GAULTIER (Gauthier, Gautier) DE VARENNES (Devarenne, De Varenne), JEAN-BAPTISTE, priest, procurator of the seminary of Quebec, canon, penitentiary and archdeacon of the chapter, vicar-general, member of the Conseil. Supérieur; b. probably 2 Oct. 1677 at Trois-Rivières, son of René Gaultier* de Varennes, governor of Trois-Rivières, and of Marie Boucher, daughter of Pierre Boucher; died 30 March 1726 at Quebec.
Jean-Baptiste, older brother of the discoverer Pierre Gaultier* de La Vérendrye, entered the Petit Séminaire of Quebec in September 1688, when he was about 11 years of age. He was brought there by Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix], who had just returned from France after his consecration as bishop, and by Abbé Des Maizerets [Ango]. There he completed all his studies, including theology, between September 1697 and 3 Dec. 1700, the date of his ordination as a priest by Bishop Laval in the seminary chapel.
Until 1706 he was a curate at the cathedral. Priests serving in the parish were members of the seminary, consequently Varennes was received into it in 1701 and was given the task of directing the young theological students. On 2 Oct. 1702 he became a canon in the chapter; in 1716 he was the penitentiary, and finally, in the last years of his life, archdeacon and vicar-general of the diocese. In addition, on 4 Jan. 1724, the king appointed him councillor and clerk of the Conseil Supérieur, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Abbé Joseph de La Colombière.
Quite apart from all these dignities, which were primarily honorary, from 1707 till his death Abbé Varennes devoted himself above all to his office as procurator of the seminary, in which task he aided and ultimately succeeded Abbé Jean-François Buisson de Saint-Cosme (1660–1712). The seminary was carrying at this time a debt of 60,000 livres. Varennes concerned himself particularly with administering the seigneuries and managing the farms and mills which were run by the seminary. It became apparent that Varennes’ administration was more and more disastrous. He was rebuked for not following the directors’ orders, for borrowing too much, and for refusing to produce accounts of his management. The superiors of the seminary in Paris, upon which the seminary in Quebec was dependent, became so alarmed at the situation that they advised the procurator to hand in his resignation. Instead of doing so, Varennes drew up a long report, dated 1 Sept. 1723, justifying his administration from 1707 on. He attributed the disastrous situation to several factors: “the two fires that, as is known, the seminary suffered at four years’ interval . . . the fire that ravaged Île Jésus . . . the loss at sea of a ship laden with effects belonging to us, and the capture of another by the enemy . . . the extremely high price of everything . . . the receiving of missionaries at all times without requiring any recompense from them . . . the necessity of paying as much for a piece of land as for a whole Canadian seigneury . . . the detaching and sending [forth] of missionaries, with considerable expense incurred, both for them and for the servants who accompany them . . . after all, I cannot cease believing that God gives His blessing to this undertaking and that He gives us back in other ways what we spend thus. What is true, is that all this does not appear to have increased our revenues.”
During this period another subject of concern arose: the friction between priests born in Canada and those from France, who always kept for themselves the positions of authority in the seminary. It is probable that Abbé Varennes was at the head of the Canadian faction. In 1723, on being warned of this dispute, the superiors in Paris gave their colleagues at Quebec some wise admonitions on the direction of the church in Canada.
Bishop Saint-Vallier recognized Varennes’ talents and qualities by appointing him archdeacon and vicar-general. He even chose him to be his executor, thus indicating his confidence in him. Varennes died 30 March 1726 a year before the bishop himself died.
Abbé Varennes may have been a touchy administrator, but he was recognized as a exemplary priest: given to self mortification and filled with liturgical zeal, he was discreet and capable in directing young people, and was faithful in observing regulations.
ASQ, C 14, 235–36; Lettres, M, 28, 47, 59; N, 109, 116, 134; R, 35; Séminaire, IV, 119; V, 64; VIII, 1; XV, 58. Charland, “Notre-Dame de Québec: le nécrologe de la crypte,” 180. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, I, 258. Gosselin, L’Église du Canada, I, 389f., 439. J.-E. Roy, “Les conseillers au Conseil souverain de la Nouvelle-France,” BRH, I (1895), 179. P.-G. Roy, “Les conseillers clercs au Conseil souverain de la Nouvelle-France,” BRH, XXII (1916), 352. Benjamin Sulte, “La Vérenderie avant ses voyages au Nord-Ouest,” BRH, XXI (1915), 103. Henri Têtu, “Le chapitre de la cathédrale de Québec et ses délégués en France (1723–1773),” BRH, XVI (1910), 138.