MIGNAULT, PIERRE-MARIE, Catholic priest and vicar general; b. 8 Sept. 1784 at Saint-Denis on the Richelieu River, Province of Quebec, son of Basile Mignault, farmer, and Marie-Josephte Ledoux, both of Acadian ancestry; d. 5 Nov. 1868 at Montreal.
Following classical studies at the Collège de Montréal (1798–1806), Pierre-Marie Mignault spent a year with his parish priest, Abbé François Chewier*, preparing for the priesthood. For the next academic year he went to the Séminaire de Nicolet, where he continued his theological studies and also served as bursar. Ordained priest on 18 Oct. 1812, he was appointed curate by Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis*, first at the city of Quebec, then two years later at Halifax, which still formed part of the diocese of Quebec. After the parish priest at Halifax, Edmund Burke*, left for Europe, Mignault had to minister alone to about a thousand Irish Catholics. His correspondence with Bishop Plessis includes reference to occasional contact with Sir John Coape Sherbrooke*, the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, and this contact enabled him to write later: “I am quite familiar with the nature of British government, through having studied it here at Halifax.” When Burke returned from Rome in 1817, as head of the new apostolic vicariate of Nova Scotia, Mignault went back to Lower Canada.
He was immediately appointed parish priest of Chambly, which had 3,000 parishioners in addition to the garrison. Religious life in the parish seemed to him superficial, and licentiousness too common. Working first by himself, then with the help of a curate, he was able to induce almost all the Catholics to take Easter communion. Neighbouring parish priests were envious of his success; Mignault retorted that he “had not asked for the position,” which was in fact an important one for so young a priest. Spurred on by the example of the Protestants, who were building a combined church and school, Mignault opened two schools in October 1818, one Francophone and the other Anglophone. He also wanted to get signatures to a petition for the promotion of the teaching of the French language and the Catholic religion, but Bishop Plessis dissuaded him.
In 1821, however, Mignault joined the association to improve educational opportunities in the Chambly River area [see Charles La Rocque*]. Moreover, in 1825 Mignault founded the classical college at Saint-Pierre de Chambly, remaining its superior until 1844. There were many obstacles; he would have given up if he had not had strong religious and patriotic convictions, and had not also wished to “dispel the old and continually revived calumny that the clergy seeks to keep the people in ignorance.” Despite his devotion, the institution, incorporated in 1836, was frequently in a precarious state. Debts, a small teaching body hastily assembled, pupils chosen somewhat at random, authority divided between the superior and various directors, and the introduction of a commercial course in 1839, brought an end to the classical programme at Chambly in 1844. Mignault unsuccessfully attempted on several occasions to revive classical studies in this establishment, which finally closed its doors in 1862.
Pierre-Marie Mignault also took an interest in the Canadians who had emigrated to the United States and settled on the shores of Lake Champlain. From 1818 to 1850 he set aside some 14 days each year for these people, who could not be ministered to for want of American priests. At his own expense Mignault went to the region, where he preached and administered the sacraments. In 1849, when Bishop Ignace Bourget* held an inquiry into the emigration of Canadians to the United States, Mignault was asked to give information on the conditions of life and the habits and customs of the emigrants.
By 1830 Mignault had become in succession vicar general of the dioceses of Boston, New York, and Albany; he earned the gratitude of the first bishop of Burlington, Louis de Goesbriand, among others: “Only with respect and gratitude can I utter the name of the Reverend Mignault, who had a true father’s heart for the immigrant Canadians.” In 1852 he received the title of apostolic chaplain from Pope Pius IX.
Although he had always upheld the bishops’ authority, Mignault felt able to give them advice or submit plans to them. In 1854, with 15 other priests, he suggested to Bishop Bourget that a new diocese be set up, covering the south shore of the St Lawrence as far as the Richelieu. The reasons advanced were serious: the assurance of wealth and material resources to support a bishop and the need to guard and strengthen the faith in view of the large number of Protestants. However, the second provincial council of Quebec in June 1854 did not approve the proposal.
The last years of Mignault’s life as parish priest of Chambly were hampered by illness and old age. He none the less founded a convent in 1855 and a hospital in 1858. In 1866 he resigned, and retired to the hospice of Saint-Joseph at Montreal, where he died two years later.
AAQ, 210 A, V, 124, 225; IX, 113; 515 CD, I, 139–50. Archives du diocèse de Saint-Jean-de-Québec (Longueuil, Qué.), Saint-Joseph-de-Chambly, 1A/44f., 47f., 50–52, 54, 66, 84, 89, 128, 134, 137, 159, 162. Archives paroissiales, Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu (Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué.), Registres de baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 9 Sept. 1784. L’Ami du peuple, de l’ordre et des lois (Montréal), 10 juin 1835, 13 sept. 1839. L’Aurore des Canadas, 17 sept. 1839. Mélanges religieux, 16 juill. 1841. Allaire, Dictionnaire. J.-A.-I. Douville, Histoire du collège-séminaire de Nicolet, 1803–1903, avec les listes complètes des directeurs, professeurs et élèves de l’institution (2v., Montréal, 1903), II, 3, 5–7. A. A. Johnston, A history of the Catholic Church in eastern Nova Scotia (2v., Antigonish, N.S., 1960–71), I, 348, Lemieux, L’établissement de la première prov. eccl., 87–92. Yvon Charron, “Le collège classique de Saint-Pierre à Chambly,” SCHÉC Rapport, 13 (1945–46), 19–38. Adrien Verrette, “La paroisse franco-américaine,” SCHÉC Rapport, 15 (1947–48), 132. Mason Wade, “The French parish and survivance in nineteenth-century New England,” Catholic Hist. Rev. (Washington), XXXVI (1950–51), 163–89.