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DÉGRÈS, IRÈNE-MATHILDE, named Saint-Paul – Volume XV (1921-1930)

d. 27 Sept. 1921 in Limoilou ward, Quebec City


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Original title:  Rev Michael Francis Fallon

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FALLON, MICHAEL FRANCIS, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, Roman Catholic priest, educator, and bishop; b. 17 May 1867 in Kingston, Upper Canada, eldest of the seven sons of Dominick Fallon and Bridget Egan; d. 22 Feb. 1931 in London, Ont., and was buried there in the chapel of St Peter’s Seminary.

The son of Irish immigrants to Canada, Michael Francis Fallon was a Roman Catholic bishop whose passions for the British empire, Ireland, and education, coupled with his outspoken nature, made him a public figure of national importance. He received his early education from the Brothers of the Christian Schools and spent the 1883–84 academic year at Queen’s College, Kingston. He then attended the College of Ottawa, where he showed his enthusiasm for athletics, drama, and literature, and edited the student newspaper called the Owl. After graduating with a ba in 1889, Fallon entered the seminary of the archdiocese of Ottawa. Three years later he joined the religious community of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, where he pursued his interest in and love for academia. After a stay in Saint-Gerlach (Houthem), Netherlands, for the noviciate program, which was cut short by health concerns, Fallon was transferred to Rome, where he made his final profession and completed a dd at the Roman College (Pontifical Gregorian University). His superiors were impressed with the quality of his character and his studies and felt that the young priest would have a bright future at his alma mater. After his ordination in 1894 Fallon was appointed a disciplinarian and a professor of English at the College of Ottawa. While fulfilling these duties, he also coached the student rugby team, which would remain undefeated and gain a national reputation for excellence during his tenure.

Fallon had returned to the college just as it was experiencing a serious administrative crisis that was rooted in divisions between the anglophone and francophone members of the faculty. The situation was a burden to the rector, James Maria McGuckin*, an Irish Oblate, and his health would fail three years after Fallon’s arrival. The superiors of the Oblates saw in Fallon a candidate to replace McGuckin, but because of his youth and lack of administrative experience, they decided that he needed time to mature. Fallon was therefore appointed vice-rector, and it was hoped that he would be McGuckin’s successor.

Fallon was not, however, the sort of conciliator who could restore harmony between the college’s linguistic groups. In fact, the opposite was true. An ardent supporter of the British empire, he had become suspicious of nationalism during his time in Europe, and he felt strongly that French Canadians ought to place loyalty to the Church above loyalty to their language and culture. His outspoken criticism of French Canadian nationalism lost him the respect and admiration of some of his superiors, and it gained him enemies. When McGuckin fell ill and had to be replaced, Fallon’s name topped the list of potential successors, but a strong faction in the college believed him to be too Irish in his views and ideas, and feared that his appointment would cause grave harm. The rectorship was ultimately given to Henri-Antoine Constantineau, the pastor of St Joseph’s Church in Ottawa. Convinced that his qualifications were superior, Fallon responded to this snub by submitting his resignation as vice-rector and as a member of the faculty. In September 1898 he became pastor of St Joseph’s Church, where he remained for about three years before he was transferred to Buffalo, N.Y., to assume the duties of pastor at Holy Angels parish.

Fallon’s tenure at the College of Ottawa had ended in rancour and bitter disappointment. He had hoped to become rector and achieve unity, but he had instead been labelled intolerant of the French and a strong advocate for the dominance of the English language in Canada. Fallon, who saw himself as a realist and pragmatist, would argue throughout his career that his intellectual positions were not based on anti-French sentiments but on what he felt was best for the welfare of the Catholic Church throughout the dominion. He was always careful to make a distinction between the French Canadian people, for whom he professed great respect, and French Canadian nationalists, whom he denounced as agitators. He believed that the nationalists’ aggressive defence of their language and culture endangered the survival and expansion of the church in English Canada. These two aspects of Fallon – his opposition to French Canadian nationalism and his belief that his own actions promoted the welfare and preservation of the church – would dominate his entire career.

The years Fallon spent in the United States were the happiest of his life. He became an effective administrator both in his Buffalo parish and in his work for the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1904 he was appointed provincial of the American province, newly created by the Oblates. Freed from the linguistic debates that had occupied him in Ottawa, Fallon pursued activities that were of interest and importance to him, such as conferences and spiritual retreats, with the purpose of explaining the Catholic faith to English-speaking Protestants. He caught the eye of Monsignor Donato Sbarretti y Tazza, the apostolic delegate in Ottawa. Not only did the Vatican diplomat approve of Fallon’s endeavours, but he also charged him with matters such as the investigation of a priest who was accused of illegal activities by his parishioners in Kamloops, B.C. By the time a new bishop was to be selected for the diocese of London, Ont., Sbarretti had acquired a strong admiration for Fallon.

In 1908 Fergus Patrick McEvay*, the bishop of London, was translated to the archdiocese of Toronto. The first terna (a list of possible replacements for McEvay) was rejected by Rome because none of the three candidates had sufficient knowledge of the French language, an important qualification since a large number of francophones lived in the southwestern part of the diocese. At the plenary session of Canadian bishops in Quebec City that year, the bishops had occasion to meet with Sbarretti, and he must have suggested Fallon as a candidate for London. A new terna that placed Fallon, who knew French as well as Italian, Latin, and Greek, as the third of three was submitted to Rome.

Sbarretti quickly threw his full support behind his protégé. In his recommendation he outlined Fallon’s qualities and echoed his views on the survival of Catholicism in Canada. In addition to the support of Sbarretti, Fallon had the backing of anglophone Ontario bishops, including McEvay and the archbishop of Kingston, Charles Hugh Gauthier*, who were represented in Rome by Father Henry Joseph O’Leary. The Vatican, which also took into account the fact that the position had been vacant for nearly two years, selected Fallon as bishop in December 1909. Four months later, on 25 April, he was consecrated the fifth ordinary of the diocese of London.

Described by a nun in the diocese as “a man of majestic physical bearing, who attracted attention everywhere he went,” Fallon was an imposing figure whose large stature and oratorical talent made him a formidable presence in the pulpit and on the platform. His sharp pen, as well, added greatly to his ability to influence public discussions relating to the Catholic Church. Privately, Fallon had expressed a clear preference for staying in the United States (he had acquired American citizenship), but once he arrived in London, he did not hesitate to join the debate that was already raging over the future of French-language education in Ontario’s public-school system. In January 1910 the Association Canadienne-Française d’Éducation d’Ontario (ACFEO), founded that month in Ottawa and led by Napoléon-Antoine Belcourt, issued resolutions asking the Conservative government of Sir James Pliny Whitney* to give equal status to French and English instruction within the provincial education system. The consecration oil still damp on his palms, Fallon pronounced his opposition to the demands of the ACFEO, which he was convinced would never be satisfied by the Whitney government. The bishop feared that the association’s actions would produce a Protestant backlash that would jeopardize the government’s full funding of Ontario’s separate-school system, which, as Fallon often pointed out, had the constitutional right under the British North America Act to offer a curriculum based on the Catholic religion, but not to provide instruction in a language other than English.

In May Fallon voiced his opposition to bilingual schools in a confidential interview with William John Hanna*, the mpp for Lambton West and provincial secretary in Whitney’s cabinet. A meeting of the Ontario bishops was convened on 15 August in Kingston, and they agreed to oppose the demands of the ACFEO. Fallon was given the task of explaining the bishops’ stance to Whitney, whom he met a day later. Advocates of the association’s views fought back. During the summer and fall of 1910, newspapers in both Sandwich (Windsor) and Detroit attacked the bishop, in particular through the publication on 1 October of Hanna’s private account of his meeting with Fallon. (The provincial secretary’s memorandum had been leaked to the press by Henry Clement Alexandre Maisonville, secretary to Joseph Octave Reaume, the minister of public works.)

The matter might have died with time if Fallon had kept silent, but it was not in his nature to absorb public accusations without responding in kind. He thus provided more fuel for the fire: in a statement that appeared on 17 October in the Toronto Globe, Fallon launched a thunderous attack on the deficiencies of what he characterized as the “alleged bilingual school system.” Aware that he would be accused of anti-French bias, Fallon took care to explain at length that he did not oppose French-language instruction on principle, but he could not tolerate the very low rates of graduation from the schools, which he sincerely believed were failing to prepare students for the challenges of life in a predominantly English-speaking society:

In the schools that are inflicted on these children neither English nor French is properly taught or decently spoken. The regulations of the Education Department are in many instances utterly disregarded. Because of the conditions that obtain, children are either not sent to school at all or are withdrawn in the face of the difficulties.… Now, the fault is not with the children or with the teachers – it is with the system, and it is against the system and the threatened extension of it that I protest. I base my protest on the rights of children to an education that will give them a standing in the community in which they are to live and that will open up to them the avenues of success.

Fallon’s broadside, which concluded that the system “encourages incompetency, gives a prize to hypocrisy and breeds ignorance,” prompted Whitney to take action. He hastily met with his minister of education, Robert Allan Pyne, as well as the deputy minister of education, Arthur Hugh Urquhart Colquhoun, and the superintendent of education, John Seath*, to consider what to do. Whitney then instructed his chief inspector of schools, Francis Walter Merchant, to assess the English-French system. The Merchant report, issued in February 1912, was used by the Whitney government to justify the implementation of Regulation 17, a Department of Education directive that limited teaching in French to the first two years of school and subjected the bilingual school boards to the authority of inspectors who were usually English-speaking Protestants. Fallon was not involved in the crafting of this policy, but his staunch opposition to the bilingual schools and his support for the government’s actions would link his name permanently to Regulation 17 and earn him the lasting enmity of French Canadians across the country. Privately, Fallon expressed surprise and disappointment that several Ontario bishops failed to publicly support him after he became the leader of Catholic opposition to the English-French schools, including the archbishop of Toronto, Neil McNeil, who instead took a conciliatory tone towards French Canadians in his efforts to resolve the dispute.

Fallon’s stance on bilingual education and his autocratic management of the diocese of London caused strife with both parishioners and priests. Between the fall of 1910 and the summer of 1914, encouraged by the archbishop of Quebec, Louis-Nazaire Bégin*, they brought a number of legal actions against him to the authorities in Rome. In September 1910 several schools in the diocese that were run by Catholic religious orders stopped offering classes in French, and the bishop was accused of having prohibited them from doing so. The Vatican ultimately accepted Fallon’s vehement denial that he had given any such instructions. Another bitter dispute over education was fought between the bishop and Basilian priest Robert Francis Forster*, who headed the Basilian-run Assumption College in Sandwich. Between 1919 and 1925 Fallon tried to force the college, which became affiliated with the University of Western Ontario in 1919, to relocate its arts department from Sandwich to London. Despite his use of harsh tactics, including drawing diocesan students away from Assumption by opening a rival college in London named St Peter’s School of Philosophy, the bishop’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.

In January 1912 Fallon divided the largely French-speaking parish of Our Lady of the Lake, creating a separate parish for the prosperous and mostly English-speaking town of Walkerville (Windsor). The pastor of the original parish, Joseph Lucien Alexandre Beaudoin, who had not been consulted about the division, happened to be one of the harshest critics of Fallon’s attitude towards bilingual schools. Beaudoin protested against the division to Rome, which would rule in 1914 that the bishop had the authority to create the new parish but was obliged to pay $7,000 to Beaudoin as compensation for his years of financial support for a school in Walkerville that had formerly been within the boundaries of Our Lady of the Lake. (Fallon refused to pay and filed an appeal with Rome about the matter.) Beaudoin, the most defiant of several French Canadian priests in the diocese with whom the bishop publicly sparred, died on 18 Aug. 1917. On 8 September members of Ford City parish, outraged by Fallon’s decision to replace Beaudoin with a priest fiercely loyal to himself, blockaded the church to prevent their new pastor’s entry into it. An altercation with police officers ensued, which left ten people seriously injured. According to historian Jack Cecillon, several parishioners later plotted to murder the bishop. One of them agreed to offer Fallon a ride and then plunge the car into an icy river. But the would-be assassin lost his nerve, and the plan was abandoned. For the duration of Fallon’s tenure the diocese of London would remain bitterly divided along linguistic and ethnic lines.

From the time of Fallon’s consecration as bishop, his outspoken opposition to French Canadian nationalism had drawn the attention of Quebec bishops, including Bégin, who had quickly moved to defend the supporters of French-language instruction in Ontario. On a number of occasions these bishops, acting beyond their authority, asked Rome to transfer Fallon to a diocese outside Ontario, such as Regina or Saint John. Only the cautious advice of Sbarretti’s successor as apostolic delegate in Ottawa, Monsignor Pellegrino Francesco Stagni, caused Rome to reject the idea. Privately, Vatican officials who did not approve of Fallon’s public opposition to bilingual schools or his conflicts with priests in his diocese suggested that he resign, but the bishop soldiered on, convinced that his positions were sound and that his success in most of the legal proceedings against him was vindication of his actions.

An Irish nationalist, Fallon advocated Home Rule and hoped that Ireland would be accorded dominion status. During the Irish War of Independence he declared, “The blackguardism of British rule in Ireland at the present time, in spite of all the talk … about liberty and justice, is such as no degradation or brutality known of could surpass.” Shortly before his death he wrote, “I am an Irishman. It would be hypocrisy for me to say that I have forgotten the cruelties of the English people toward my Irish ancestors. But I am ready to forgive.” In his view, the British empire promulgated and defended Christian ideals. The fact that most of the British people were no longer within the Catholic fold did not hinder Fallon from judging their institutions as being built on Christian foundations. He believed that as long as the British valued Christian principles over their own political interests, their empire would enjoy divine support. Fallon did what he could to make the realm more hospitable to Catholics: for example, from 1899 onwards he publicly agitated for anti-Catholic language to be removed from the coronation oath of British monarchs, and he likely deserves a measure of credit for King George V’s decision to reword the oath he took at his coronation in 1911.

Fallon regarded British leadership in the world as a source of stability and peace. In 1897, at an Ottawa event attended by Governor General Lord Aberdeen [Hamilton-Gordon] and Lady Aberdeen [Marjoribanks], Fallon had hailed the empire as “the last and greatest human barrier against the spread of vicious and dangerous doctrines concerning social order and international polity” and “the most powerful human influence to lead men upwards and onwards in the path of human progress.” He had been alarmed by the militaristic nature of German nationalism since he encountered it while studying in Europe in the 1880s, and he anticipated the outbreak of the First World War by several years. In 1910 he told members of London’s 7th Battalion of Fusiliers, “If you gentlemen think you are just playing at soldiers, I beg you to give the matter a little more consideration,” and in 1911 he told the Canadian Club of London, “It is my deliberate conviction that Germany intends to take command of the world’s affairs.” He strongly backed the British cause during the First World War and recruited chaplains for service overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, where they were badly needed [see John Joseph O’Gorman; Alfred Edward Burke*]. During the campaign leading up to the federal election of 17 Dec. 1917, Fallon urged Catholics to vote for the pro-conscription Unionists led by Sir Robert Laird Borden. The following year the bishop toured the Western Front. His feeling for the empire and support for the war effort again put him at odds with many French Canadians.

Fallon wasted no opportunity to participate in public events for the purpose of highlighting the achievements of the Catholic Church. As he saw it, 1926 marked the tricentennial anniversary of the founding of the city of London, because in 1626 a Recollet missionary, Joseph de La Roche* Daillon, had given the first mass in the area. This historic event provided Fallon, who wished to publicize the fact that a Catholic had arrived there before any Protestant Europeans, with a reason for a celebration.

Catholic centennial week, which took place between 26 September and 3 October, was a showcase of Fallon’s achievements within his diocese, most notably in relation to institutions that promoted the Catholic ideal in the fields of public worship, education, and health. First, attention was drawn to recently completed renovations to the interior of St Peter’s Cathedral. Secondly, Brescia Hall, constructed for the Catholic college for young women that was affiliated with the University of Western Ontario and directed by the Ursuline sisters, was officially opened. (At Fallon’s suggestion the sisters had happily relocated the college from Chatham to London in 1920.) Thirdly, a new building that would house Fallon’s personal enterprise, St Peter’s Seminary, which he had founded in 1912, was inaugurated. Other celebrations included the opening of a nurses’ residence at St Joseph’s Hospital and the reopening of St Mary’s Church, which had undergone extensive interior improvements. Also, local religious orders (the Christian Brothers, the Redemptorists, and the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood) received public acknowledgement.

Fallon’s last outspoken battle in the defence of Catholic interests was one that he initiated, and it won him the approval and support of Catholics throughout Canada, including some of his old enemies in Quebec. The matter was described by Fallon as the “Mexican situation.” In October 1927, at the request of the government of Mexico, Liberal prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King* dispatched Canadian National Railways president Sir Henry Worth Thornton to provide organizational assistance to the National Railways of Mexico. In December Fallon wrote an open letter to King that contested the right of the federal government, which represented a population that was nearly half Catholic, to allow one of its public servants to aid the Mexican government, which Fallon argued was persecuting the Catholic Church. The letter was widely published in the Canadian press. The King government received a flood of protest mail, and some newspaper editorials called for the Mexican consul general in Toronto, Don Luis Medina Barrón, to be expelled from the country. One of Fallon’s greatest rivals, newspaper publisher Henri Bourassa*, signed an editorial in Le Devoir that spoke out against Thornton’s trip.

On 22 Feb. 1931, after having served as bishop of London for nearly 21 years, Michael Francis Fallon passed away following a long struggle with diabetes. His funeral at St Peter’s Cathedral attracted an overflowing crowd, and ecclesiastical authorities and political figures were present, including William Donald Ross*, the lieutenant governor of Ontario. During his life Fallon had been branded as autocratic in character, arrogant and intellectually superior in his public stands, emotional in his reactions, and prejudicial toward French Canadians. Yet Stagni, in a letter to Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, stated his belief that Fallon had acted only out of “zelus domus Dei” [zeal for the House of God]. Father J. J. O’Gorman summed up the man after his death in this way: “Bishop Fallon failed at times in patience and meekness, but God knows he did seek righteousness, piety, faith and charity.… He preferred to make one error of commission when trying to serve God and his fellowmen rather than commit ten errors of omission by hiding in the earth the talents entrusted to him by his Lord.”

Pasquale Fiorino

Michael Francis Fallon is the author of The declaration against Catholic doctrines which accompanies the coronation oath of the British sovereign (Ottawa, [1899]) and The final judgment of Rome ([London, Ont., 1921]). A speech that he gave in Toronto on 12 March 1922 was published in pamphlet form, along with a speech by J. J. O’Gorman, as Some aspects of the separate school question: plain facts for fair minds ([London, 1922]). Fallon compiled, contributed biographical sketches to, and wrote the preface of Shorter poems by Catholics (London, 1930).

Arch. Deschâtelets-NDC des Missionnaires Oblats (Richelieu, Que.), HE 1811–1820 (fonds Deschâtelets, ser. Cardinaux et évêques, dossier Mgr Michael Fallon). Arch. of the Diocese of London, Bishop M. F. Fallon papers, Catholic centennial week – programming, 1926, box 1, file 20; Corr. – apostolic delegate, box 5, file 3, Sbarretti to Fallon, 11 May 1904; Corr. – political, Mexico, box 2, file 11, Fallon to King, 14 Dec. 1927. Arch. of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, ME (Archbishop Fergus McEvay fonds), Fallon to McEvay, 18 Aug. 1910. Vatican Apostolic Arch., Arch. Nunz. Canada, 19/2, fasc. 10.1, De Lai to Sbarretti, 17 Feb. 1909; McEvay to Sbarretti, 25 March 1909; 19/2, fasc. 10.2, Sbarretti to Merry Del Val, 25 May 1909; 25/1, fasc. 1, Stagni to Merry Del Val, 29 Nov. 1914. Le Devoir, 17 déc. 1927. Globe, 17 Oct. 1910, 7 Dec. 1917. Marilyn Barber, “The Ontario bilingual schools issue: sources of conflict,” CHR, 47 (1966): 227–48. J. D. Cecillon, Prayers, petitions, and protests: the Catholic Church and the Ontario schools crisis in the Windsor border region, 1910–1928 (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 2013); “Turbulent times in the diocese of London: Bishop Fallon and the French-language controversy, 1910–1918,” in Schooling in transition: readings in Canadian history of education, ed. S. Z. Burke and Patrice Milewski (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 2012), 302–20. Robert Choquette, Language and religion: a history of English–French conflict in Ontario (Ottawa, 1975). Adrian Ciani, “‘An imperialist Irishman’: Bishop Michael Fallon, the Diocese of London and the Great War,” CCHA, Hist. Studies, 74 (2008): 73–94. J. K. A. Farrell, “Michael Francis Fallon, bishop of London, Ontario – Canada, 1909–1931: the man and his controversies,” CCHA, Hist. Studies, 35 (1968): 73–90. Pasquale Fiorino, “Bishop Michael Francis Fallon: the man and his times, 1910–31” (phd thesis, Gregorian Pontifical Univ., Rome, 1993); “The nomination of Michael Fallon as bishop of London,” CCHA, Hist. Studies, 62 (1996): 33–46. Roger Guindon, La dualité linguistique à l’Université d’Ottawa (4v., Ottawa, 1989–98), 1 (Coexistence difficile, 1848–1898). Michael Power, “Fallon versus Forster: the struggle over Assumption College, 1919–1925,” CCHA, Hist. Studies, 56 (1989): 49–66; “The mitred warrior: a critical reassessment of Bishop Michael Francis Fallon, 1867–1931,” Catholic Insight (Toronto), 8 (2000), no.3: 18–26. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), vol.1.

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Pasquale Fiorino, “FALLON, MICHAEL FRANCIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fallon_michael_francis_16E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/fallon_michael_francis_16E.html
Author of Article:   Pasquale Fiorino
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2022
Year of revision:   2022
Access Date:   September 27, 2023