DOYON, CONSTANT (baptized Paul-Victor-Emmanuel), Dominican, missionary, and military chaplain; b. 27 Jan. 1875 in Saint-Guillaume, Que., son of Charles Doyon, a farmer, and Odile Chaussé; d. 18 Oct. 1927 in Saint-Michel-des-Saints, Que.
After classical studies at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe (1887–93) and the Séminaire de Nicolet (1893–96), Paul-Victor-Emmanuel Doyon entered the Dominican order in 1896 under the name of Constant. He did his noviciate in Saint-Hyacinthe and his studies at the Dominican monastery in Ottawa, where he was ordained priest on 31 May 1901. He was in France in 1902 and 1903, and subsequently was given administrative responsibility until 1907 for Le Rosaire, Le Rosaire pour tous, and the Rosary for Everyone, three Dominican magazines published in Saint-Hyacinthe. He then became a preaching missionary and put a great deal of energy into the cause of temperance. During World War I he served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force from 1915 to 1918 and afterwards resumed his work as a missionary.
Doyon joined the ranks of the 22nd Infantry Battalion [see Henri Chassé] as a chaplain on 17 Feb. 1915, with the rank of honorary captain. It would be the only French Canadian infantry unit to see action during World War I. Doyon signed up at the age of 40 and succeeded Major Philippe-Henri-Duperron Casgrain. During the battalion’s stay in Nova Scotia in the spring of 1915, he helped it win the affection and esteem of the people of Amherst by creating a conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society among the members of the regiment. Colonel Frédéric-Mondelet Gaudet*, the battalion’s first commander, congratulated him “for this valuable work of simple and kindly charity.” Doyon left Canada on 20 May 1915 to go overseas with his unit. In England he was attached to the headquarters of the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Canadian Division on 8 Sept. 1915, and he went to France a week later. He took on an immense task at the front because for many months he was the only Roman Catholic priest serving with the 5th Brigade, and it had a much higher than average number of Roman Catholics in its ranks since it included the French Canadian 22nd Battalion. He distinguished himself by his zeal, his dedication, and his conscientious devotion to duty. On 13 Feb. 1917 he was transferred to the headquarters of the Canadian Training Division in Shorncliffe, England. Except for a four-month stay in Canada in 1917, he worked until the end of the war with French Canadians in England in the 10th Reserve Battalion, the 150th Infantry Battalion, and the quarantine camp at Frensham Pond. He returned to Canada permanently on 18 Dec. 1918, having served overseas for more than three years. On 29 March 1920 he was appointed honorary chaplain of the Saint-Hyacinthe regiment.
Doyon was a tireless worker; when he was recalled to England in February 1917, he dreamed of returning to the front. On 1 March 1918 he asked to be appointed chaplain to the French Canadian soldiers serving in “Anglo-Protestant units” at the front. He felt a close attachment to French Canada and in a letter referred to the “sorrows of the days we French Canadians [overseas] are living through.” The French Canadian soldiers were the only ones who spoke French in the British armed forces, into which the Canadian Expeditionary Force had been integrated. They also formed a Roman Catholic entity within a primarily Protestant body. Contrary to the custom of the time, Doyon wrote much of his correspondence as a military chaplain in French. He was proud to be the chaplain of the 22nd Battalion. A few months after the battle of Courcelette, France, which was fought in September 1916, he noted that, “French Canada has played a grand and glorious role in the war.”
Constant Doyon died on 18 Oct. 1927 at the age of 52. He was granted a military funeral, which was conducted in Saint-Hyacinthe. He remained self-sacrificing until the end, despite his precarious state of health following a severe attack of paralysis that affected him for the last three years of his life. In the eyes of his provincial superior, Pie-Marie Béliveau, he was a “fiery soul.” “For twenty years,” Béliveau observed after his death, “he devoted himself to his high calling [as a missionary] with such ardour that [even] the most courageous could not always follow him.”
Constant Doyon is the author of Au régime de l’eau (Québec, 1919) and La lutte antialcoolique: simples articles (Québec, 1911; 2e éd., 1913).
ANQ-MBF, CE403-S11, 27 janv. 1875. LAC, RG 9, III, C15, 4621; RG 150, Acc. 1992–93/166. Royal 22nd Regiment Museum (Quebec), D-6/172 (J.-P. Gagnon fonds). Le Devoir, 18 oct. 1927. J.-B.-A. Allaire, Dictionnaire biographique du clergé canadien-français (6v., Montréal et Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué., 1908–34), 6: 259–60. P.-M. Béliveau, “Décès du R.P. Doyon,” La Rev. dominicaine (Saint-Hyacinthe), 33 (1927): 687–90. D. W. Crerar, Padres in no man’s land: Canadian chaplains and the Great War (Montreal, 1995).