RÉZÉ, JOSEPH-PIERRE, Roman Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of Holy Cross; b. 23 Feb. 1814 in Sablé-sur-Sarthe, France, third of seven children of Michel Rézé, a merchant, and Louise Chevalier; d. 28 Sept. 1899 in Côte-des-Neiges (Montreal).
In 1826 Joseph-Pierre Rézé entered the Collège de Château-Gontier in France. Choosing the priesthood as his vocation, he did the final two years of the classical program (Philosophy) and studied theology at the Grand Séminaire du Mans. Ordained priest on 9 June 1838, he served two years in parish ministry before seeking admission to the Congregation of Holy Cross. He took his vows on 15 Aug. 1842 and concentrated his energies on educating the young. In the spring of 1849 Rézé was made superior for the religious of Holy Cross in Lower Canada, who had come to Saint-Laurent on Montreal Island in 1847 at the request of Bishop Ignace Bourget* and the local parish priest, Jean-Baptiste Saint-Germain*.
Father Rézé took up his duties on the day he arrived in Canada, 17 July 1849. His task was to stabilize the financial position of the congregation and, if that proved impossible, to repatriate the community. He immediately entered into discussions with Bourget and Saint-Germain. They had promised to pay all the travel expenses of the congregation and the cost of settling in, the two main sources of its financial difficulties. He received moral support and backing from the bishop; from the parish priest he got limited resources, albeit in cash. At the same time he urged the trustees of the schools where the brothers of Holy Cross were working to respect the agreements signed with his predecessor and pay the arrears of the teachers’ salaries as soon as possible. When he was unable to reach a settlement at Terrebonne, he withdrew the brothers on 31 Dec. 1849 and forthwith opened a school at Côte-des-Neiges. By his unceasing efforts and his business acumen he succeeded in saving the Congregation of Holy Cross in Lower Canada. He had yet to put it on a solid footing.
In 1851 Rézé received the honorary title of provincial of Canada, a proof of his superior general’s esteem which enhanced his prestige. It came just when he was getting ready to build. Although the brothers’ little school at Saint-Laurent had been incorporated in 1849 as the Académie Industrielle de Saint-Laurent, it was still located in a house belonging to the fabrique. Rézé put up a handsome main building on land granted by Father Saint-Germain. In 1854 he offered the courses in industrial arts and crafts that the bishop and the curé wanted, but they interested neither the pupils nor their parents. Rézé then felt free to carry out his plan to assure the community’s survival: Saint-Laurent had to add classical studies to the primary and commercial courses. In 1861 the charter was amended to this effect, and the academy became the Collège de Saint-Laurent.
At the general chapter in 1866 the Congregation of Holy Cross founded its Canadian province, and Rézé was elected superior. Some 70 religious, serving in four parishes, three parish schools, and three colleges, came under his authority. Besides the college at Saint-Laurent, there was one at Saint-Aimé (Massueville) and one at Memramcook, N.B., founded by Camille Lefebvre, the first Canadian Holy Cross father.
On 7 Feb. 1869 Rézé was recalled to Paris to serve as assistant to the superior general. During the Franco-German War he visited the congregation’s houses in America on behalf of the superior general. At that time he took up residence at Saint-Laurent, where he taught theology to the auxiliary teachers. In the autumn of 1871 he was asked to assume office as provincial superior of Canada. The members present at the general chapter in 1872, however, were disturbed about the precarious situation of the French province and decided to entrust it to Rézé.
Father Rézé again became assistant to the superior general in 1880 and seven years later he was sent to Canada to replace the provincial, who had just resigned. Worn out with age and work, he gave up his office in the autumn of 1890, requesting only that he be allowed to end his days in his adopted country. Two years earlier the Canadian province had honoured his golden jubilee in the priesthood with magnificent celebrations.
The rather cold and reserved manner of Father Joseph-Pierre Rézé concealed a generous heart and a fine mind. Those close to him asserted that he was endowed with a rare sense of compassion and possessed vast learning. His opinion on any subject always carried weight. Yet he maintained an engaging simplicity. As a man of deep faith he knew how to put his religious life first, even in the midst of the most absorbing work.
AD, Sarthe (Le Mans), État civil, Sablé, 23 févr. 1814. ANQ-M, CE1-44, 2 oct. 1899. Arch. des Pères de Sainte-Croix (Montréal), Sér.B2 (corr. de J.-P. Rézé). Noces d’or du rév. père Joseph Rézé, c.s.c. (Montréal, 1888). Sainte Croix au Canada (s.l., 1947). “Le rév. père Joseph Rézé, c.s.c.,” La Semaine religieuse de Montréal (Montréal), 34 (juill.–déc. 1899): 224–26.