MONCOQ (Montcoq, Muncoq), MICHEL, Roman Catholic priest; b. 2 Aug. 1827 in Truttemer-le-Grand, dept of Calvados, France, son of Guillaume Moncoq and Marie-Anne Desmottes; d. 1 Jan. 1856 near Algonac, Mich.
Michel Moncoq was one of eight well-educated children: both his sisters became nuns, he and a brother priests, and his twin brother may have become a physician. He entered the Grand Séminaire de Caen around 1849 and at the end of 1851 was ordained deacon. In 1852, perhaps in response to a circular letter written by Toronto’s Bishop Armand-François-Marie de Charbonnel* concerning the need for clergy in his diocese, Moncoq expressed a desire to serve as a missionary to the Indians in Canada. Released for service there, he embarked in 1852 in the company of the Reverend Jean-Mathieu Soulerin* and his fellow Basilians, one of whom later said that during the voyage Moncoq “gained every heart by the suavity of his manners, his modest deportment and his retiring disposition.” He was ordained priest in Toronto by Charbonnel on 29 Sept. 1852, shortly after arriving.
Despite a severe shortage of clergy in Toronto, Charbonnel felt strongly enough about the need to provide for the Indians of his diocese, then comprising the entire western part of the province, that he released Moncoq from pastoral responsibilities to enable him to prepare for his missionary duties among them. Moncoq spent the next two years in Lower Canada studying Indian languages and customs and English. He studied first among the Algonkins and Iroquois in the Sulpician mission at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka) and then, with the help of Father Joseph Marcoux, among the Iroquois at Caughnawaga (Kahnawake). Moncoq’s active ministry began in 1854 when he left Caughnawaga for a brief stay at Penetanguishene, whose temporary pastor the previous winter had been the Reverend Nicolas-Marie-Joseph Frémiot. He then made a trip to Manitoulin Island to visit Father Dominique Du Ranquet*, who had served in the missions along the St Clair River to which Moncoq was appointed in October. He was assigned to serve both Indians and whites from Point Pelee to Penetanguishene.
Moncoq soon won them over by his affability, his linguistic skills, and, above all, by his zeal. His ministry to the Indians – mostly Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Ottawas, whose languages were closely related to that of the Algonkins, and some Iroquois from Caughnawaga – was especially effective. In Moncoq, according to a later account, the Indians once again had “a black-gown who would speak and pray and celebrate the mysteries of the Great Manitu in their own sweet language.” His labours on their behalf, according to another commentator, were extraordinary: “It was no uncommon feat for him to celebrate Mass on the same day in widely distant missions. No Indian reserve was too remote to receive his frequent visits.” But the Indians, whose spiritual welfare he had so much at heart, were not his only responsibility. In order to render better service to immigrants recently settled in the region Moncoq chose to reside in a central location, took steps to establish new parishes for the settlers, and bought property for a church in Owen Sound. Throughout his vast region he preached the Gospel in English, French, or whatever Indian language his congregation required. The Catholics of Owen Sound had hoped that he would become their pastor, but their wish was not to be granted.
Moncoq’s zeal, which one observer later described as excessive, may have been the indirect cause of his death. On New Year’s Day, 1856, Moncoq was at Babys Point when he was called to attend a sick Indian woman at Algonac, Mich. His guide across the frozen river was the woman’s only son. For the return walk he dismissed his guide, missed a detour around a weak spot in the ice, and fell through it. One biographer wrote: “It seems that he struggled for a while. His cries were heard, but no one heeded them, thinking them to be the screams of some drunken Indian.” His death ended an active ministry of only 15 months. Rumours that he had been murdered prompted a fellow priest to investigate, and in February he reported to Charbonnel that Moncoq’s death was accidental. His body was found on the American side of the river in July and was brought to Babys Point for burial; in 1878 it was moved to Port Lambton where it rests beneath Sacred Heart Church.
In his personal life Moncoq was frugal, seldom accepting money from those he served, at times not drawing his salary. His piety was profound. Days before his death he is said to have written to Charbonnel that “he wished to bind himself by the vows of poverty and obedience that he might live the more mortified to himself, the more devoted to souls and the more united to God.” His death brought to an end the era of Roman Catholic missionary service in what is now southwestern Ontario. The Indians would thenceforth be attended by the priests of neighbouring parishes with occasional visits from priests who spoke their language, possibly stopping while en route to or from Manitoulin Island.
[Some of the principal sources for the life of Michel Moncoq are given below; a complete, annotated bibliography is in R. J. Scollard, A young and holy priest: the life of Rev. Michel Moncoq, 1827–1856 (Toronto, 1979). Users of that bibliography should be aware that the second volume of Father Kelly’s biographical notes (cited below) has now been found. r.j.s.]
AAT, Edward Kelly, “Biographical notes of some interest to me, probably not so to anybody else,” 1: 203; 2: 125–27 (the latter reference notes that the entry for Moncoq continues on p.19 of a seventh volume, which has not been located). Arch. de l’évêché de Bayeux-Lisieux (Bayeux, France), Reg. du personnel. Arch. of the Diocese of London (London, Ont.), J. G. Mugan, “Historical notes and records of the parish of Corunna” (1901), 37–39 (this work was published in six weekly instalments in Canadian Observer (Sarnia, Ont.), under the title “The Mugan manuscript”; the last, on p.8 of the issue for 10 Sept. 1949, contains a biography of Moncoq). Private arch., Joseph Finn (Chatham, Ont.), R. H. Dignan, “History of the Diocese of London” (photocopy at Arch. of the Diocese of London), 72–77, 88, 90, 98, 105. St Joseph (Roman Catholic Church) (Corunna, Ont.), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials. Lambton Observer, and Western Advertiser, 31 Jan. 1856. Toronto Mirror, 11 Jan. 1856. Félix Gauthier, “A monument to the memory of Father Moncoq,” Canadian Freeman (Toronto), 20 May 1869. “Père Montcoq,” Sarnia Observer, and Lambton Advertiser, 21 June 1878. “Rev. Father Moncoq: re-interment of his hallowed remains at Port Lambton,” Irish Canadian (Toronto), 19 June 1878.
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