NÉDÉLEC, JEAN-MARIE, Roman Catholic priest, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, and missionary; b. 8 May 1834 in Berrien, France, son of Louis Nédélec and Marie Le Porz; d. 23 Feb. 1896 in Mattawa, Ont.
Jean-Marie Nédélec studied at the Grand Séminaire de Quimper in France, and was ordained priest in Quimper on 24 July 1859. He devoted himself to teaching in his diocese before entering the Oblate noviciate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier in 1861. In his report the novice master noted: “Very good priest, a model religious; aspires only after the good, but is not always successful in doing it; upright, affable, very open nature, not prepossessing in appearance. Wants mission work . . . ready for anything. Admitted unanimously to oblation.” He took his vows on 5 Oct. 1862.
The following year Father Nédélec was assigned to the Oblate residence at Betsiamites, Lower Canada. He threw himself into his work at this Indian mission and even learned Montagnais. He also ministered to almost all the little villages on the north shore of the St Lawrence. In the summer of 1867 he undertook a long and difficult journey up to Lac Mistassini, where the Oblates had hopes of founding a mission, a project they finally had to give up. In the course of the following winter he went with Father Louis-Étienne-Delille Reboul* to the lumber camps in the Maniwaki region. In the spring of 1868 he began his missionary work in the Abitibi, Timiskaming, and James Bay regions, a vast area in which he travelled tirelessly.
In 1869 Father Nédélec became resident priest in Mattawa, the capital of the lumber camps, which at that time had a fixed population of 50 Catholic and 25 Protestant families as well as a seasonal population of about 2,000 people. He took charge of the school, where teaching was done in French, English, and Algonkin, until the arrival in 1878 of the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa, who took over educational responsibilities and founded a hospital.
In addition to the church at Mattawa, the missions in the lumber camps and the railway construction camps had to be served during the early spring and summer months. This was a difficult ministry, carried on in physical circumstances that were always unstable, among a population of different races and religious beliefs unused to the practice of the Christian faith or little interested in religion. Father Nédélec also worked with the Indians in these regions. He often regretted that he was not able to stay permanently with this “wretched but saintly people,” to use his own words.
Father Nédélec would end his missionary life in the Timiscaming region, at Ville-Marie, to which he was assigned in 1892. Here again he ministered to nearly all the missions dependent on this Oblate centre, and he spent the summers evangelizing the Indians in the area. He loved his missionary life. “Here I am my own cook, my show-boy, my beadle, and I am happier than the great curés,” he told his superior in 1893.
Father Jean-Marie Nédélec was a zealous priest and an indefatigable traveller. As he himself liked to say: “In case of need the Reverend Father Nédélec filled the gaps.” In his milieu and among his flock he was loved and respected. He was called “good little Father Brûlé” because he was short and had wide, deep burn marks on his face. He died on 23 Feb. 1896 as a result of a hernia that had not been properly treated. His superior deeply mourned his loss, recognizing that “he truly was the beast of burden of our missions.”
This biography is based on Gaston Carrière, Le voyageur du bon Dieu; le père Jean-Marie Nédélec, o. m.i. (1834–1896) (Montréal, ). See also AD, Finistère (Quimper), État civil, Berrien, 8 mai 1834.