PHANEUF, JOSEPH-STANISLAS-ZÉPHIRIN, named Brother Opilius Elias (like his French-speaking colleagues, he preferred to gallicize his official religious name and signed Frère Élie), member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, educator, and author; b. 27 Dec. 1875 in Salvail, near Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., son of Zéphir Phaneuf, a farmer, and Éliza Chartier; d. 1 Sept. 1929 in Montreal.
Joseph-Stanislas-Zéphirin Phaneuf studied at the Académie Girouard, and afterwards at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe from 1888 to 1890. He then entered the juvénat (which prepared adolescent students before they became novices) run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools at Mont-de-La-Salle in Maisonneuve (Montreal). On 19 March 1892 he donned the habit and took the name of Brother Opilius Elias. Sent first to the scholasticate (March to October 1893), which was also at Mont-de-La-Salle, he subsequently went to the Académie Saint-Jean-Baptiste at Quebec (1893–96), Saint-Jean-d’Iberville (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) (1896 and 1897), and the École Saint-Joseph in Montreal (1897–1903). His superiors assigned him in 1903 to the Collège du Mont-Saint-Louis in Montreal, a bilingual boarding and day school, which was directed at that time by Brother Symphorian Lewis [Stanislas-Alphonse Roberge]. Except for one year in Ottawa, in 1904–5, as assistant director of the Académie De-La-Salle, he would spend the rest of his life at Mont-Saint-Louis.
According to his colleagues, Brother Opilius Elias brought to the tasks of teacher and monitor a devotion, courtesy, and perspicacity that readily earned him their respect and the affection of his students. The special interest he took in his school showed in various ways: his painstaking preparation of “Notes historiques sur le Mont-Saint-Louis” from 1910 to 1927, his concern for providing the library with a large collection of Canadiana, and his care in preserving and enriching the Mont-Saint-Louis archives, of which he was temporarily in charge for a few months.
Throughout his career, Brother Opilius Elias took a particular interest in genealogy and history. He published a book on the Casavant family in 1914 and another one on the Phaneuf-Farnsworth family the following year. Twice a winner in the competition of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal (in 1917 for an article on Pierre Le Moyne* d’Iberville et d’Ardillières, and in 1918 for a narrative entitled “Mathias l’Anglais”), as a writer he focused on the history of French Canada. He helped write the Histoire du Canada for the senior course, which was published by his community. He was also the author of biographies and historical accounts under various pseudonyms, including Élie de Salvail, Du Rivage, Des Érables, and Luc. His pieces appeared in such newspapers as L’Action catholique (Québec) and La Presse (Montréal) (where his “Éphémérides” was a regular feature), and in Montreal magazines such as Un Canadien errant, Le Petit Canadien, L’Oiseau bleu, Le Pays laurentien, and the Revue canadienne. For a number of years he contributed to his community’s publications, among them the Bulletin du Saint Enfant Jésus and the Bulletin des Écoles chrétiennes. His favourite topics were the great figures of French Canada’s history and the customs (especially religious) of the early French Canadians.
Brother Opilius Elias was in the process of revising his major work, 366 anniversaires canadiens, which revisited the “Éphémérides” published in La Presse, when illness struck in the summer of 1929. He died after an operation for acute peritonitis. The obituary in La Presse noted that he would be “deeply remembered by all those who knew him as teacher or as historian.” His well-documented works recreated an idealized past, centred on New France and its “heroes,” especially the religious figures.
Using his religious name Frère Élie, Joseph-Stanislas-Zéphirin Phaneuf published La famille Casavant (Montréal, 1914) and La famille Phaneuf-Farnsworth: histoire, généalogie, documents, portraits (Montréal, 1915); 366 anniversaires canadiens (Montréal, 1930) appeared under the pseudonym Élie de Salvail. Phaneuf is the author of numerous other pieces scattered throughout the newspapers and magazines to which he contributed. From 1910 to 1927 he also prepared “Notes historiques sur le Mont-Saint-Louis”; his contributions appear in volumes 1 (1888–1916) and 2 (1916–27), which are available in the Arch. des Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes du Canada Francophone (Laval, Qué.).
ANQ-M, CE602-S3, 28 déc. 1875. La Presse, 3 sept. 1929. BCF, 1926. DOLQ, 2: 310–13. “F. Opilius Elias,” Institut des Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes, Notices nécrologiques trimestrielles (Paris), no.127 (juillet–septembre 1929): 131–34. F[rère] Mamès-Irénée [J.-A. Poirier], Institut des Frères des écoles chrétiennes, district de Montréal: prises d’habit, noviciat de Montréal, 1837–1943 (Sainte-Foy, Qué., 1943). N. S., “Le frère Élie,” Bull. du T. S. Enfant Jésus (Laval-des-Rapides [Laval], Qué.), 16 (1929–30): 54–55. [Étienne Poitras et Armand Yon], Un demi-siècle au Mont-Saint-Louis, 1888–1938 (Montréal, 1939).