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b. 29 Sept. 1849 in Galena, Ill.


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LANDRY, JEAN-ÉTIENNE, doctor, surgeon, and professor; b. 25 Dec. 1815 at Carleton, Lower Canada, son of Sébastien Landry and Émerence Painchaud; m. 31 Aug. 1841 Caroline-Eulalie, daughter of notary Roger Lelièvre of Quebec City, and they had 11 children, of whom three survived infancy; d. 17 June 1884 at Quebec City.

Jean-Étienne Landry was an Acadian by descent and a Gaspesian by birth. His father, a leading citizen in Carleton, was well regarded by Abbé Charles-François Painchaud*, who since 1806 had served as a missionary in the Baie des Chaleurs region and resided in Carleton. Thus, after Sébastien Landry was widowed, Painchaud had no qualms about blessing his marriage to his own sister Émerence on 31 Oct. 1813. On Christmas Day 1815 their first child, Jean-Étienne, was born.

The previous year Painchaud had left Carleton to take charge of the parish of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (Sainte-Anne). In 1827, realizing that an institution for secondary education was needed for the people in the lower St Lawrence region, he added responsibility for the establishment of a classical college to his parish duties. He invited his nephew, Jean-Étienne, whose sharpness of mind he had quickly noted, to become a student in it. The young Gaspesian arrived in 1831 when the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière was going through a difficult initial period. The first director, Abbé Étienne Chartier*, whose pedagogical theories allowed the students excessive freedom, had bequeathed to his successor, Abbé Louis Proulx*, a situation which had to be rectified, if its disastrous moral and disciplinary results were to be corrected. The college’s 75 students were taught by seminarists who had just received the habit. There was extensive improvisation. The most gifted pupils would occasionally skip a year. Hence in July 1834, just three years after his arrival, Landry completed his sixth year (Rhétorique), winning second prize. Anxious to keep his nephew at the college, and having visions of a career in the church for him, Abbé Painchaud got him to enter ecclesiastical life in September 1835 and put him in charge of a first-year Latin class. But the attempt misfired. After only a few months Jean-Étienne left the village of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière) for Quebec, where another uncle, Dr Joseph Painchaud*, who had been in practice in that city for five years, agreed to take him on as a medical student.

Landry was attached as an intern to the Marine and Emigrant Hospital, an institution for transient seamen and immigrants. His experience as a student in this hospital was unhappy and, when offered the opportunity to leave Quebec City, he did not hesitate. In 1839 when dispute over the boundary between Canada and Maine exacerbated the long-standing quarrel between the British and the Americans, troops were sent to the Madawaska region to counter any forays the Americans might make. Landry donned military uniform as a “Medical attendant of a detachment of the 24th Regiment,” according to Le Canadien of 22 July 1839, which announced his forthcoming departure. His stay in the disputed frontier region in fact passed without incident. At the beginning of February 1840 he came back to Rivière-du-Loup to take over the hospital. Released from the army in April, he returned to Quebec, took his examinations on 8 July, and a week later was licensed to “practise medicine, surgery and obstetrics in the province of Lower Canada.”

He went into practice at Pointe-Lévy (Lauzon and Lévis). Then in April 1844 he was appointed surgeon to the Marine and Emigrant Hospital. As instructor in anatomy, Landry was authorized on 4 Dec. 1845 to open a dissecting room. The most tangible proof of his growing reputation as a skilful surgeon was his appointment in September 1849 as a professor in the Quebec School of Medicine, which had been incorporated in 1845 but was not officially opened until 15 May 1848. Its president was Joseph Morrin*, a Scot who already presided over the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Lower Canada and was affiliated with the Hôtel-Dieu. The principal professors of the school, apart from Morrin, were Joseph Painchaud, Charles-Jacques Frémont*, Pierre-Martial Bardy*, Jean Blanchet*, and James Douglas. The school lasted only a short while; it closed on 30 April 1854 and was succeeded by the faculty of medicine of Université Laval, whose chairs had been granted to the professors associated with Morrin, among them Landry.

On 10 Dec. 1853, immediately after his appointment as professor at Laval, Landry had been selected for an important mission in Europe and he left Quebec on 18 December with Octave Crémazie*. After his return on 20 April, Landry gave the capital’s newspapers a succinct report of the results of this mission. Le Journal de Québec of 2 May reported that on his “special assignment” for the university Landry had visited the University of Oxford, University College and King’s College in London, the universities of Liège, Louvain, Ghent, and Brussels in Belgium, and had attended the Faculté de Médecine in Paris during his stay in that city. At these institutions he studied procedures and their practical application, “gleaning whatever might be helpful to the Université Laval.” For its medical faculty he purchased “books, instruments, anatomical preparations necessary for teaching,” and reportedly put to good use the money available to him. “At his request, the seminary also agreed to allow him to acquire a superb collection of natural pathological specimens (more than 500 items), which he has added to a sizeable purchase of prepared specimens to be used in the study of [both] skin and other diseases. The instruments were made by one of the foremost Parisian craftsmen.”

In his medical teaching Landry demonstrated abilities which his students highly appreciated: clarity of exposition, precision in details, and a competence vitalized by the daily practice of surgery at the Hôtel-Dieu and at the Marine and Emigrant Hospital where he was still giving instruction in medicine as applied to outpatient clinics. In addition to teaching at Laval, treating an ever-growing clientele, and practising surgery, Landry gave much of his energies to the Asile de Beauport (Centre hospitalier Robert-Giffard), of which he became one of the owners in 1863. With the passing years, however, his medical activity diminished as a result of crippling rheumatism and increasing deafness. In 1880 he turned over the direction of the Asile de Beauport to his son Philippe, who was then the federal member for Montmagny county, and to his son-in-law Dr Georges-Antoine Larue. Then in April 1881 he asked Université Laval for permission to retire.

It was with the serenity of duty well done and the esteem of the community that Landry was ending his fruitful career when suddenly a storm as violent as it was unexpected burst over his head. By around 1880 the Catholic world had become haunted by the spectre of freemasonry. When in 1870 the papacy had lost the last of its territory with the entry of the Italian troops into Rome, most of the faithful had attributed this catastrophe to the efforts of Italian freemasonry, which hoped that the emergence of Rome as the capital of a united Italy would also signify the end of Roman Catholicism. In other Catholic countries such as Belgium and France, freemasonry had also adopted an anti-Catholic attitude. In France especially, the advent of the Third Republic saw the rise of an aggressive form of freemasonry which lent support to all the forces interested in fighting Catholicism.

It is not surprising that in French Canada, which was so attuned to France, the masonic menace was quickly detected. At Quebec the Cercle Catholique was outspoken in its denunciations. The president of this circle, founded on 26 May 1876, was Clément Vincelette, manager of the asylum at Beauport since 1853. Its members were militant Ultramontanes, the most prominent being Joseph-Israël Tarte*, editor of Le Canadien, Jules-Paul Tardivel*, his associate, bookseller Joseph-Alfred Langlais, Narcisse-Eutrope Dionne* and Roch-Pamphile Vallée, both staff writers of Le Courrier du Canada, and Landry’s son Philippe, the political opponent of François Langelier* who was a professor of law in Université Laval. The university was the target of the Cercle’s attacks. The members joined forces with the Montreal Ultramontanes, who were engaged in a desperate struggle there and in Rome to get the branch institution Laval had set up in Montreal in 1876 [see Joseph Desautels] replaced by a university independent of Quebec and uncontaminated by the defects apparent to them at Laval: Gallicanism, liberalism, and ties with freemasonry.

With the last point the opponents of the Quebec university were striking their enemy in a vulnerable spot, for some of the Protestants in the professorial ranks at Laval were freemasons. One, Dr James Arthur Sewell, had even been dean of the medical faculty since 1863 and thus sat on the university council. Jean-Étienne Landry considered such a situation unacceptable in a Catholic university. The rector, Abbé Thomas-Étienne Hamel, who was also vicar general of the archdiocese of Quebec, thought differently, at least if we accept the version Landry gave some years later of a conversation between them on Hamel’s return from a trip to Rome in 1873. Hamel had allegedly told Landry that he “had done all he could in Rome to make it understood that the freemasons in Canada were (without exception) not as malicious or as dangerous as those in Europe, since they were considered only as members of benevolent or mutual benefit societies, but that in Rome they refused to see reason on this point, and became infuriated when such remarks were made to them.” To which Landry replied, according to his account, “the freemasons are everywhere the same regarding the Church and society.”

Landry had informed the members of the Cercle Catholique of the opinion which, in his view, Hamel held concerning freemasonry, and he repeated this version to priests who came to his house to say mass once illness confined him to his room; the story spread so widely that the bishop of Saint-Hyacinthe, Louis-Zéphirin Moreau*, wrote to Quebec to ask for an explanation. The archdiocese reacted swiftly and in April 1883 deputed Abbé Louis-Nazaire Bégin*, the promoter of justice in the archdiocesan tribunal, to question Landry. Asserting that secret societies were making “great progress in Canada, with some priests reported to be affiliated with these societies hostile to the church,” Landry repeated to Bégin his account of the conversation with Hamel in 1873. Hamel subsequently told Bégin that “M. Landry had a mania of which no one in the world can cure him.”

On 30 April 1883 Hamel wrote to Landry to protest against the remarks attributed to him and to demand that he retract the malicious gossip he had started. Hamel suggested that Landry publish in the press a declaration which he himself had drawn up: Landry would admit that as a result of “precise information” he now realized he had “interpreted in a completely erroneous manner” a conversation dating back ten years, and that he was pleased to say that “no credence” should be given to “all the rumours” of Vicar General Hamel having expressed “objectionable ideas concerning freemasonry” to him. Unwilling to “dishonour” himself Landry flatly refused to sign this document, as he indicated in a letter of 7 June to Abbé Pierre Roussel, secretary of Université Laval.

However, the archbishop of Quebec had already come to the rescue of his vicar general, for, on 1 June, Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau* had published a pastoral letter on secret societies which was immediately reprinted in the press. Stating that, according to the church’s teaching, it was “always a very grave error to join secret societies properly so called, known under the generic name of freemasonry,” the archbishop enunciated “a precise and practical rule for putting an end to the fatal blindness” to which “too many persons who did not reflect sufficiently on the consequences of their actions and of their words” were succumbing. “With reference to a Catholic,” he stated, “the accusation of freemasonry is certainly grave enough by its very nature to give rise to calumny or scandal, or a rash, serious judgement. Circumstances may lend an extra degree of maliciousness, if for example a priest, a vicar general, a bishop, a cardinal . . . or the reputation of a Catholic institution is involved.” Cruel though the archbishop’s blow was, Landry remained silent but he behaved otherwise when on 5 June Université Laval, through its secretary, notified him that by unanimous resolution of the council it was withdrawing the title of “professor emeritus” conferred on him two years earlier. Replying on 7 June to Roussel, Landry showed that his deepest sensitivity had been offended: his honour as a man who had devoted the best of himself to an institution which now ignominiously cast him aside as if he were a common backbiter. By then he was confined to his room as an invalid and was almost totally deaf. Indeed, Bégin had found him unable “to hear a word, unless it was shouted into his ear.” Consequently he was glad to hand things over to his son Philippe, a born polemicist, who vigorously took up his father’s cause.

With no hope of obtaining justice for his father at home, despite his appearance on 23 July 1883 before the diocesan court, Philippe left for Rome on 4 August with two purposes: to denounce in the name of the Cercle Catholique Taschereau’s pastoral letter concerning secret societies, and to present his father’s case with supporting documents to the cardinals of Propaganda. But Propaganda, exasperated by the endless complaints from Quebec and not too sure how to solve these political-religious problems from a distance, dispatched the Belgian Cistercian Dom Joseph-Gauthier-Henri Smeulders to Canada as an apostolic commissary; he left Rome on 20 Sept. 1883. Philippe Landry returned to Quebec soon after to submit his report against Hamel to him. Hamel replied with a counter-report dated 13 June 1884.

Thus matters stood when Dr Jean-Étienne Landry died on 17 June. His will showed that he had a large fortune, especially for that period. In addition to substantial legacies to religious and charitable institutions, he left about $100,000 to each of his three children.

Philippe Landry was persistent and strove more earnestly than ever to rehabilitate fully his father’s good name. Even a brief account of the conflict of statements in Quebec and Rome would be too long. Any tentative agreement always met the insurmountable obstacle: did Dr Landry repeat accurately the remarks of Rector Hamel concerning freemasonres, maintained Philippe Landry; no, vehemently replied Hamel. Even after the latter’s death on 16 July 1913, Philippe, who had become the speaker of the Canadian Senate, would not let the matter drop. In September 1915 he appealed to the archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Louis-Nazaire Bégin, who was then chancellor of Université Laval, to have “struck” from the records of the Université Laval council the “resolution of expulsion” which was “a blot” on his father’s honour. In vain! On 20 Dec. 1919, the very day of Senator Landry’s death, Mgr Amédée-Edmond Gosselin*, archivist of the Séminaire de Québec, closed the Landry–Hamel case with a note certainly not charged with religious charity: “The affair is well and truly ended. . . . The honour of the university is worth at least as much as the honour of Dr Landry.”

Jean-Étienne Landry’s career had been an integral part of the first quarter-century of Université Laval. An illustration of the heroic and promising beginnings of that institution, it finally became lost in the maze of ideological struggles which drew too many fine minds away from creative work. The historian cannot but contemplate with profound sadness the tangled skein of those unending and unrelenting controversies that all too effectively and for too long made scientific advance within this small French-Canadian community a vain hope.

Philippe Sylvain

[This biography is a résumé of my essay entitled “Jean-Étienne Landry [1815–1884], l’un des fondateurs de la faculté de médecine de l’université Laval,” published in the Cahiers des Dix, 40 (1975): 161–96. Where necessary, Le Journal de Québec, Le Courrier du Canada, and LÉlecteur of Quebec were consulted to check statements from Le Canadien. The Annuaire of Université Laval was used for the years 1856 to 1883.  p.s.]

ASQ, Univ., Cartons 34–35. A.-C.-P.-R. Landry, Landry vs Hamel: sommaire, mémoire, documents et pièces justificatives (Rome, 1883). Le Canadien, 22 juill. 1839–18 juin 1884. C.-M. Boissonnault, Histoire de la faculté de médecine de Laval (Québec, 1953). M. Hamelin, Premières années du parlementarisme québécois, 134, 284–86. Jules Landry, “Le docteur J. É. Landry” (a lecture to the Soc. hist. de Québec and the Soc. canadienne d’hist. de la médecine, Québec, 1965). Wilfrid Lebon, Histoire du collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (2v., Québec, 1948–49), I. Trois siècles de médecine québécoise (Québec, 1970).

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Cite This Article

Philippe Sylvain, “LANDRY, JEAN-ÉTIENNE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/landry_jean_etienne_11E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/landry_jean_etienne_11E.html
Author of Article:   Philippe Sylvain
Title of Article:   LANDRY, JEAN-ÉTIENNE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   September 29, 2023