DEMERS, LOUIS (baptized Jean), Roman Catholic priest, Recollet, superior, and architect; b. 30 Dec. 1732 in Saint-Nicolas (Quebec), son of Louis Demers and Thérèse Gagnon; d. 2 Sept. 1813 in Montreal, Lower Canada.
Jean Demers, who took the name Louis when he made his profession as a Recollet, was ordained priest on 24 Sept. 1757, only a few years before the British government forbad the Recollets in Canada to recruit new members. Following the conquest Father Louis, like others of his order, turned to the parish ministry. He was prompted by his need for a livelihood and also by goodwill towards the secular clergy, whose numbers diminished after 1760. He served at Saint-Michel, near Quebec, from 1760 to 1761, Saint-Charles (at Saint-Charles-des-Grondines) from 1762 to 1764, and La Nativité-de-Notre-Dame (at Bécancour) from 1764 to 1767.
In 1767 Father Louis was appointed parish priest of Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets, where he remained until 1789; at the same time he ministered to the seigneuries of Deschaillons, until 1789, and Gentilly, from 1767 to 1774 and from 1779 to 1789. At Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets, he had a presbytery and a mill built, but on occasion he seems to have overstepped his pastoral mandate. Some people complained to Bishop Briand* that he took the liberty of drawing up contracts. Briand was annoyed and called on him in 1774 to refrain from such activity, stating explicitly, “That is forbidden.” With the help of master mason Antoine Maillou, Father Louis also became a builder of churches. Although he was probably less famous as an architect than his nephew, Abbé Jérôme Demers*, would be, he was responsible for the second church at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade (La Pérade), which was completed in 1771, and the first church for the parish of Saint Édouard (at Gentilly), which was built in 1781–87. The construction of the latter led to a dispute in 1773 between Briand and the parishioners who disapproved of the site that the bishop had chosen for the future church. Briand suspected Father Louis of being in league with the “rebels” and forbad him to give them the sacraments.
In 1789 Father Louis, who according to Bishop Hubert* was “an excellent religious, full of love and zeal for the faith,” was named superior of his order’s monastery in Montreal. Suggestions that he pursued architectural activities there and that he showed some talent as a painter have not yet been substantiated. In Montreal he shared the preoccupations and labours of the secular clergy. From 1792 he was attached as chaplain to the militia headquarters in the city of Montreal, but he appears to have devoted himself primarily to ministering to the sick. Indeed, 50 years after his death people still spoke of his charity and of the miraculous power of his ointments and plasters.
By 1791 the Recollet order in Canada had only five members left. With the passing of the years its extinction became inevitable. Hubert’s decree of secularization on 14 Sept. 1796, which affected all those who had made their profession since 1784, destroyed the community’s hope of surviving. Father Louis, who was anxious about the fate of the few remaining Recollets, received assurances from the government in August 1798 that they would not be disturbed in their ministry. He had, however, to resign himself to liquidating the community’s chattels. In 1811 he sold the retable (housing the altar) and tabernacle from the Recollet church to the parish of Saint-Grégoire-le-Grand, near Nicolet, which has preserved them. In 1813 he gave the remaining goods to the churchwardens of Notre-Dame in Montreal, the Sulpicians, and the nuns of the Congregation of Notre-Dame.
Father Louis spent his last years with his brother, who had joined the order under the name of Brother Alexis, in the house next to the Recollet church in Montreal, where one of their nieces looked after them. With his death on 2 Sept. 1813 at the Hôpital Général, the last Recollet priest in Canada was gone; he was buried two days later in Notre-Dame church, among the priests from the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice. Almost immediately the British government seized the Recollets’ property in Montreal.
AP, Notre-Dame de Montréal, Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 4 sept. 1813; Saint-Édouard (Gentilly), Cahier des délibérations de la fabrique, 1784–1930: 7–10, 14; Saint-Nicolas, Reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 1er janv. 1733. Arch. de l’évêché de Nicolet (Nicolet, Qué.), Carton Saint-Édouard de Gentilly, 1752–1939, no.2, 13, 21 juill. 1773; no.5, 21 août 1773; Carton Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets, 1766–1886, no.1, 11 juill. 1766; no.3, 10 janv. 1774. Arch. des franciscains (Montréal), Notes de O.-M. Jouve. Le séminaire de Québec (Provost), 459. Allaire, Dictionnaire, 1: 153. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 3: 527. Jean Belisle, “Le mythe récollet: l’ensemble de Montréal” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1974). Marcel Deshaies, Ma paroisse: Bécancour (s. 1., 1977). Lucien Dubois, Histoire de la paroisse de Gentilly (s.l., 1935), 93. Mariette Fréchette-Pineau, “L’église de Saint-Grégoire de Nicolet (1802)” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1970), 55–56. O.-M. Jouve, Les franciscains et le Canada: aux Trois-Rivières (Paris, 1934), 302–5. Hormidas Magnan, La paroisse de Saint-Nicolas: la famille Pâquet et les familles alliées (Québec, 1918), 25–26. Morisset, Coup d’œil sur les arts, 52. Luc Noppen, Les églises du Québec (1600–1850) (Québec, 1977), 232. É.-T. Paquet, Fragments de l’histoire religieuse et civile de la paroisse Saint-Nicolas (Lévis, Qué., 1894). Marcelle Rivard, Gentilly, 1676–1976 (s.1., 1976), 41. J.-E. Roy, Hist. de Lauzon, 1: viii. Trudel, L’Église canadienne, 1: 98, 123–25, 219, 351, 353, 360; 2: 184–85, 192, 199, 213–14, 426; Le Régime militaire dans le gouvernement des Trois-Rivières 1760–1764 (Trois-Rivières, Qué., 1952), 153. Charles Trudelle, Le frère Louis (Lévis, 1898), 22. S. Lesage, “Les récollets en Canada,” Rev. canadienne, 4 (1867): 303–18.
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