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PINSONEAULT, PIERRE-ADOLPHE (sometimes spelled Pinsonnault or Pinsonault, but he signed Pinsoneault), Roman Catholic priest, Sulpician, and bishop; b. 23 Nov. 1815 at Saint-Philippe-de-Laprairie, Lower Canada, son of Paul-Théophile Pinsoneault and Clotilde Raymond; d. 30 Jan. 1883 in Montreal, Que.
Pierre-Adolphe Pinsoneault belonged to a wealthy and influential family. His maternal grandfather, Jean-Baptiste Raymond*, was a prosperous businessman of La Tortue (Saint-Mathieu), and his father, who was a notary, was also involved in administering seigneuries and various other undertakings; two of his uncles, Jean-Moïse Raymond* and Joseph Masson*, held important positions in the business world. Pinsoneault studied at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal from 1824 to 1835. He was attracted to law but in the end chose an ecclesiastical career and entered the Grand Séminaire de Montréal. Continuing his studies at the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Paris, he was ordained priest at Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris, on 19 Dec. 1840. He taught at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal from 1841 to 1843, and then from 1843 to 1849 ministered to the congregation of St Patrick’s Church, which served the English-speaking Catholics of Montreal. In October 1848, although a Sulpician, he sided with the bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget, in the controversy over the establishment of churches or chapels in the faubourgs of Montreal. The Sulpicians were opposed to a division of the parish of Notre-Dame, the only one in Montreal, which they administered. Pinsoneault declared to Bourget that he would never tolerate the kind of defiance of the Canadian episcopacy that the Society of Saint-Sulpice was showing. It may have been for this reason that he left the order in 1849, the year he was promoted canon of the cathedral in Montreal, a post he retained until 1856.
On 3 June 1854 the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Quebec petitioned Pope Pius IX for the erection of two new dioceses in Canada West, at Hamilton and London. Within each diocese there would be a population of about 230,000, the majority, however, being Protestant. Through the good offices of the bishop of Toronto, Armand-François-Marie de Charbonnel*, whose secretariat he had temporarily been assigned to reorganize in 1850, Pinsoneault was able to write in August 1854 that he was preparing himself “more immediately for the awesome ministry to which divine Providence destined [him] in the very near future.” Seven months later he confided to Bourget: “He [Charbonnel] writes to me often, and I can assure you that he is much more anxious that I am to see the matters now pending in Rome concluded.” Pinsoneault was clearly Charbonnel’s candidate for the bishopric of London, and this choice had the approval of Bourget. It was not, however, until 21 Feb. 1856 that Rome issued the decree for the erection of the diocese of London; its territory, carved from the diocese of Toronto, was to cover the counties of Middlesex, Lambton, Elgin, Kent, Essex, Huron, Perth, Oxford, and Norfolk. London became the episcopal see, and the incumbent, a suffragan to the archbishop of Quebec. On 18 May 1856 Pinsoneault was consecrated bishop by Charbonnel, who was assisted by two other bishops.
More than a month before Pinsoneault’s consecration, a thorny problem had arisen. Father Thaddeus T. Kirwan, the parish priest of London, with the support of a number of his parishioners, objected to having a new French-speaking bishop come and take over his church as a cathedral, as well as to Pinsoneault’s intention to replace the nuns of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Sisters of Charity of Providence of Montreal (Sisters of Providence). While vowing not to leave Montreal before the difficulty was settled, Pinsoneault stated that the London community “must submit like obedient children” under pain of being deprived of the services of the church. He even considered the possibility of “excommunicating” London. Despite the opposition, he took possession of his see on 29 June 1856. Following numerous threats from Pinsoneault, Father Kirwan was appointed parish priest of Port Sarnia (Sarnia) in the autumn of 1856, after receiving 1,800 écus from the bishop. According to Pinsoneault, Kirwan’s grievances could be met by “buying him off,” which was, in truth, the case. It is not possible to determine from available sources who was right in this conflict, but it can be said that Bishop Pinsoneault was very severe in his judgement of Kirwan; he even accused Kirwan of selling some land belonging to the London church without authorization from the bishop. Although Charbonnel had been in Europe since July 1856, Pinsoneault held him responsible for the Kirwan affair and accused him of having given insufficient attention to the matter of the new bishop’s coming to London.
Pinsoneault was just as severe towards the priests of his diocese. Writing to Bishop Joseph La Rocque, the administrator of the diocese of Saint-Hyacinthe, in March 1857, he stressed that their “cupidity . . . is horrible,” and declared that those who refused to submit to his new directives “will shear other sheep than mine.” Disappointed in the quality of his clerics, Pinsoneault was determined never to allow them “the privilege of obtruding themselves or of trifling with me in the discharge of my official duties.” He also had to deal with the complaints of the Irish Catholics, who regularly wrote to the newspapers denouncing “the French influence” and “the French-Canadian bishop of London.”
At the beginning of January 1858 Pinsoneault left London; he established himself at Sandwich and on 25 January asked his ecclesiastical superiors in Quebec City to transfer the see there. The bishop justified his request by noting that London had no more than 800 communicants; there was not even enough work for one priest, the parish having celebrated only 20 marriages and 140 baptisms in 1857. Moreover, St Peter’s Cathedral, a small London parish, had to find the $3,000 necessary to maintain the bishop but was already burdened with a debt of $10,000. Pinsoneault stated that the establishment of the episcopal see at London had been a mistake. Although Jean-Charles Prince*, the bishop of Saint-Hyacinthe, roundly denounced Pinsoneault’s letter of 25 January, the latter, with the support of a substantial majority of the bishops, asked Rome during the summer of 1858 for an official transfer of the seat of the bishopric; Sandwich, he emphasized, had the finest church in the diocese, a sufficient number of clergy (attached to Assumption College) to provide the religious services worthy of a bishopric, and the largest concentration of worshippers. On 2 Feb. 1859 the prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda issued the decree transferring the episcopal see. Pinsoneault, who had gone to Rome to back his request, returned to Quebec on 30 May 1859 after an absence of more than seven months.
Pinsoneault’s episcopal career was marred by another quarrel with a priest of his diocese, which contributed to the bishop’s resignation in 1866. While he was in London, he had had differences with Jean Daudet, the parish priest of Amherstburg and a native of France. In 1862 Pinsoneault asked Daudet to resign because of his “physical and moral infirmities.” He reproached him for no longer reading his breviary, for spending months on end without going to confession, for not saying mass during the week, for being drunk frequently, and also for having accused the bishop himself of illegal transfer of funds and of scandal-mongering. In September Pinsoneault stripped him of authority and replaced him with Joseph Zoëgal, who according to Daudet was the source of the accusations against him. A number of parishioners protested against the bishop’s proceedings by invading the presbytery; returning to the charge, Pinsoneault had Daudet’s sworn statement read from the pulpit, and denied the sacraments to the recalcitrant parishioners.
The exiled priest took up residence at St Michael’s College in Toronto. Pinsoneault warned John Joseph Lynch, the bishop of Toronto, that Daudet was “a spiteful, two-faced man,” and received backing from his vicar general, Jean-Marie Bruyère. In December 1862, taking Bourget’s advice, Daudet launched an appeal to his metropolitan, Charles-François Baillargeon*, archbishop of Quebec, against his bishop’s decision; Baillargeon in turn decided to submit the case to Rome. The matter was a delicate one: Bourget stated to Cardinal Alessandro Barnabo that Daudet had given him complete satisfaction during his several years of ministry in Montreal, and the bishop-administrator of Detroit invited Daudet to come and live in his palace. Rome responded by appointing Baillargeon a commissioner of the Holy See for the purpose of settling the case. Baillargeon conducted an inquiry from April to October 1863, and, having heard both parties, gave a verdict in favour of Daudet on 28 Oct. 1863. Pinsoneault decided to appeal to Rome immediately. He suggested to the prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda that a commission of inquiry be set up, and he undertook to accept the commission’s ruling as final. On 31 Jan. 1864 Pius IX issued a decree establishing a commission composed of Bourget of Montreal, Joseph-Bruno Guigues* of Ottawa, and Edward John Horan* of Kingston. The inquiry was held in Kingston on 14, 15, and 16 July 1864. After hearing various witnesses, the commissioners decided that the accusations against Daudet were unfounded, and that the expelled priest should be reinstated in his parish, although he must remain subject to the authority of his bishop. Yet the affair was not over. Daudet continued to complain about his bishop’s attitude towards him. On 2 Nov. 1864 Pinsoneault appointed Daudet to Immaculée-Conception, a parish at Paincourt, relieving him of his duties at Amherstburg. The parish priest refused to hand over the presbytery, even when the bishop appointed a new incumbent on 3 December. Daudet appealed to the Holy See against his bishop’s decision; he also wrote to all the bishops in Canada and obtained signatures for a petition against Pinsoneault’s tyranny. Finally, in February 1865, Rome ordered Daudet to obey Pinsoneault or leave the diocese. Daudet chose to depart.
Daudet was not, however, the only one to complain about Pinsoneault. From December 1864 other priests followed his example and appealed to Rome for various reasons: Kirwan, who had been relieved of his office as parish priest of Port Sarnia in the summer of 1864 for having “broken away from any episcopal control”; the parish priest of Strathroy, who had been suspended and relieved of his duties in October of that year after having been denounced by several “respectable women” and having refused to discuss the matter with his bishop; and the parish priest of Irishtown (St Columban), who had likewise been suspended for dragging Pinsoneault into court over the bishop’s refusal to repay a loan. The bishop had also come into conflict with several religious communities since his arrival at London. In 1859 the Jesuits had left Assumption College, which they had built at Sandwich, because of disagreements with Pinsoneault over administrative problems. Nor had their successors, the Benedictines of St Vincent’s Abbey in the diocese of Pittsburgh, escaped the harassment of the bishop, who in 1862 had demanded the dismissal of the superior of the college. Unable “to obtain the English and French teachers indispensable for the educational needs of this diocese,” the community left Sandwich in the summer of 1863. The Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montreal (Grey Nuns), who had been established in the Essex peninsula since 1857, also had differences with Pinsoneault. In 1861 a quarrel broke out between the bishop and the mother house in Montreal. He wanted to have a say in the running of the local community, and he sought to make it into a house independent from the one in Montreal. The superior general in Montreal, whom Pinsoneault considered dictatorial and uncompromising, raised objections, and in the autumn of 1861 recalled the sisters to Montreal. The bishop complained about his reputation as a “destroyer of communities,” but in truth those who managed to escape his condemnation were the exceptions. In time, Pinsoneault made enemies of a good many of the clergy. He despised Charbonnel and wrangled from time to time with various bishops in Canada East. Although he accused several of his priests of cupidity and laxity, he often treated himself to pleasure trips, spending winters in Cuba, Europe, and other places. He also misused his power of laying clerics, laymen, and parishes under interdict or excommunication.
When Bourget went to Rome in the winter of 1864–65, he was instructed by the Holy See to ask the bishop of London to tender his resignation. Bourget waited a year before carrying out this delicate task, and did not meet Pinsoneault until the summer of 1866. He advised him at that time to resign “in order to put an end to the discords prevailing in [his] diocese.” Bourget repeated his advice on 17 August, warning Pinsoneault “that the continual accusations being taken to Rome against [his] administration” could only lead to a canonical inquiry, whose consequences might be disastrous for him in the event the charges proved justified. On 23 August Pinsoneault replied that he accepted, and on 9 Sept. 1866 he submitted a letter of resignation, advancing reasons of health (he was suffering from growing deafness) and the need for new blood in the diocese. In November 1867 John Walsh* was consecrated bishop of Sandwich.
During his ten years as bishop, at both London and Sandwich, Pinsoneault had brought a number of religious communities into his diocese, but had quarrelled with most of them. He had endeavoured to stabilize the finances of the diocese by instituting various taxes, rents, and diocesan collections. After his departure, however, the administrator of the diocese, Abbé Bruyère, could not avoid noting the deplorable state of diocesan finances, expenditures being four times the receipts. There is no doubt that this situation had also been a factor in Pinsoneault’s dismissal.
Pinsoneault was transferred to the see of Birtha on 26 Nov. 1866, and lived in Albany, N.Y., until 1869, when he returned to Montreal. Under his ultramontane superior, Bourget, he carried out a number of responsibilities that required the presence of a bishop, presiding over ceremonies and performing the duties of an auxiliary. Pinsoneault took up the defence of ultramontane ideology in his publication Le dernier chant du cygne sur le tumulus du gallicanisme; réponse à monseigneur Dupanloup (Montreal, 1870). He struck down the advocates of liberalism in his Lettres à un député (1874), and helped edit ultramontane newspapers such as Le Franc-Parleur.
Bishop Pinsoneault died on 30 Jan. 1883 in Montreal, at the age of 67. His authoritarian behaviour and his lack of consideration for others had doomed his episcopacy to failure.
Pierre-Adolphe Pinsoneault was the author of Le dernier chant du cygne sur le tumulus du gallicanisme; réponse à monseigneur Dupanloup (Montréal, 1870) and Lettres à un député (Montréal, 1874).
ACAM, 255.113, 856–9, 858–2, 862–4, 864–25, –28, –31, –32, –33, –36, –39, –41; 465.101, 848–3, –4; 901.085, 850–1, 854–1, 855–1; RLB, 12: 658; 14: 491; 15: 229–31, 242, 256–58, 403–5. Arch. of the Diocese of London (London, Ont.), Letterbooks, 1–6 (1856–66); Register of official docs., 1856–59: 1–19. Allaire, Dictionnaire, I: 436. Beaulieu et J. Hamelin, La presse québécoise, I: 113. Gérard Brassard, Armorial des évêques du Canada . . . (Montréal, 1940). Dominion annual register, 1883. Cyprien Tanguay, Répertoire général du clergé canadien par ordre chronologique depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu’à nos jours (Québec, 1868). The city and diocese of London, Ontario, Canada: an historical sketch . . . , comp. J. F. Coffey (London, 1885). N. F. Eid, Le clergé et le pouvoir politique au Québec: une analyse de l’idéologie ultramontaine au milieu du XIXe siècle (Montréal, 1978). J. K. A. Farrell [O’Farrell], “The history of the Roman Catholic Church in London, Ontario, 1826–1931” (ma thesis, Univ. of Western Ontario, London, 1949). The township of Sandwich (past and present) . . . , comp. Frederick Neal (Windsor, Ont., 1909).
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Cite This Article
J. E. Robert Choquette, “PINSONEAULT, PIERRE-ADOLPHE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pinsoneault_pierre_adolphe_11E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||J. E. Robert Choquette|
|Title of Article:||PINSONEAULT, PIERRE-ADOLPHE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1982|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||June 2, 2023|