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DUCHARME, CHARLES-JOSEPH, Roman Catholic priest, educator, and founder of the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse; b. 10 Jan. 1786 in Lachine, Que., son of Dominique Ducharme, a militia captain, and Marguerite Charlebois; d. 25 March 1853 in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville (Sainte-Thérèse), Lower Canada.
Charles-Joseph Ducharme was enrolled by his parents in the Collège Saint-Raphaël at Montreal in October 1798, but he became disenchanted with studying and returned home after only a few weeks. In 1801 he apparently was engaged as a clerk by Denis Viger*, a Montreal businessman, for whom he worked for three years. He joined the Congrégation des Hommes de Ville-Marie in 1802 or 1803. In October 1804 he decided to return to the Collège Saint-Raphaël (which two years later became the Petit Séminaire de Montréal) and he proved a brilliant classical scholar. With a lively mind and a prodigious memory, Ducharme distinguished himself by his literary accomplishments and he also showed a talent for music. At the end of his course in 1811 he decided to become a priest and entered the Grand Séminaire de Québec, where he studied theology for three years. Among his fellow-students were Rémi Gaulin, Joseph-Norbert Provencher, Thomas Cooke*, and Antoine Manseau*. While pursuing his studies he acted as a regent and instructed the young students at the seminary, one of whom was Ignace Bourget*, later the bishop of Montreal. On 9 Oct. 1814 Ducharme was ordained priest by Joseph-Octave Plessis*, the bishop of Quebec, for whom he felt a devotion marked by respect and fascination. Despite his eagerness to remain at the seminary as a teacher, he was sent to Saint-Laurent, on the Île de Montréal; on 24 October Plessis had appointed him curate there to assist François-Joseph Cazeneuve, the parish priest, who was confined to bed because of illness. Ducharme carried out his duties with great diligence. After he left the parish two years later he was remembered as an excellent speaker, and indeed his congregation unsuccessfully petitioned the bishop for permission to keep such a “worthy priest.”
Bishop Plessis decided to name Ducharme priest of Sainte-Thérèse parish at Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville in October 1816. Ducharme agreed to go there but retained a strong desire to become a member of the community of the Séminaire de Québec, or failing that, of the Séminaire de Montréal. He reminded his bishop regularly of his wish, and even expressed the fear that he could not ensure his salvation if he stayed in contact with the world, but Plessis did not yield. From the beginning Ducharme attended to his parish and also engaged in an intensive drive to promote the education of children. Primary schooling was then in a deplorable state in Lower Canada: the shortage of competent, qualified teachers, the dearth of textbooks, and the indifference of parents towards schools kept the population in a fairly general state of illiteracy. In 1824, for example, Antoine Parant, the superior of the Séminaire de Québec, asserted that in several parishes “scarcely five or six people are able to express their thoughts acceptably in writing or do the most common arithmetical operations, about a quarter of the population knowing how to read tolerably well, [and] a tenth at most able to write their names, in rather sorry fashion if the truth were told.” Aware of this pressing need, Ducharme was also spurred on by fear of Protestant proselytizing and of government control over education secured through the Education Act of 1801, which had established the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning [see Joseph Langley Mills*]. His views coincided with those of Bishop Plessis, who commented: “I advise you very strongly to do all you possibly can to set up a school that will be answerable to you alone, even if you have to increase your debts in order to manage this. And now Protestant ministers are beginning to visit the royal schools set up in the parishes. It is a galling sight for our parish priests to have to witness. Spare yourself this humiliation.”
In 1817 Ducharme built a house which was to serve as a primary school for the boys of the parish. He also asked for some sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Montreal to be sent as teachers for the girls, but he had to wait his turn and the nuns did not arrive until 1847. Meanwhile Ducharme started two classes in his school, one for girls and the other for boys. He hired teachers at his own expense. He did move forward but not without arousing opposition. In 1822 Janvier-Domptail Lacroix, the seigneur of Blainville, who was sympathetic to the Protestants, brought an action against the priest, claiming that he had been insulted by the refusal of one of the churchwardens to recognize his seigneurial rights during mass at the village church. Lacroix blamed Ducharme for this insult, but Ducharme disclaimed responsibility and defended his churchwarden. The affair lasted for several months and was finally settled by mutual agreement through the intervention of a mediator. However, Ducharme, who was sensitive to public opinion, was disheartened and asked for a transfer, saying that he had taken a dislike to his parish. The bishop then appointed him priest of Saint-Joachim parish at Châteauguay, but Ducharme changed his mind and admitted to “no longer having any reasons to leave.” Two years later a Scotsman of Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville, Thomas Porteous*, sued Ducharme, seeking f l,000 in damages for insults to his son James. This affair was also settled out of court, in Ducharme’s favour; James apologized to Ducharme, saying that he had been misinformed about him.
Despite these obstacles Ducharme continued his endeavours. During the next few years he concentrated on founding a Latin school where the classical course would be offered. His first aim was to prepare candidates for the priesthood, but he also wanted to train competent young schoolteachers. The opening of a royal school run by Thomas Porteous and attended by a few Catholics prompted Ducharme to act quickly. On 25 Feb. 1825 he brought six children together at the presbytery to teach them the rudiments of Latin. Thus the Latin school was started and the foundations of what would become the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse were laid. Two of the children, Basile and Pierre Piché, were the verger’s sons. For three years Basile, with his brother’s help, had been teaching French, mathematics, and catechism in Ducharme’s classes for boys. Their four fellow students in the Latin school were sons of farmers. In 1826 the Latin school had 13 pupils. However, it was not until 1837 that the first class completed the full eight-year course, from Latin elements to philosophy.
During the day Ducharme gave his attention to his numerous parishioners while the two Piché boys taught the village children. Around 4:00 p.m. they met with the other classical scholars in the presbytery, where Ducharme gave the lessons in Latin, natural sciences, mathematics, geometry, literature, history, and geography. He had no textbooks, except the French and Latin grammars of Sulpicians Antoine-Jacques Houdet* and Claude Rivière, which had recently been published in Montreal. For the rest, he drew upon the notes he had made as a schoolboy, filling in as he went along. He modelled his courses on those of the Petit Séminaire de Montréal. In 1841 the regulations of the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse would specify that in the classes on grammar, classical literature, and rhetoric, Cicero, the fables of Phaedrus, Cornelius Nepos, Ovid, the elegies of Tibullus, Horace, Virgil, Catullus, and Caesar would be studied. The pupils learned to translate and comment on these authors; they themselves wrote verse or prose, and even conversed in Latin for Ducharme. In the philosophy classes they learned logic, metaphysics, and ethics, as well as physics and mathematics. The teaching of philosophy was based on a work published in France from 1726 to 1728, Charles Rollin’s De la manière d’enseigner et d’étudier les belles-lettres, par rapport à l’esprit et au cœur, to which everyone was then turning. According to Rollin, logic made it possible to understand “the various operations of the mind in order to know truth and refute error.” Metaphysics was strongly oriented ideologically towards the refutation of atheism and the demonstration of the proofs of God’s existence and His attributes, and then towards the knowledge of man’s soul, his origins, his indivisible and spiritual nature, and his immortality. Finally, ethics was centred upon duties, and taught “what qualities are necessary for our actions to be good and virtuous.”
Ducharme coordinated as best he could the slow, arduous process of building his institution. Having no external resources he drew upon the French classes for the best candidates to serve as teachers in the Latin classes; as the latter classes progressed, he selected from them the best candidates who in turn taught the younger pupils, supervised them in their school work, and enforced discipline. In 1836, of some 60 Latin students more than 20 were boarders. One was Joseph Casavant*, a 29-year-old native of Saint-Hyacinthe who had come two years earlier to learn music under Ducharme and who on his advice was studying the workings of the organ.
The year 1837 marked the initial consolidation of the endeavour Ducharme had been closely involved in for 20 years. Bourget, the new coadjutor to the bishop of Montreal, made himself the official protector of the institution. In paying tribute to his former teacher in a letter of 4 July 1837 Bourget observed: “I have a special reason to be interested in your work, [and] that is the personal knowledge I have of the zeal with which you have always sought to give young people a true and sound education. I have not forgotten the care you took to train us in the ways of virtue, and the pleasant hours we spent listening to the lessons about them that you gave to all your pupils.” In the same year four students finished the two-year philosophy program, three of whom wanted to become priests. Bourget confirmed to Ducharme that they were acceptable, but added, “It is good for you to know that your pupils, like those of other educational establishments, will not be ordained priests without living for at least one year in a regular seminary.” Ducharme protested to the bishop. He succeeded in keeping two seminarists, Joseph Duquet and Georges Thibault, with him, but the third, Pierre-Jérémie Crevier, went to the Grand Séminaire de Montréal to study theology.
In September 1838 Ducharme had 120 children under his care; 55, including 35 boarders, were enrolled in the classics program. Times were difficult: incomes were low, crops were poor, and the tithes were not coming in. The construction of a building of adequate size was delayed, even though the school was housed in cramped quarters. On 18 Dec. 1841 Bourget, now bishop of Montreal, issued orders for the canonical erection of the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse. To be admitted, boys “must be at least 12 years old, be born of a legitimate marriage, be able to read and write well, and have a character and turn of mind which would give reason to hope that they will always remain attached to the priestly ministry.” That year 26 of the 60 Latin students intended to become priests. They had to wear cassocks and this caused conflict in the establishment for it apparently gave the impression that those wearing them benefited from favouritism. The following year it was accepted that those without an explicit intention of embracing the priesthood should also be admitted to the seminary, as was the case in other classical colleges.
On 17 March 1845 the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada passed a bill incorporating the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse and creating a corporation to run it. This act marked the end of the period when the work was shaped by the force of Ducharme’s personality. The task of defining regulations and standards, of assigning responsibilities, and of establishing structures became a source of perpetual conflict for him and led to his gradual withdrawal. The seminary’s founder was by now nearly 60 years old and felt that he was being left behind. He no longer had the energy to respond to the new needs of the institution. He found it increasingly difficult to keep control of his pupils. He was often at odds with his colleagues over discipline, over the way to run the seminary, and over educational concepts, and his decisions were being challenged. On 7 July 1845 the corporation set up a council which conferred on him the office of superior but gave him as assistants three of his former pupils who were now priests: Duquet was appointed procurator, Jean-Baptiste Berthiaume bursar and assistant director, and Louis Dagenais prefect of studies. In 1847 a start was made on the construction of a stone building which would house more than 150 boarders. On 9 March of that year two sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame of Montreal came to Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville to look after the girls’ education. In November the Brothers of the Holy Cross took charge of the village school, but they left in 1848.
At that period Ducharme still wanted to look after everything, but in February 1848 he suffered a paralytic stroke that gravely undermined his health. Bishop Bourget then intervened, advising him to reduce his activity and let his subordinates assume their full responsibilities. He urged Ducharme to put his affairs in order and guaranteed him a pension of £150 from the time he felt obliged to leave his office. Bourget asked the Society of Jesus to strengthen the seminary’s work by putting it on a stable legal footing and by improving its staff and its training program. Thus in September Louis-Césaire Saché was appointed principal and Charles Cicaterri professor of philosophy and theology. Although Ducharme remained titular superior of the seminary, his role was confined to presiding at the council’s deliberations and to “important” activities.
This was all that Ducharme needed to feel rejected. He had always been very sensitive to criticism and prone to feeling persecuted; even as a young parish priest he had written strong letters to Bishop Plessis protesting his good intentions. His life had been one of the utmost austerity, wholly devoted to his parish and the education of the young; he had few friends, took no holidays, and was afraid to invite people to his home, so meagre was his daily fare. He was deeply convinced that he was being betrayed, abandoned, and persecuted by his own kind. He complained to Bourget pathetically: “In speaking to me about my idea of taking a trip you said, but for heaven’s sake where are you going in such a hurry? I answer, where my suffering will take me. . . . How many slanders have been insinuated in the last two years to persuade the laity that I was a bad priest? M. Dag[enais] and M. Duq[uet] have brought everything into play that could set people against me, and have obtained all they wanted at my expense, and have not ceased to hound me. They had no desire for my possessions, they said, and the letter that M. Dag[enais] wrote to a so-called friend shows what he had in mind, and it compromised Your Excellency while insulting me. In short all of their conduct towards me was designed to do me outrage, to ridicule me, to make me suffer, in a word to rob me of everything, and Your Excellency has been sympathetic to them.” Ducharme’s entire correspondence with Bourget expresses the feeling of abandonment and betrayal that beset him.
Ducharme resigned as priest of the parish of Sainte-Thérèse in 1849 but continued to live in the presbytery. That year Duquet, the seminary’s new superior, persuaded him to leave the presbytery and take a room in the seminary, in order to protect him from solitude and a tendency to alcoholism. Ducharme spent the last years of his life there but his health gradually worsened. He often travelled, to Lachine and to Bytown (Ottawa) and Plantagenet in Upper Canada, as well as to Saint-Laurent and Sault-au-Récollet (Montreal North), seeking a measure of peace among his few friends.
He became a victim of increasingly frequent strokes and died on 25 March 1853 – Good Friday – in his room at the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse. Bishop Bourget came to officiate at Ducharme’s funeral, which took place three days later in the presence of a large crowd from Sainte-Thérèse and the adjoining parishes. During the ceremony Bourget delivered a moving oration recalling Ducharme’s virtues and the service he had rendered to religion and to his community. Ducharme was buried in the vault of the church of Sainte-Thérèse, where he had been priest for 33 years.
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