RAIMBAULT, JEAN, Roman Catholic priest, professor, and school administrator; b. 3 Feb. 1770 in Orléans, France, son of Étienne Raimbault, a merchant, and Françoise Doucet; d. 16 Feb. 1841 in Nicolet, Lower Canada.
The youngest in a family of four, Jean Raimbault did his classical studies at the Collège Royal d’Orléans, and in 1787 he enrolled at the Séminaire d’Orléans, which at that time was run by the Sulpicians. A student of “brilliant mind” and “irreproachable conduct,” according to the superior, he was tonsured on 29 May 1789. Rather than take the oath of loyalty to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy that was imposed by the decree of 1790, he left the seminary and made his living as a tutor until he was conscripted on 6 Oct. 1793. In December, while his regiment was stationed on the Belgian frontier, he deserted and took shelter at the Maison du Refuge de Forest, a seminary founded in Brussels by French bishops in exile. He was assisted in getting from there to London, where he was welcomed by Jean-François de La Marche, bishop of Saint-Pol-de-Léon in France, who obtained help for him. Knowing it would be some time before he could return to France, he decided to emigrate to Lower Canada. Through François-Emmanuel Bourret, the former director of the Séminaire d’Orléans who had been charged by Bishop Jean-François Hubert* with paying the passage of a dozen priests to Quebec, he sailed from Portsmouth, England, on 1 June 1795 and arrived on 6 July.
Pierre Denaut*, the coadjutor to the bishop of Quebec, received Raimbault when he landed, took him to Longueuil, and on 26 July conferred the priesthood on him. Raimbault was entrusted with the teaching of philosophy and sciences at the Petit Séminaire de Québec. Forced by ill health to give up this work in 1797, Raimbault was then named assistant priest at Château-Richer. In October Denaut, who had become bishop of Quebec, appointed him to the parish charge of L’Ange-Gardien. Besides attending to pastoral duties, Raimbault taught school in the presbytery, a task that undermined his constitution over the years. In September 1805 Denaut made him curé at Pointe-aux-Trembles (Montreal), in the hope he would be able to recover his health there.
Raimbault was 35 by this time. He was a priest of the ancien régime, frugal, benevolent, hostile to any form of liberalism, touchy on matters of precedence, and ill disposed to delegating his authority. He was seen as “a man of morals, letters, and taste.” Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis*, who held him in high esteem, thought him the man to take charge of Saint-Jean-Baptiste parish in Nicolet and keep an eye on the development of the seminary he had just established there.
Without much enthusiasm Raimbault accepted this charge and in the autumn of 1806 moved into his new presbytery, a well-built but plain dwelling with a room used as a parish hall. There he was to lead a routine existence until his death. A housekeeper took care of the domestic tasks, and a hired man worked the patch of land belonging to the fabrique and looked after the barn and stable. For his part, Raimbault dedicated himself entirely to his priestly calling, keeping his distance, however, from the seigneurs, the local bourgeoisie, and the Canadian curés in the diocese. During his time in office, Nicolet experienced rapid development. The parish had 1,200 communicants in 1810, and 2,500 in 1836. The growth in population, together with the way in which people were scattered about the seigneury of Nicolet, made his task heavier as the years went by.
Raimbault was, then, increasingly busy, with the liturgical offices, the sacraments, record-keeping for the fabrique, and such charitable works as the care of the sick and needy. He was zealous in carrying out his duties. He distributed part of his tithes among the poor, lent money interest-free to parishioners in difficulties, and took pains to develop a feeling for liturgy among his parishioners. In 1817 he used his own funds to buy some paintings from the collection of Louis-Joseph Desjardins, dit Desplantes, in order to create an uplifting atmosphere in his church. He kept a close eye on the conduct of his people and the doings of the Protestants.
Raimbault’s reputation as a pastor soon spread beyond the limits of the parish. In 1825 Plessis named him archpriest, an office empowering him to give advice to his colleagues, grant dispensations, and accord absolution in cases of reserved sin. More than once Plessis entrusted him with special missions related to the erection of new parishes or sought his counsel on legislative measures and amendments to ecclesiastical discipline. Raimbault was also chaplain to the Ursulines of Trois-Rivières and for several years was responsible for the Drummondville mission. From 1830 the expansion of the elementary school system added to his tasks. He was both trustee and visitor, and thus had control of the choice of schoolmistresses, curricula, and discipline. Despite all this activity, he had some free time, which he used for corresponding with his family and reading religious books, periodicals, and newspapers. He also liked visiting fellow émigré priests who had charge of a group of parishes near Trois-Rivières – an area referred to as “little France.” He devoted the rest of his time to the seminary, of which he was the superior.
Plessis thought the task of the superior was to guarantee the reputation of the seminary “by his gifts, his knowledge, and his virtue” and to supervise its development. In reality, this rather vague mandate allowed Raimbault to give free rein to his authoritarian and centralizing temperament. He was soon interfering in every aspect of administration. He busied himself with the enlargement of the premises (1806–9), the nature of the teaching, and even the admission and intellectual progress of the students. Clashes between the superior and successive directors of the establishment, such as Paul-Loup Archambault*, occurred frequently. Raimbault complained that the seminary priests gave him too little help in his parish ministry and did not always keep him informed of what was going on in the seminary; for their part, directors accused him of exceeding his mandate. In 1816 Plessis endeavoured to put the seminary on a firmer footing. He named Joseph-Onésime Leprohon director and started the process of incorporation that would culminate in 1821. It was a chance to clarify roles. The bishop retained control of the seminary. He drew up the instructions for the director and the bursar as well as regulations for the pupils, reserving for himself, however, the right to authorize plans for expansion. The superior was to attend to construction on the site itself and to supervise the intellectual, spiritual, and material life of the institution. The director was to deal with enforcement of the regulations, curriculum matters, and the purchase of school equipment: like the bursar, he had to report to the superior. For 25 years the seminary was run by Raimbault and Leprohon. In the period 1825–30 they erected a new, three-storey building with a dormer roof, using plans drawn up by Jérôme Demers*. They then turned their attention to ensuring the quality of teaching staff and to instilling the spirit needed to prepare an élite body of clergy and laity for the service of the church.
Jean Raimbault died on 16 Feb. 1841. He would be remembered as a zealous pastor and devoted educator. To his friend Leprohon, who assumed his parish charge, he bequeathed all his possessions, to be used for the benefit of young men attending the seminary.
AAQ, 210 A, II–IV, X–XVII. ANQ-MBF, CE1-13, 19 févr. 1841. AP, Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Nicolet), Livres des délibérations de la fabrique, 1734–1822; Livres de comptes, 1734–1822. Arch. de l’évêché de Nicolet (Nicolet, Qué.), Cartable Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Nicolet, corr. Jean Raimbault. ASN, AO, Polygraphie, I–IV. Bellemare, Hist. de Nicolet. [L.-É. Bois], Étude biographique sur M. Jean Raimbault, archiprêtre, curé de Nicolet, etc. (Québec, 1869). Douville, Hist. du collège-séminaire de Nicolet. Claude Lessard, “L’histoire de l’éducation au séminaire de Nicolet, 1803–1863” (thèse de d.e.s., univ. Laval, Québec, 1963)