ROE, HENRY, Church of England minister, professor, and author; b. 22 Feb. 1829 in Henryville, Lower Canada, eighth of the ten children of John Hill Roe, a physician, and Jane Elizabeth Ardagh; m. first 1855 Elizabeth Julia Smith (d. 1896), and they had four daughters, three of whom survived infancy; m. secondly 19 Oct. 1897 Alexia Agnes Vial (d. 1915) in Stanstead, Que.; d. 3 Aug. 1909 in Richmond, Que.
Henry Roe’s early home life was unsettled. His family moved from Henryville to Dorchester (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) and then to Christieville (Iberville). Two brothers had died as infants before he was born; when he was four his mother and younger brother died; three years later his younger sister died. A few months afterwards, the rebellion of 1837 broke out. The family feared assassination because of the father’s loyalist views, so Henry was sent to live with an aunt in Vermont. In 1842, three years after his return, his father died in a boating accident on the Rivière Richelieu. Destitute, the six surviving Roe children kept house together in Montreal for a year and a half, and then went their separate ways. Henry, now 14, entered McGill College and lived in residence, having won a competition for a scholarship founded by Charles William Grant, Baron de Longueuil.
The Roes had grown up in the Church of England and, as Henry later recalled, it was “settled some way or other (how I do not know)” that he would prepare for the ordained ministry. The main influence seems to have been his devout elder sister Frances, who raised him after their mother’s death. When the Church of England opened Bishop’s College at Lennoxville in the fall of 1845, Roe transferred there at his minister’s suggestion. At Bishop’s he came under the Anglo-Catholic influence of its young principal and professor of divinity, Jasper Hume Nicolls*, who had studied at Oriel College, Oxford, a hotbed of Tractarianism. Roe’s family connections, largely evangelical in persuasion, were alarmed and brought him back to Montreal, but it was too late. After a year as a bookkeeper he returned to Bishop’s, where he completed his arts course, taught grammar school, and took theology. He was ordained deacon in 1852 and priest in 1853 by George Jehoshaphat Mountain*, bishop of Quebec. He received his ba belatedly in 1854, when Bishop’s conferred its first degrees. The college would later grant him an ma (1867), dd (1879), and dcl (1896).
Roe devoted the rest of his life to ministry in the diocese of Quebec. This was not a choice of worldly wisdom since, compared with the neighbouring diocese of Montreal, the diocese of Quebec impressed most Anglican observers as being economically disadvantaged, intellectually meagre, and socially limited. Its weak anglophone population was unlikely to produce flourishing Anglican parishes. Many were therefore surprised in 1852 when Roe turned down a curacy at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, the most prestigious Anglican church in Lower Canada, in order to minister to the isolated settlement of New Ireland, south of Quebec City, where he stayed from 1852 to 1855. After his marriage in 1855, he accommodated his wife and his bishop by moving to Quebec City that year, but at least his parish there, St Matthew’s, located in the suburbs, served a population of artisans and tradespeople. During 1868, his last year at St Matthew’s, he left Quebec City and, while continuing to draw his stipend, assisted the professor of divinity at Bishop’s.
Roe now felt moved to build an Anglican presence in the Eastern Townships. The area had been growing dramatically since 1852, when the railway between Montreal and Sherbrooke was completed [see Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt*]. He was appointed in 1868 to a parish which included the villages of Richmond and Melbourne; it would become his base for developing churches at other locations. While a professor at Bishop’s from 1873 to 1891 he continued his missionary work, organizing new congregations in the vicinity of Lennoxville, and recruiting his students to lead services and teach Sunday school. In 1891 he was named a general missionary agent to establish new churches, to supply parishes without clergy, and to raise funds for missions. He held the post for three years and then completed his career as incumbent of Windsor Mills (Windsor) from 1894 to 1899. In all, Roe built 12 new churches in the Eastern Townships, and rebuilt another. Most of them he left self-supporting – a point in which he took some pride, since as late as 1862 Bishop Mountain had pronounced self-supporting Anglican churches a virtual impossibility.
In 1873 Roe had become the sole professor of divinity at Bishop’s College, a still tiny institution whose combined enrolment in arts and divinity hovered around 25 students. His learning was broad rather than deep, and he published no scholarly studies. He excelled, however, as a fund-raiser. He raised immense sums of money for the principalship and two professorships at Bishop’s as well as for Compton Ladies’ College and numerous parish endowments, church buildings, and mission funds. In 1875 he was made dean and in 1882 vice-principal.
Roe’s theology was high-church Anglican. He believed that Anglican order – the organization of its ministry, the authority of its priests, its sacramental life, its liturgical forms, its creeds, its concern for Scripture – was apostolic in origin and of the essence of the Church. He emphatically dismissed those historians who showed that much of Church order had been introduced from Greek culture and not by Christ. He had little if any use for low-church Anglicanism, with its insufficient claims for tradition, or for Protestant “dissent” and Roman Catholicism, with their impure forms. In fact, a major reason for his mission work in the Eastern Townships was to counter the efforts of Methodists and Baptists. At the same time, however, he incorporated into his ministry such evangelical instruments as free prayer, extemporaneous preaching, emotional hymn-singing, evangelistic appeals, regular devotional meetings of small groups, Sunday schools, and lay assistance.
What distinguished Roe throughout his career was his penchant for controversy. As a theological student he debated baptismal regeneration in the church press. When the synodical system was introduced to the diocese of Quebec in 1857, he led the battle against a movement to extend the authority of the laity. One of his vestry meetings at St Matthew’s attracted such an angry mob that the police had to keep order. Criticized in 1858 for circulating a high-church catechism, he published a reply so stinging that, he boasted, it forced his principal opponent to leave the diocese. In 1859 an episcopal commission investigated charges, which proved unfounded, that he had invited a parishioner to make her confession, considered a “papist” practice. As correspondent for the Church Journal (New York) and later for the Guardian (London), he published provocative and one-sided reports of Canadian church affairs. In 1876 he printed a letter which attacked the dependence of Bishop’s grammar school on the college, provoking a sharp reply from the chairman of the college’s trustees, Richard William Heneker*. In 1890–91 he quarrelled with the college’s principal, Thomas Adams, whom he believed too lenient in student discipline, and he resigned his professorship. Judging from his printed sermons, he preached with a polemical edge. He published theological treatises and letters in the press opposing several Roman Catholic doctrines. He cautioned against the growing tide of French Canadian settlement in the townships. Although conspicuous in diocesan and provincial synods, he was frequently in a minority position. He even subjected his future son-in-law to a theological interrogation before allowing him to marry his daughter.
For over half a century, Roe figured as a significant force in the Church of England in Canada, and contributed considerably to an effective Anglican presence in Quebec. In 1888 he was made archdeacon, which in the diocese of Quebec was an office second in authority and prestige to that of bishop. Through his teaching, writing, and pastoral ministry, he advanced high-church thinking in Canadian Anglicanism, and established it as the norm in the diocese of Quebec. He did little, however, to enlarge the intellectual vision of the small world of Quebec Anglicanism.
Henry Roe’s papers, including an autobiography, diaries, correspondence, and family materials, form part of the Mountain-Roe-Jarvis coll. (M74-5) at the ACC, General Synod Arch., Toronto. Roe produced no major works but he wrote innumerable newspaper articles, letters to the church and secular press, and various reports. He also published sermons and polemical brochures. Most of these are listed in the CIHM Reg.; the others can be consulted at the MTRL.
AC, Saint-François (Sherbrooke, Qué.), État civil, Anglicans, Lennoxville, 6 Aug. 1909. ANQ-E, CE1-48, 19 oct. 1897. Canadian Churchman, 23 Sept. 1909: 571. Church of England, Church Soc. of the Diocese of Quebec, Annual report, 1870–90; Diocese of Quebec, Journal of the synod, 1870–90. D. C. Masters, Bishop’s University, the first hundred years (Toronto, 1950).
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Cite This Article
Alan L. Hayes, “ROE, HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/roe_henry_13E.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:||Alan L. Hayes|
|Title of Article:||ROE, HENRY|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||March 27, 2023|