PERREY, SYLVAIN-ÉPHREM (often written Perry or Poirier, but he always signed S. E. Perrey), Roman Catholic priest; b. 15 July 1800 or 1802 at Tignish, P.E.I., seventh of the nine children of Pierre Poirier and Marie Chiasson; d. 3 Aug. 1887 at Egmont Bay, P.E.I.
Sylvain-Éphrem Perrey was born some 50 years after the deportation of the Acadians of Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) in 1758, in circumstances that were difficult and uncertain. In 1799 his family was uprooted from its established home on the shores of Malpeque Bay and settled in the Tignish region. Perrey may have been baptized by Abbé Jacques-Ladislas de Calonne*, a missionary on the Island from 1799 to 1804. He went to school in Tignish, and then continued his studies at Rustico.
Perrey made up his mind at an early age to become a priest. In 1818 Abbé Joseph-Étienne Cécile, the parish priest of Rustico, recognized his talents and recommended him to Joseph-Octave Plessis*, the bishop of Quebec. Plessis got him accepted as a student at the Séminaire de Nicolet, and during the next eight years Perrey prepared for the priesthood. In his steady work at this institution he displayed the inexhaustible courage, determination, and perseverance that characterized all his life as a priest.
Returning to Prince Edward Island in 1826, Perrey finished his studies under the direction of Bishop Angus Bernard MacEachern*, and at the same time apparently became his secretary. On 28 July 1828 he was ordained priest in St Andrew’s Church at St Andrews by the bishop. There were then only two other Catholic priests on the island, MacEachern and Bernard Donald MacDonald*; the latter looked after the Acadian missions from Rustico to Tignish. Upon ordination, Perrey was appointed parish priest at Tignish, and was given responsibility for the Acadian missions in Prince County.
In the period after the deportation Acadian settlers in the Maritimes had turned to their priests for guidance; thus the clergy had assumed a leadership role in the communities and their advice was constantly sought on both secular and religious matters. Because there were so few resident priests on Prince Edward Island, however, until the beginning of the 19th century the consolations of religion were brought to the Acadians and other Catholics by visiting missionaries and by laymen who had been granted certain special powers. Perrey, the first native-born priest on the Island, was destined to exercise great influence among the Acadians. For 15 years he worked with his flock, which was scattered between Tignish and Miscouche, a distance of more than 40 miles. “Sleeping on the snow in winter, on a damp bed under the trees in spring and autumn, navigating rivers by canoe or some other means in all seasons of the year and in all weathers,” Perrey was “always cheerful, always content, always happy” as he carried on his ministry.
In 1844 Father Peter MacIntyre*, who had recently been ordained for the diocese of Charlottetown, was sent to Tignish; he served the western part of Prince County, while Perrey established his residence at Miscouche and ministered to the missions in the eastern section of the county. In 1860 failing eyesight obliged Perrey to take a well-earned rest. He retired to Tignish and went to live with his sister at Étang-des-Clous (Nail Pond), but in a few years had recovered sufficiently to take up his ministry again. In 1869 he was appointed first resident parish priest at Mount Carmel. A great celebration was held in Charlottetown in July 1878 to honour his golden jubilee in the priesthood. Finally, in 1879 he was forced to give up his ministry because he was almost totally blind.
Throughout his years as a priest Perrey participated in the progress of his diocese and took a keen interest in the needs of his people. When Bishop MacEachern founded St Andrew’s College at St Andrews in 1830, Perrey was appointed a member of its board of trustees. Perrey also gave his support to St Dunstan’s College in Charlottetown, which replaced St Andrew’s College. In recognition of the help he had received to pursue his own studies, he endowed two scholarships, one at St Dunstan’s College, the other at the Collège Saint-Joseph in Memramcook, N.B. Many young Island Acadians were to benefit from these scholarships. In 1841, when total abstinence societies were founded in the diocese, Perrey became president of the one established in Prince County. He was also a founding member of a mutual insurance society set up on 11 March 1846 on behalf of the diocesan clergy by Bishop Bernard Donald MacDonald, the second bishop of Charlottetown.
A competent administrator, Perrey built a presbytery at Tignish, completed the construction of churches at Tignish and Mount Carmel, and later enlarged the latter building to meet the needs of the increasing number of parishioners. According to those who knew him, “he was not . . . a good preacher, but was an excellent scolder.” In the course of his studies at the Séminaire de Nicolet he had learned plainsong. He had a good voice and organized choirs in all his missions. His influence in this field was such that it continued to be felt in the parishes of Prince County almost until the liturgical renewal of the second Vatican Council.
Perrey spent his last days with his family at Egmont Bay. After his death in 1887, the parishioners of the communities to which he had ministered erected a monument to his memory in the cemetery at Egmont Bay.
Le Moniteur acadien (Shédiac, N.-B.), 11 juill. 1878, 9 août 1887. Ivanhoë Caron, “Inventaire de la correspondance de Mgr Bernard-Claude Panet, archevêque de Québec,” ANQ Rapport, 1933–34: 294, 312, 337, 344, 358. J.-H. Blanchard, The Acadians of Prince Edward Island, 1720–1964 (Ottawa and Hull, Que., 1964); Acadiens de l’Île-du Prince-Édouard ([Charlottetown], 1956). The Catholic Church in Prince Edward Island, 1720–1979, ed. M. F. Hennessey (Charlottetown, 1979). [L’Impartial illustré], numéro illustré: souvenir de la célébration du 100me anniversaire de la fondation de Tignish (Tignish, Î.-P.-É., 1899). J. C. Macmillan, The early history of the Catholic Church in Prince Edward Island (Quebec, 1905); The history of the Catholic Church in Prince Edward Island from 1835 till 1891 (Quebec, 1913). J.-W. Pineau, Le clergé français dans l’Île du Prince-Édouard, 1721–1821 ([Québec, 1967]).