MERCIER, ANTOINE, priest, Sulpician, parish priest of Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur (Montreal); b. 14 May 1817 at Lyons, Department of Rhône, France, son of Antoine Mercier and Élisabeth Chirat; d. 12 April 1875 at Montreal, Que.
Antoine Mercier was ordained priest in 1842, and the following year entered the Society of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. His noviciate completed, he served for five years as bursar of the seminary of Clermont, Department of Oise; then, at his own request, his superiors allowed him to go to Canada, where he arrived on 10 Oct. 1849.
He was at first curate at Notre-Dame de Montreal, where he had several administrative responsibilities. Shortly before his installation as chief bursar of the seminary of Montreal, M. Mercier, on 26 April 1857, founded the institute of the Little Sisters of St Joseph; the founding was on the initiative of a pious young girl, Rose de Lima Dauth, and had the approval and consent of his superior and his confrères. The community’s main object was to devote itself, through prayer and good works, to the material and moral support of seminarists and priests. Initially, in accordance with its founder’s ideas, it had new features: it was an association of girls for whom no special dress, vows, or noviciate were required; they could join after a retreat of only three days. M. Mercier had scarcely laid the foundations of the new institute and drawn up its general regulations when he was replaced at the head of the undertaking by his confrère Damien-Henri Tambareau. Even if subsequently the functions entrusted to him did not allow him to direct the Little Sisters of St Joseph, he always remained keenly interested in the institute and ready to advise its members.
After a year’s stay at the seminary, Mercier withdrew from the temporal administration of charitable works of the Society of Saint-Sulpice to give his attention almost exclusively to parish ministry. He was entrusted with the direction first of the dependent church of Notre-Dame-de-Grâces at Montreal, 1858–62, then of the Indian mission at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), 1862–68, and finally of the parish of Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur at Montreal, 1868–75. In 1864 he had brought the Little Sisters of St Joseph to Oka and allotted them various tasks among the Algonkins, the Iroquois, and the missionaries, including the upkeep of the mission church and the missionaries’ residence, and the running of a needlework school for Algonkin women; one of the nuns learned enough of the Iroquois language to be able to teach the children.
In the different duties he had to perform, M. Mercier always distinguished himself by his great spiritual qualities, by his gentleness and benevolence, and especially by an irrepressible activity that never knew any respite. He died on 12 April 1875 at the seminary of Notre-Dame, after an illness of four months.
[Antoine Mercier], Réflexions et retraites, Émile Boucher, édit. (Montréal, 1964). This book contains the private notes of M. Mercier’s spiritual retreats from the time of his ordination to the subdiaconate in 1840 until his death. The volume was not for sale but was designed for the religious community which he founded. a.d.]
Archives de l’Institut des Petites Filles de Saint-Joseph (Montréal). ASSM, Biographies, Antoine Mercier; Communautés religieuses. Allaire, Dictionnaire. Gauthier, Sulpitiana. A.-L. Bertrand, Bibliothèque sulpicienne ou histoire littéraire de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (3v., Paris, 1900), II. René Labelle, Les Petites Filles de Saint-Joseph; les origines de la communauté (Montréal, 1923). Olivier Maurault, Saint-Jacques de Montréal, l’église, la paroisse (Montréal, 1923). L.-O. David, “Biographie du Révérend M. Mercier, s.s.,” La Minerve (Montréal), 14 avril 1875.