canadians every year, the collaboration of parish priests such as Antoine Manseau, and the guidance of a bishop regarded in some ways as a co-founder. Nevertheless, Abbé Champagneur’s contribution was not insignificant. Bishop Joseph La Rocque might declare in 1855 that he had never seen “a man so inept, as far as the direction of various institutions is concerned,” yet Champagneur’s numerous “resignations,” his desire to join the Trappists, and his abortive plan for a community of colonizing hermits at Saint-Côme, called the solitaries of St Viator, reveal not only his difficulty in adapting but also his desire for a new kind of society. The fact that he was born in France no doubt helped him to maintain himself at the head of this congregation for more than a generation, but more can be said: young Canadians discerned in him a true master of the spiritual life.

From 1847 to 1874, when he returned to France, Abbé Champagneur initiated into religious life the 250 or so young men who entered the noviciate, most of whom subsequently taught either within or outside the Viatorians. He knew all of its members intimately, so his real influence cannot be evaluated in terms of the administrative difficulties he encountered at one time or another. His Cours de méditations, published between 1871 and 1874, gives only an imperfect notion of a narrow spirituality centred around conversion, asceticism, and holiness of life. Those who committed themselves to these practices were enabled to gain a reputation at least within their community (and often outside). Étienne Champagneur is a fine example of this, though he himself had felt obliged to enter the priesthood in the pursuit of his special aims.

Benoît Lévesque

[The central directorate of the Clerics of St Viator (Rome) has published many series of the records held in the different repositories of the congregation in Rome, Joliette, Que., and Outremont, Que. The location of the original is given in marginal notes accompanying the published documents. In particular, the following were consulted: Circulaires du père Étienne Champagneur, fondateur et supérieur: 1847–1848, 1850–1870 (Outremont, 1972); Documents: le père Louis Querbes, fondateur des Clercs de Saint-Viateur, 1793–1859 (14v., Côteau-du-Lac, Qué., 1955–60); “Dossier: Amérique,” (6v. duplicated Côteau-du-Lac, 1955–59), II-VI; Dossier Querbes; correspondance reçue par le père Louis Querbes (33v. to date, n.p., 1960–  ).

Also consulted were the following sources held in the repository in Rome: vol. I of Reg. matricule de tous les sujets ordonnés au noviciat de Vourles, France, depuis la fondation jusqu’au 1er oct. 1876, and the Reg. des religieux; in the archive at Joliette, a number of Father Louis Querbes’s letters, documents relating to the college in that city, and a copy of Champagneur’s Instructions pour le noviciat des C. S. V.; in the archives at Outremont, RL-1, RL-2, RL-3, RL-4, RD, RG-1 (there is an incomplete notebook for 1847–48 attributed to Champagneur), another copy of the Instructions pour le noviciat, and the “Conférences du noviciat des Clercs de Saint-Viateur.”

Also used were: Le Clerc de Saint-Viateur élevé à la perfection par la pratique de l’oraison . . . (3v., Joliette, 1869–72), and the Annuaires de la Congrégation des Clercs de Saint-Viateur, 1918, 1925, 1931, 1943 (the archives of the Clerics of St Viator in Outremont holds a complete collection of the year-books which bear various titles and places of publication).  b.l.]

ACAM, 420.080; 465.105; 901.055; 990.027. Arch. de la Soc. hist. de Joliette, Cartable Antoine Manseau, curé. Arch. de l’évêché de Joliette, Cartable collège de Joliette; Cartable Saint-Charles-Borromée-de-L’Industrie, I. Mélangesreligieux (Montréal), 25, 28 sept. 1846; 2 juin, 24 août 1847. Allaire, Dictionnaire. Antoine Bernard, Vie du père Champagneur: fondateur au Canada de l’Institut de Saint-Viateur (Montréal, 1943). Benoît Lévesque, “Les communautés religieuses françaises au Québec: une immigration utopique (1837–1874)? Étude de sociologie historique,” Éléments pour une sociologie des communautés religieuses au Québec, Bernard Denault et Benoît Lévesque, édit. (Montréal et Sherbrooke, Qué., 1975); “D’un projet primitivement utopique à une congrégation religieuse: sociologie génétique des Clercs de Saint-Viateur (1793–1859)” (thèse de doctorat, univ. de Paris V, 1975); “Naissance et implantation des Clercs de Saint-Viateur au Canada, 1847–1870” (thèse de ma, univ. de Sherbrooke, 1971). J.-C. Robert, “L’activité économique de Barthélemy Joliette et la fondation du village d’Industrie (Joliette), 1822–1850” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1971), 127–64. Pierre Robert, Vie du père Louis Querbes, fondateur de l’Institut des Clercs de Saint-Viateur (1793–1859) (Bruxelles, 1922), 392–93. François Prud’homme, “Étude sur les divers recueils: instructions pour le noviciat,” Feuillets querbésiens (Côteau-du-Lac), no.46 (1960): 502–4; no.47 (1960): 517–20. J.-C. Robert, “Un seigneur entrepreneur, Barthélemy Joliette, et la fondation du village d’Industrie (Joliette), 1822–1850,” RHAF, 26 (1972–73): 375–95.

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Cite This Article

Benoît Lévesque, “CHAMPAGNEUR, ÉTIENNE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 2, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/champagneur_etienne_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/champagneur_etienne_11E.html
Author of Article: Benoît Lévesque
Title of Article: CHAMPAGNEUR, ÉTIENNE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: September 2, 2014