LEFEBVRE, EUGÈNE (Charles-Pierre-Eugène), Roman Catholic priest, Jesuit, and missionary; b. 12 Dec. 1854 in Saint-Guillaume, Lower Canada, son of François Lefebvre, a farmer, and Marguerite Rinfrette; d. 27 Jan. 1914 in Sudbury, Ont.
Eugène Lefebvre entered the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe to prepare for the priesthood and on 9 Oct. 1876 joined the Jesuit order at its noviciate in Saul-tau-Récollet (Montreal North). He continued his studies at the Collège Saint-Acheul in Amiens, France, from 1878 to 1880 and at Stonyhurst College in England, where he took philosophy and science from 1880 to 1882. On his return to Canada he joined the teaching staff at the Collège Sainte-Marie in Montreal and in 1885 began studying theology at the Scolasticat de l’Immaculée-Conception.
Lefebvre was ordained as a priest in Montreal on 19 March 1888 and studied for a further year at the Collège Sainte-Marie. In 1889 he made his first visit to northern Ontario, where he spent a year as a missionary and teacher to the Ojibwa at Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island. He then returned to the Collège Sainte-Marie as a prefect of students before doing a final year of spiritual training at the noviciate in Sault-au-Récollet. In September 1892 he went to Sudbury to undertake missionary work in the scattered and sparsely populated settlements of the area. He took his final vows there on 2 Feb. 1893. Lefebvre remained four years at Sudbury, a community which had been started in 1883 with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway but which had become a mining and lumbering town after construction ended in 1885. He then spent five years doing similar work at Massey Station (Massey), and then four at Chapleau. On 27 Jan. 1906 he returned to Sudbury as the local superior of the Jesuit order and priest of St Anne’s parish, appointments he retained until his death exactly eight years later.
His position made Lefebvre an important figure in the developing French-speaking community in Sudbury, which constituted about one-third of the town’s population. The frontier nature of that community was reflected in the philanthropic society founded by Lefebvre in January 1912, the Association pour Protéger les Filles d’Hôtel, to protect the morals of young French Canadian women working in Sudbury hotels frequented by lumbermen and miners. The following year he founded a branch of the Ligue du Sacré-Cœur, aimed at the spiritual well-being of men and boys in the parish. As well, Lefebvre facilitated the visit to Sudbury of Alphonse Desjardins to establish a local caisse populaire.
It was the development of educational institutions that caused Lefebvre his greatest difficulty. He has been accused in recent studies of being at best lukewarm in his support for French-language education. Lefebvre, however, had to bear in mind the fact that more than 40 per cent of the families in his parish were English-speaking, many of them of Irish background, a figure that would a few years later lead to the creation of a separate English-speaking parish. As the parish priest, Lefebvre was superintendent of the separate school, a position that required a delicate balancing act between the two linguistic groups at a time when French-language education was becoming a contentious issue in Ontario politics [see Sir James Pliny Whitney]. Compromise was also necessary in the founding in Sudbury of the Jesuits’ Collège du Sacré-Cœur, in which Lefebvre was instrumental. Modelled on the classical colleges of Quebec, it was intended as a training ground for French Canadian youth of the Sudbury area. In order to obtain Bishop David Joseph Scollard*’s permission to establish the college in 1912, it was necessary for him to agree that it would be a bilingual institution, a provision that quickly became a dead letter.
Eugène Lefebvre was not a flamboyant figure. He is perhaps best seen as typical of the Roman Catholic clergy who led or followed the French Canadian migration into northeastern Ontario towards the end of the 19th century and who played a crucial role in transplanting from Quebec and developing enduring social and cultural institutions.
Lefebvre’s death registration (AO, RG 80-8-0-538, no.29872) records his first names as Eugène-Pierre, and J.-B.-A. Allaire, Dictionnaire biographique du clergé canadien français (6v., Montréal et Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué., 1908–34), gives them as Charles-Pierre-Eugène, but the baptismal registration in ANQ-MBF, CE3-11, has only Eugène.
Arch. de la Compagnie de Jésus, Prov. du Canada Français (Saint-Jérôme, Qué.), Litteræ annuæ provinciœ canadensis Societatis Iesu a die 1a aug. 1912 ad diem 1am aug. 1917 (typescript, Montreal, 1923; photocopy in Jesuit Fathers of Upper Canada Arch., Toronto). Jesuit Fathers of the Univ. of Sudbury Arch. (Sudbury, Ont.), Paroisse Sainte-Anne de Sudbury, diarium, 1 (1883–1924). Sudbury Star, 28 Jan. 1914. Biographies of the Sudbury region (Sudbury, 1980), 71. Catalogus missionis canadensis Societatis Jesu (Montreal), 1888–1907. Gail Cuthbert Grant, “The development of French-Canadian social institutions in Sudbury, Ontario, 1883–1920,” Laurentian Univ Rev. (Sudbury), 11 (1978–79), no.2: 5–22. Alphonse Raymond, “Paroisse Sainte-Anne de Sudbury, 1883–1953,” Soc. Hist. du Nouvel-Ontario, Doc. hist. (Sudbury), no.26 (1953).