GAY (Guay), ROBERT-MICHEL, priest, Sulpician, missionary, first superior of the mission at Lac des Deux Montagnes (Oka); b. 1663 at Autun; d. 29 July 1725 at Montreal.
After being ordained a priest, M. Gay joined the Sulpicians on 10 May 1687 and left for Canada in April 1688. Upon his arrival on 15 August his superiors entrusted to him the mission at La Montagne. While there he undertook an extensive study of the Indian languages, “receiving lessons in Algonkian from his confrère Barthélemy, in Huron from M. Mariet; from M. Belmont [Vachon] himself lessons in Iroquois.” It seems clear that M. Gay had a certain success in his study of the Indian languages, since “there remained some scraps of an Algonkian grammar, which disappeared in the lamentable fire of 15 June 1877.”
When the La Montagne mission moved to Sault-au-Récollet in September 1696, M. Gay followed his flock. During his whole life as a missionary, but especially when at La Montagne and Sault-au-Récollet, the valiant Sulpician made it his duty to accompany the members of his mission when they went to war, thus following the advice of his superior general. But he was not content just to act as chaplain; having extraordinary influence over his neophytes and being of a powerful build and dauntless courage, he was always in the front rank of his Indians during combats. Soon his exploits brought him from M. Tronson a recommendation to be prudent. “We have learned from the accounts of the war just how great has been your bravery. It is a worthy form of zeal to risk oneself for the safety of one’s brothers and for the colony and our religion: but in order that God may bless your zeal and that it may not take you too far, always accompany it with obedience.” It seems that M. Gay did not immediately moderate his warlike ardour, for M. Tronson had to make new appeals for prudence the following year.
Some years later, in 1698, the missionary expressed a desire to return to France, but Dollier de Casson succeeded in dissuading him, to the greater good of the Indians. As the years went by, M. Gay, realizing the importance of the presence of missionaries among the Indians, bequeathed on 29 Oct. 1707, together with Messrs Maurice Quéré* de Tréguron and Vachon de Belmont, a sum, the income from which was to serve in perpetuity for the maintenance of a priest in the service of the Indian missions.
As the proximity of the town constituted a danger for his flock, who were inclined towards drunkenness, M. Gay and his superior remonstrated to the council of Marine, which soon consented to moving the mission to Lac des Deux Montagnes. This move took place in 1721, and M. Gay became the first superior of this mission. He kept this post until his death, which occurred on 29 July 1725 at the seminary in Montreal.
This missionary had spent 37 years in the service of the missions in the Montreal region, and he was one of the great figures among the Sulpicians of his period. He fully deserved the recognition accorded by “his Indians” and the whole colony at the time of his burial in the church of Notre-Dame, for “according to the reports of the time, he exhibited in this function the virtues of an apostle and the qualities of an army general.”
PAC, FM 17, A 7–2, 1, v.2. [François Vachon] de Belmont, Histoire du Canada. [Louis Tronson], Correspondance de M. de Tronson, troisième Supérieur de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice: Lettres choisies, [16 juillet 1676–15 janv. 1700], éd. A.-L. Bertrand (3v., Paris, 1904), II. A.-L. Bertrand, Bibliothèque sulpicienne ou histoire littéraire de la compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (3v., Paris, 1900), I. René Desrochers, Le Sault-au-Récollet (Montréal, 1936). Henri Gauthier, La Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice au Canada (Montréal, 1912); Sulpitiana (Montréal, 1926). Olivier Maurault, Nos Messieurs (Montréal, 1936); Quand Saint-Sulpice allait en guerre (Montréal, 1940). Pierre Rousseau, Saint-Sulpice et les missions catholiques (Montréal, 1930). L.-P. Desrosiers, “Correspondance de M. Magnien,” Cahiers des Dix, IX (1944), 199–227. Olivier Maurault, “Les vicissitudes d’une mission sauvage,” Revue trimestrielle canadienne (L’Ingénieur), XVI (1930).