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CORMIER, FRANÇOIS-XAVIER, Roman Catholic priest and businessman; b. 27 Feb. 1846 in L’Anse-des-Cormier (Cormier Cove), N.B., ninth of the 11 children of Bénoni Cormier and Marguerite Cormier; d. 4 Aug. 1906 in Haute-Aboujagane, N.B.
François-Xavier Cormier came from a family of impoverished farmers in the parish of Memramcook, N.B., and did not attend the village school. However, when the Séminaire Saint-Thomas opened in November 1854, he was one of the first pupils and became the protégé of its founder, the curé François-Xavier-Stanislas Lafrance*. In 1859, when Lafrance realized that financial difficulties would soon force the seminary to close, he sent Cormier and two more of the best pupils, at his own expense, to study at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière in Lower Canada. Cormier was back in Memramcook in 1864, enrolled in the fifth form (Belles-Lettres) at the new College of St Joseph, which had been founded by Abbé Camille Lefebvre*, Lafrance’s successor as parish priest of Memramcook. Three years later Cormier, who had chosen to become a priest rather than a teacher, was sent to the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal on the advice of Lafrance, who by then was curé of Barachois, N.B. Cormier was ordained by Bishop John Sweeny at Saint John, N.B., on 28 Aug. 1870; he was the first native of the parish of Memramcook to become a Catholic priest.
Cormier began his career as assistant priest with responsibility for missions at Saint John from 1870 to 1872, and at Fredericton from 1872 to 1876. For the next 18 months he was parish priest of Saint-Anselme and in charge of the Moncton mission. Appointed to Richibucto-Village in February 1878, he became curé of Cocagne in October 1885. For reasons of health, he withdrew to the College of St Joseph in 1894. The following year, although he was still frail, Cormier was made priest of the new parish of Haute-Aboujagane. He was admitted to hospital in Montreal in 1906 with an incurable illness, but chose to spend his last months among his parishioners.
Cormier was the contemporary, friend, and correspondent of Philéas-Frédéric Bourgeois*, Placide Gaudet*, Pierre-Amand Landry*, Pascal Poirier*, and Marcel-François Richard*, who were all part of an educated Acadian élite, most of them trained at the College of St Joseph, and active in promoting the rising Acadian nationalist movement. He had been sent to the congress of French Canadians organized by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste at Quebec in June 1880, and had participated in the work of the special Acadian committee. The Acadian leaders present adopted Cormier’s proposal to convene a congress at Memramcook in July 1881 to focus on the interests of the Acadians in the Maritime provinces. They also rallied to a proposal made by Joseph Michaud (1841–1903), and supported by Cormier, that Landry, Joseph-Octave Arsenault*, Gilbert-Anselme Girouard*, and others form an executive committee to organize the meeting. Among the various topics discussed at the Memramcook congress were agriculture, education, colonization, emigration, and the press. Cormier was on the committee charged with choosing and adopting a national holiday for Acadians. In the deliberations and vote he sided with the majority in favour of Assumption day, August 15, rather than Saint-Jean-Baptiste day, the national holiday of French Canadians.
Abbé Cormier had a reputation as a talented, if no doubt somewhat parsimonious, administrator, endowed with a fine sense of humour. Like many Catholic priests of his time, he took a keen interest in agricultural matters, and he is said to have sold in Moncton the produce of his large vegetable garden at Saint-Anselme. He was also a businessman and opened a store at Richibucto-Village while he was curé there, to compete with the English-speaking merchants from Kingston (Rexton) and Richibucto. But he was best known as a builder of churches, a champion of the cause of Acadian education, and a great benefactor of the College of St Joseph, to which he is believed to have given, during his lifetime, the equivalent of $14,000 in money and land, out of the profits from his own enterprises and savings. In 1884, for example, he contributed to the expansion of the college by providing $3,000 for the construction of a new wing, a project that he himself supervised. On his death, the college inherited his assets.
Abbé François-Xavier Cormier never sought glory or honours. In 1895, on the 25th anniversary of his ordination, he adamantly refused to have anything to do with the celebration organized for him by his colleagues and friends. Despite his talents as an orator and raconteur, Cormier was a rather self-effacing person, who preferred to express his ideas and opinions by deeds, not words. Several years after his death, his friend Philéas-Frédéric Bourgeois would recall that “his views on education and the support of colleges were eminently practical. He saw no future for these institutions except insofar as they were supported by the clergy and by the people.”
Centre d’Études Acadiennes, Univ. de Moncton, N.-B., Fonds Placide Gaudet, 1.64-23; Fonds Pascal Poirier, 6.1-1, 6.1-7. Courrier des Provinces maritimes (Bathurst, N.-B.), 14 juin 1894: 2; 15 août 1895: 3. D.-F. Léger, “La vie et les œuvres du vieux père F.-X. Cormier,” L’Évangéline, 18 juin 1936: 3; 25 juin 1936: 3; 2 juill. 1936: 3. Le Moniteur acadien, 24 juill. 1868: 1; 2 sept. 1870: 3; 2 juill. 1874: 2; 30 août 1895: 2; 9 août 1906: 2. L’album souvenir des noces d’argent de la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste du collège Saint-Joseph, Memramcook, N.-B. . . . ([Memramcook?, 1894?]), 22. P.-F. Bourgeois, Vie de l’abbé François-Xavier Lafrance, suivie d’une courte notice biographique de l’abbé François-Xavier Cormier . . . (Montréal, 1913). Maurice Chamard et al., Le père Camille Lefebvre, c.s.c. (Montréal, 1988), 168. Conventions Nationales des Acadiens, Recueil des travaux et délibérations des six premières conventions, F.-J. Robidoux, compil. (Shédiac, 1907).