LE SAULNIER, CANDIDE-MICHEL, Roman Catholic priest and Sulpician; b. 26 May 1758 in Doville, France, son of François Le Saulnier, a farmer, and Magdelainne Le Mouton; d. 4 Feb. 1830 in Montreal.
Candide-Michel Le Saulnier studied in the strictly gallican milieu of the faculty of theology in Paris. After five years he was ordained on 21 Sept. 1782 and was admitted as a member of the community of the Society of Saint-Sulpice. He then undertook a variety of tasks, including that of bursar at the Séminaire de Reims. He was still there when the revolution broke out in 1789. Following the example of his superior, Jacques-André Émery, and his confrères, he refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. In the spring of 1791, when the bishops who had taken the oath were installed, he apparently thought of going into exile, as numerous non-juring priests were doing. Having obtained in July 1792 from the municipal offices in Rheims a passport for travelling within the country – a document which specified that he was 5 feet 2 inches tall, and had a round, full face, prominent forehead, well-shaped nose, grey eyes, light brown hair, medium-sized mouth, and round chin – Le Saulnier made his way out of France to Jersey. There he spent five months untouched by the hunt for non-juring priests being initiated in his homeland.
Le Saulnier left in 1793 for London, where nearly 3,000 French ecclesiastics had already sought refuge, and on arriving met Sulpician François-Emmanuel Bourret, who probably introduced him to the home secretary, Henry Dundas. Dundas gave him a letter of recommendation to the lieutenant governor of Lower Canada, Alured Clarke, on 30 May 1793: On 15 July Le Saulnier landed at Quebec, where he was given a friendly reception; this response reflected a complete change in the British policy on the immigration of French subjects and it opened the door to the foreign recruits badly needed by the church in Lower Canada [see Jean-François Hubert*].
The Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal immediately put Le Saulnier to work in the parish of Notre-Dame. He endeavoured to familiarize himself with his new surroundings and to learn English at the same time. The council of the seminary meanwhile pondered the delicate legal question of whether he should be made a member of the community as if he were not a Sulpician, in order to protect the seminary from any accusation of being organically united to the French society, or whether he should be taken in as a Sulpician joining colleagues in Montreal. It did not wish to risk weakening the position of the seminary in its dispute with the British government over seigneurial rights but, internally, the dominant place of French members in the institution was at stake. The council opted for the second solution. Le Saulnier swore the oath of loyalty to the king, and three months after his arrival he was received as a colleague, with the same rights and privileges, including that of receiving the fraternal kiss, and with the seniority he had enjoyed in France.
In mid November 1793 Le Saulnier became the fifteenth parish priest of Notre-Dame, replacing François-Xavier Latour-Dézery, the only Canadian ever to have held that charge. In view of Le Saulnier’s experience, Bishop Hubert had thought of him rather for the office of bursar in the seminary. The Canadian born Hubert would perhaps have preferred a Canadian Sulpician – Joseph Borneuf* in particular – as parish priest, because the recruiting of French priests into the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice would cut short the newly begun process of Canadianizing this last bastion of French ecclesiastical power and would exacerbate a conflict between Canadian and French Sulpicians. The Canadian members saw the Montreal seminary as an important component of Canadian institutions and insisted that they had to be able to influence its policy. The French considered that even though the seminary was legally separate from the Paris one, it had to remain a French institution and by implication power had to be permanently consolidated in the hands of members of French origin. On arriving in Montreal, the French Sulpicians moved directly into senior positions. However non-committal he remained in his social relationships, Le Saulnier found himself siding with the French during the difficult period of integration that followed the arrival at the seminary of 11 new French Sulpicians in 1794. He likewise backed the seminary in the violent conflict it became engaged in with Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue* in 1821 over the issue of ecclesiastical authority in the District of Montreal [see Jean-Charles Bédard; Augustin Chaboillez].
When the superior, Jean-Henry-Auguste Roux, went to London in the summer of 1826 to settle the problem of the seminary’s seigneurial rights, his departure provided the occasion for Le Saulnier to take charge of the seminary. He seemed to adopt a softer line. He re-established contact with Bishop Lartigue and reduced the tensions between Canadians and French within the institution. He even sided with the Canadians when a power struggle broke out in earnest between the two groups after Roux brought back from London in August 1828 an agreement that required the seminary to hand over some of its seigneurial rights to the British government in return for a fixed and perpetual annuity. It was during this difficult period that Le Saulnier, who was then ill and extremely weak, expressed his wish to be relieved of the parish charge and of all worldly concerns.
On the pastoral side, Le Saulnier had given his energies to administrative tasks and preaching, as well as to directing a team of assistant priests; these priests shared the work of visiting the various quarters of the town and caring for the 2–3,000 poor who lined up for food, shelter, money, and firewood. He thus had the opportunity to exhort the faithful to be loyal to the king at the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the American threat in 1812. In his ministry he recalled his parishioners to the religious view of the world and to an understanding of history as governed by a providence destining salvation for only the elect. From 1808 that ministry saw growing numbers of the faithful, beginning with those who were educated and active, gradually move away from religious obligations, so that by 1830 only 40 per cent of the people were still taking their Easter Communion. The chronic dearth of places of worship in the parish scarcely encouraged religious fervour. The parish church was already too small when Le Saulnier took charge in 1793. Not until 1823 was thought given to replacing it with the church building that still stands [see James O’Donnell]. In 1814 Le Saulnier had had chapels built at Saint-Henri-des-Tanneries (Saint-Henri, Montreal) and Côte-des-Neiges, and these were visited by a priest once a month.
Le Saulnier made quite an important contribution to cultural life in the Montreal region. Beginning in 1796 he set up with Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins in Quebec and Bourret in London an efficient network for bringing books to Montreal, with emphasis on devotional and religious works. He was also active in establishing primary schools outside the town, at Côte-des-Neiges, in the faubourg Saint-Antoine, at Saint-Henri-des-Tanneries, and in the faubourg Québec.
Less well known than his superior Roux, who was heavily involved in the political and economic scene, Le Saulnier left behind the memory of a pastor who was resourceful in administration, admired for truly classical eloquence, and endowed with a diplomacy particularly sought after throughout the internal and external crises that marked his career in Montreal. Late in the summer of 1829 he became completely paralysed and could communicate only with his eyes. At his funeral, Bishop Lartigue himself gave the absolution in the presence of an immense crowd of the faithful, a final token of respect for Le Saulnier’s long ministry.
Arch. de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (Paris), Dossiers 55, no.12; 67, no.10; 76, no.7; mss 1208. ASSM, 9; 11; 16–18; 21; 24, dossier 2; 27–28; 49. “Quelques prêtres français en exil au Canada,” ANQ Rapport, 1966: 141–90. Gauthier, Sulpitiana. Bernard Plongeron, Conscience religieuse en révolution; regards sur l’historiographie religieuse de la Révolution française (Paris, 1969). Louis Rousseau, La prédication à Montréal de 1800 à 1830; approche religiologique (Montréal, 1976).