DOUCET, ANDRÉ, Roman Catholic priest; b. 30 Nov. 1782 in Trois-Rivières, Que., son of Jean Doucet and Magdeleine Mirau; d. 19 Dec. 1824 in Tracadie, N.S.
André Doucet was the fourth child in a family of 12. His father, a prosperous baker and mill owner of Acadian origin, was able to provide for the education of his numerous offspring: Nicolas-Benjamin* became a notary and André himself entered the Séminaire de Québec in 1797, destined for an ecclesiastical career. In 1804 Doucet became the subject of a jurisdictional dispute between Antoine-Bernardin Robert, superior of the seminary, who wanted to admit him as a member of the community, and Bishop Pierre Denaut* of Quebec, who, recognizing his superior abilities, wished to retain his services for the diocese. The seminary deferred to the bishop and, after his ordination on 1 Dec. 1805, Doucet was named one of the curates to assist Joseph-Octave Plessis, parish priest of Notre-Dame and Denaut’s coadjutor bishop. On 9 Oct. 1807, to fill the vacancy caused by his own elevation as diocesan bishop, Plessis appointed the 24-year-old Doucet to Notre-Dame, one of the two most important parishes in the province. Plessis no doubt intended to groom his promising young protégé as his episcopal successor.
Doucet served as parish priest of Notre-Dame for the next seven years, to Plessis’s entire satisfaction. He also maintained the reputation he had early acquired as the best preacher in Lower Canada. On 11 June 1809, before a crowded audience, he gave a sermon on “inward peace,” and demonstrated his loyalty to the British crown by concluding that Lower Canadians had enjoyed outward peace for 50 years “under the influence of the most just and mildest government in the world.” Doucet was appointed vicar general of the diocese on 23 Jan. 1813 and sat on a variety of secular bodies where he probably represented the Roman Catholic church. A subscriber to the Quebec Fire Society, he was a director of the Loyal and Patriotic Society of the Province of Lower Canada in 1813 and a member of a committee to prepare an address of thanks to Governor Sir George Prevost* the same year.
Yet all was not well with Doucet. By 1813 he had begun to request transfer to a mission. Plessis repeatedly encouraged him to remain at Notre-Dame, “for which ever way I look, I see no one for whom this position is better suited than you.” But on 20 Oct. 1814 he accepted Doucet’s resignation. Besides citing ill health, Doucet had indicated that he was unable to endure any longer the “fits of rage, quarrels, [and] insults” which, while not directed at him personally, had characterized the meetings of the fabrique. He was immediately named to the chapels of Notre-Dame-des-Anges in Quebec and Notre-Dame-de-Foy at Sainte-Foy and was made chaplain to the nuns of the Hôpital Général as well as to the poor.
Doucet was defended by Plessis against accusations from certain priests that he had lost his bishop’s confidence. The following year, however, that confidence and Plessis’s hopes of finding a successor in Doucet were shattered. In September 1815, while Plessis was in the Maritimes, Doucet made, “with the greatest secrecy, the preparations of a man who is not returning.” He sold his belongings, paid off as many debts as he could (although some substantial ones apparently remained), and left for France via Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island, where he stayed for some time with Laurence Kavanagh, a well-known Irish Catholic merchant.
Rumours as to the reasons for Doucet’s departure were deflected as much as possible by clergy in Quebec and Nova Scotia, who hoped for an explanation from him that would discourage talk of scandal. None was forthcoming and, according to Plessis, the Quebec clergy concluded that his flight “was the act of a deranged mind.” In August 1816 Doucet wrote to Plessis from the Trappist monastery of Aiguebelle, near Montélimar, France, where he was finally beginning to enjoy “internal peace” and felt a call to join the order. Historians have claimed that, although talented, amiable, and intelligent, Doucet was not an able administrator. Possibly his numerous responsibilities at Quebec and the high expectations Plessis had of him were beyond his capabilities and physical strength. In leaving, he had perhaps sought to rid himself of a burden he could no longer bear, and to pursue his religious vocation in a manner better suited to his abilities. Some time in 1817, however, for unknown reasons, he changed his mind. After a noviciate of 10 months, accomplished, according to his Trappist superior, “with meticulousness and great spiritual edification,” he left the monastery.
Doucet arrived in Halifax in November 1817, and indicated to Edmund Burke*, vicar apostolic of Nova Scotia, that he wished to work in the province’s missions. Plessis approved. From his arrival until October 1819, Doucet ministered to the Catholics of Halifax, though he spoke only French, and to those of Chezzetcook, an Acadian community near by. He was then sent to the Acadian parish of Ste Anne at Ste Anne du Ruisseau, in southern Nova Scotia, as assistant to Jean-Mandé Sigogne*. His new position also included the mission at West Pubnico. In 1822 he founded the mission of Saint-Michel, at Bas-de-Tousquet (Wedgeport), and constructed its first church. Although in ill health, he completed his duties to Sigogne’s “great satisfaction.” Sigogne’s report that Doucet was “liked and esteemed” by his parishioners is significant in view of the numerous complaints from missionaries that the Acadians of the Maritimes, who had been for many years without priests, often manifested their independence of the clergy and quarrelled with them.
For a few years Doucet seemed content in the isolation experienced by most Maritime clergy. He excused himself for not writing more often to Plessis: “The country in which I live offers literally nothing of interest for those who do not know it, and over three years would provide hardly enough material for a tolerable sentence.” By late 1822 he began to express an interest in returning to Lower Canada. His brother Nicolas-Benjamin had pleaded with Plessis for his return so that he could repay his debts. The bishop was cautious in his replies: he would be glad to see his old friend and former confidant but Doucet could not expect to receive an important post immediately. In addition, the severe shortage of priests in Nova Scotia might make it impossible for him to leave. Whether Doucet chose not to return or was unable to do so is not known. In mid 1824 he was named to replace Father Vincent de Paul [Jacques Merle*] as parish priest at Tracadie. The parish, with missions at Pomquet and Havre Boucher, was probably an easier charge for the ailing priest. His pastorate there, however, lasted a brief six months. He became gravely ill in December and died within a few days, at age 42.
André Doucet was not typical of most Roman Catholic priests. He abandoned, for reasons which remain obscure, an exceptionally promising career in Lower Canada and ended his days in the isolation of the Acadian missions. Although he had lost the confidence of Plessis, he earned the respect of his Nova Scotian parishioners.
AAQ, 210 A, IV, VIII–XII; 61 CD, Notre-Dame-de-Québec, I: 55, 58–59, 66; 7 CM, II; 312 CN, IV–VII. ANQ-MBF, CE1-48, 30 nov. 1782. ANQ-Q, CN1-230, 25 févr. 1811, 20 oct. 1814, 1er avril 1817; CN1-262, 10 oct. 1807. Arch. of the Archdiocese of Halifax, Edmund Burke papers (mfm. at PANS); St Anselm’s Roman Catholic Church (West Chezzetcook, N.S.), reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials (mfm. at PANS). ASQ, Fichier des anciens. Quebec Gazette, 1 Dec. 1808; 15 June, 14 Sept. 1809; 25 April 1811; 1–15 April, 30 Dec. 1813; 13 April 1815; 5 Feb. 1818; 4 March 1819; 24 Jan. 1825. C. J. d’Entremont, Histoire de Wedgeport, Nouvelle-Écosse (s.l., 1967). Johnston, Hist. of Catholic Church in eastern N.S. Lambert, “Joseph-Octave Plessis.” Henri Têtu, “L’abbé André Doucet, curé de Québec, 1807–1814,” BRH, 13 (1907): 3–22, 33–46.
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