LAVOIE, THÉOPHILE, Roman Catholic priest, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, and educator; b. 6 Nov. 1836 in Kamouraska, Lower Canada, son of Joseph Lavoie, a farmer, and Céleste Clermont; d. 26 Oct. 1908 in Montreal.
Théophile Lavoie was educated at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière from 1847 to 1856 and spent the year 1857–58 taking law at the Université Laval. At the age of 24 he entered the noviciate of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Nancy, France. He continued to study in Marseilles from 1861 to 1864 and was ordained to the priesthood in Autun on 1 June 1864.
On his return to Canada that year, Lavoie assumed the post of director of studies at the College of Ottawa. Founded in 1848 by Bishop Joseph-Bruno Guigues*, this establishment offered a preparatory course, a classical program, and theology. Guigues had unsuccessfully tried in 1852 to get it affiliated with the University of Toronto. In 1866 Regiopolis College of Kingston secured from the Province of Canada a charter as a university for English-speaking Catholics. The Oblates of the College of Ottawa also applied for a charter to ensure that francophones would not be deprived of the benefits of higher education. To win French-speaking members of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council to their cause, they asked Lavoie to approach Luc Letellier* de Saint-Just, whose election campaign he had supported when he was a student. Despite the opposition to granting another charter to Catholics, the legislators finally agreed in 1866 to pass a bill conferring university status on the College of Ottawa. Lavoie’s intervention had been a decisive factor. The act did not mention that the college would be bilingual, but the Oblates continued to teach some classes in French and others in English to anglophones and francophones, who gathered in the same lecture halls.
As director of studies, Father Lavoie found that this linguistic duality made life difficult. Until his arrival in Ottawa, he had always been in a French-speaking milieu. In 1866 the institution had nearly 150 students, 50 of whom were French-speaking. His superior, Father Timothy Ryan, was Irish. In 1869 the provincial of the Oblates reported that Lavoie was “creating a faction to turn the college into a French Canadian undertaking in opposition to the English element.” This attitude explains the “great reluctance” to leave which Lavoie felt when his superiors asked him the following year to move to the new province of Manitoba.
Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché* made Father Lavoie director of the Collège de Saint-Boniface. For seven years he would be the only Oblate there. It was during his term of office, in 1871, that the college was incorporated, and in 1877 it became a part of the University of Manitoba. That year, however, Taché, who could not get more Oblates for the staff, had to resign himself to putting it in the hands of secular clergy. Lavoie then became assistant priest and, five years later, priest, of the English-speaking parish of St Mary’s in Winnipeg. In 1885 his superiors sent him to the United States, where he served as curé in various parishes: Sacred Heart, in Lowell, Mass. (1885–92), Holy Angels, in Buffalo, N.Y. (1892–93), Sacred Heart again (1893–97), and Saint-Pierre, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. (1897–1901). He then returned to Canada, first to Saint-Sauveur parish at Quebec (1901–2), and afterwards to the College of Ottawa (1902–6). He also served as chaplain to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in the capital.
During Lavoie’s stay in Ottawa, an Irish group claimed that the civil charter of the College of Ottawa had been obtained from parliament by the Irish, for the Irish. The French-speaking Oblates tried to challenge this assertion, but no one at the college had any recollection of the matter, and the fire that burned down the college in 1903 had destroyed the university archives. Father Émile David, who staunchly championed the French language, asked Father Lavoie, the only one of those securing the civil charter who was still alive, to search his memory. Lavoie dictated his reply to a secretary on 5 Feb. 1907. “We wanted a university charter . . . from which French Canadians especially would benefit,” he said, “and of which English-speaking students would also take advantage.” Apparently the time he had spent in Manitoba and the United States had cured him of his youthful antipathy to everything not “Canadian” and French.
Because of failing health, Lavoie had retired to the Oblate noviciate in Lachine, near Montreal, in 1906, and he died on 26 Oct. 1908. He was buried in the cemetery of the noviciate, but in 1972 his remains were moved to the Oblate cemetery at Richelieu.
AC, Montréal, État civil, Catholiques, Saints-Anges (Lachine), 28 oct. 1908. ANQ-Q, CE3-3, 7 nov. 1836. Arch. Deschâtelets, Oblats de Marie-Immaculée (Ottawa), HEC 2414.T39c. Arch. Générales des Oblats de Marie-Immaculée (Rome), Dossier Théophile Lavoie. Gaston Carrière, Dictionnaire biographique des oblats de Marie-Immaculée au Canada (3v., Ottawa, 1976–79), 2: 270; Histoire documentaire de la Congrégation des missionnaires oblats de Marie-Immaculée dans l’est du Canada (12v., Ottawa, 1957–75), 6: 199–202. Athanase Francœur, Notices nécrologiques de la province du Canada-Est (4v., Ottawa, 1957), 2: 67–69. Roger Guindon, Coexistence difficile: la dualité linguistique à l’université d’Ottawa (1v. paru, Ottawa, 1989– ).