HOUDET, ANTOINE-JACQUES, Sulpician and teacher; b. 1 Dec. 1764 in Chalonnes (Chalonnes-sur-Loire, France), son of Antoine Houdet, a master locksmith, and Jacquine Houdet; d. 7 April 1826 in Montreal.
Antoine-Jacques Houdet, who came from a humble background, began his studies at the Séminaire d’Angers in 1783 and completed the two-year philosophy program and four years of theology there. After being ordained priest on 27 Sept. 1788, he was appointed to teach philosophy at Angers, did his year of solitude (noviciate) at Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris, in 1789, and was admitted into the Society of Saint-Sulpice. He became a teacher of dogmatics at the Séminaire de Nantes in 1790. Having refused, like the other Sulpicians, to take the oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, he left Nantes for Bilbao, Spain, on 15 Sept. 1792. He spent three years in Spain, first at Estella and later in the diocese of Orense. In September 1795 he left Astorga for London, and then, armed with a letter of recommendation from the Duke of Portland, he sailed for New York, where he arrived on 31 December. He reached Montreal on 19 Jan. 1796 after a trip made difficult by the severity of the winter.
In October Houdet received an appointment to teach at the Collège Saint-Raphael. He began his career there just at the time when the director, Jean-Baptiste Marchand, was leaving. Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Chicoisneau*, the new director, and the other French Sulpicians, Claude Rivière, Jacques-Guillaume Roque*, and Houdet, brought to the college the new traditions and stricter requirements that established its importance as an educational institution. From 1796 until his death Houdet, who was not drawn to pastoral ministry and who preached only a few sermons a year in the parish church, devoted himself wholly to teaching. He taught Latin, French, mathematics, science, astronomy, and philosophy. With Rivière he prepared courses and published textbooks, and he also gave assistance in the bursar’s office and the library.
At the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice Houdet was a highly respected counsellor whose opinion was sought on controversial matters. The seminary was at odds with the bishop of Quebec, Joseph-Octave Plessis, and after 1820 with Jean-Jacques Lartigue*, his auxiliary bishop in Montreal. When Plessis asked the Sulpicians to establish a seminary in Montreal for training those seeking ordination, Houdet expressed his opposition to this proposal in a memoir. He thought that the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice could do nothing more for the time being than train regents at the college. He also drew attention to the fact that there were only a limited number of candidates for the priesthood. In 1821 Houdet put forward a justification for the seminary’s uncooperative attitude at the time of Bishop Lartigue’s arrival in Montreal the year before. He explained the seminary’s refusal to accommodate Lartigue in the community and to render him honours that were due only to a resident bishop. The discussions were prolonged and became acrimonious [see Augustin Chaboillez]. In June 1824 Sulpician Jean-Charles Bédard, who was sympathetic to Lartigue, wrote a report which was sent to Rome. Houdet prepared a reply summarizing the quarrels with Plessis, Lartigue, and the latter’s coadjutor, Bernard-Claude Panet, and refuting Bédard’s arguments point by point. This 130-page text reflected Houdet’s theological and social training. He was a priest who had come out of the ancien régime imbued with the importance of the acknowledged rights and privileges of the Catholic church of France, and he was convinced that their strict enforcement would ensure the greatness and stability of a divine institution recognized and supported by the state. At times Houdet’s remarks dealt with utter trivialities, and the force of his argument was weakened by his dwelling upon them. There is no doubt that he was intensely caught up in this quarrel and that he summed up the views held by the majority of the members of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal, most of whom were from France.
Antoine-Jacques Houdet’s relatively robust health suddenly deteriorated in 1825; he suffered two paralytic strokes from which he only partially recovered. Stricken by a third one, he died on 7 April 1826. He was buried on 10 April under the chancel of Notre-Dame church.
Antoine-Jacques Houdet is the author of Cours abrégé de rhétorique à l’usage du collège de Montréal (Montreal, 1835) and Cours abrégé de belles-lettres à l’usage du collège de Montréal (Montréal, 1840). In collaboration with his colleague Claude Rivière he wrote two works both called Grammaire françoise pour servir d’introduction à la grammaire latine and both published at Montreal in 1811. The ASSM holds two unpublished dictionaries by Houdet, one French-Latin (133 pages) and the other Latin-French (198 pages.)
AAQ, 71–31 CD, II: 39a, 40. ACAM, 465.101, 816–1, 818–1, 829–3. ANQ-M, CE1-51, 10 avril 1826. Arch. de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (Paris), Dossier 102, no.4. ASSM, 11, 21, 24, 27. Allaire, Dictionnaire, 1: 271. [L.-A. Huguet-Latour], Annuaire de Ville-Marie, origine, utilité et progrès des institutions catholiques de Montréal . . . (2v., Montréal, 1863–82). Louis Bertrand, Bibliothèque sulpicienne ou histoire littéraire de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (3v., Paris, 1900), 2: 65–66. [Pierre] Boisard, La Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice; trois siècles d’histoire (s.l.n.d.). Dionne, Les ecclésiastiques et les royalistes français. Maurault, Le collège de Montréal (Dansereau; 1967).
Revisions based on:
Arch. Départementales, Maine-et-Loire (Angers, France), “Reg. paroissiaux et d’état civil,” Chalonnes-sur-Loire, Saint-Maurille, 2 déc. 1764: www.archives49.fr/acces-directs/archives-en-ligne (consulted 25 Sept. 2018).