VINCENT, CHARLES (baptized Auguste-Victor-Charles), Basilian priest and educator; b. 30 June 1828 at Vallon (Vallon-Pont-D’Arc), France, son of Joseph-Victor Vincent and Marie-Thérèse-Augustine Charrière; d. 1 Nov. 1890 at Toronto, Ont.
Charles Vincent was educated at Aubenas before entering the Basilian noviciate at Vernoux-en-Vivarais, Ardèche, France, in 1848. He continued his theological studies at the Basilian Collège d’Annonay before being received as a member of the Basilian community on 18 Sept. 1851. At that time the Basilians were considering a foundation in Toronto following an invitation from Bishop Armand-François-Marie de Charbonnel*, who had studied at Annonay. In 1852 Vincent joined one other unordained member and two priests as the first group of Basilians to travel to Toronto in order to establish a school. The decision to volunteer must have been especially difficult for Vincent because of close family ties; fearing opposition from his parents, he felt it necessary to leave without informing them even though his father was seriously ill. His mother’s pleas for his return caused him anguish until he was able to visit France again five years later.
In Toronto the Basilians established St Mary’s Lesser Seminary where classes began on 15 Sept. 1852. Early the next year the school was merged with the Christian Brothers’ St Michael’s College; Jean-Mathieu Soulerin*, who had arrived with Vincent, became superior. Vincent’s classes went along without too much difficulty, despite the fact that he had never studied English; by the time he was ordained by Charbonnel on 22 May 1853 he was confident in the language.
St Michael’s College was located in the bishop’s palace before a permanent home was found for both it and the parish church of St Basil’s on the estate of John Elmsley*. Soulerin, as superior of the college and pastor of the parish, came to count more and more on Vincent as “of all his confrères the one who has the best spirit, best minds his own business, delights in and gets along with the students, and has kept [his] initial piety.” From 1857 Vincent held the office of treasurer of the college and was clearly second to Soulerin at St Michael’s. He himself, however, was far from sharing the confidence his superior had in him. In 1856 he had written to the superior general of the Basilian fathers accusing himself of negligence, tepidity, lack of respect for authority, and a tendency to oversleep in the morning. “I lack,” he wrote, “that energy that saints need.” He hesitated to take formal religious vows, which were introduced in the community in 1852, until his visit to France in 1857.
The test of his energy and maturity came after 1865, when Soulerin was elected superior general of the Basilians and returned to Annonay. Vincent was left as superior of St Michael’s College, pastor of St Basil’s parish, and effective head of the Basilians in America. His next years were to be made especially difficult because of a rift with Bishop John Joseph Lynch, the successor to Charbonnel in 1860.
Lynch, who had founded Our Lady of Angels Seminary (later Niagara University) in New York State in 1856, was critical and suspicious of the Basilian work in Toronto. The chief factor in these difficulties was probably the bishop’s scrupulosity about his responsibilities especially those affecting his rights and duties of supervision over Basilians in his diocese; the Basilians had not yet received papal approval as a full religious community and their legal position was therefore ambiguous. In the 1860s the bishop complained about the discipline and the quality of education in the college as well as about the mingling of students and parishioners at high mass. He also refused to ordain young Basilians unless they vowed obedience to him and swore to remain in his diocese. Soulerin found the bishop’s attitude puzzling and disturbing. Vincent, younger and more deferential than Soulerin, was more successful in his relationship with Lynch, but in 1872 the troubles showed themselves in sharper form in a dispute over the activities of one of the Basilians. In 1874 Lynch, now an archbishop, demanded that Vincent be removed from office. Soulerin not only refused, but proceeded to name Vincent provincial to strengthen his position. Lynch petitioned Rome to intervene but the Holy See took a placatory approach, Vincent remained in office, and the affair gradually quietened down.
Vincent had become a capable administrator. In 1871–72 he extended the college building; the addition was paid for by 1876 despite the fact that the annual government grant of $3,000 had been discontinued in 1869. Then, to satisfy the archbishop, he worked out a structural change in the church, extending the sanctuary so that students could be placed on either side of the altar without having to mix with the congregation. In 1881 a more significant change came when St Michael’s was affiliated with the University of Toronto. This affiliation was largely the work of Father John Reed Teefy, but Vincent gave his younger colleague the support he needed. The archbishop seems to have been pleased, and his concerns from that time were mainly that Roman Catholic students should take advantage of what St Michael’s offered. In any case, his reconciliation with Vincent had been formally expressed in 1878 when Vincent, on the 25th anniversary of his ordination, had been named vicar general of Toronto.
As superior of St Michael’s, even before he was named provincial in 1874, Vincent had been exercising a supervisory role. The community’s only other house in 1865 was in Owen Sound, in the diocese of Hamilton. In 1867 Vincent opened the first Basilian school in the United States, a minor seminary in Louisville, Ohio; it, however, had failed by 1873. In 1870 he sent Father Denis O’Connor* to Sandwich (Windsor), in the diocese of London, to head the group of Basilians taking over Assumption College (now part of University of Windsor) and parish. Four years later Bishop John Walsh* of London, in testimony of his confidence in the Basilians during their trouble with Bishop Lynch, invited them to take over a parish in Chatham, which was to be exchanged in 1878 for that of St John the Baptist in Amherstburg. The last of Vincent’s foundations was St Anne’s parish in Detroit, taken over in 1886, the first permanent Basilian establishment in the United States.
As the jubilee volume of the archdiocese of Toronto noted in 1892 Vincent, as superior, pastor, and provincial, always showed quick practical judgement and insight into character. He had a good sense of humour and remarkable simplicity. Other Basilians, it is recorded, found him a kind and gentle man, easy to approach and more to be loved than feared. With growing responsibilities as provincial and increasing troubles with his health, he gave up the office of pastor of St Basil’s in 1880, and that of superior of St Michael’s six years later. Finally, in 1890, diabetes forced him to resign as provincial a few months before his death.
R. J. Scollard of Toronto is in possession of 61 typescript volumes entitled “Notes on the history of the Congregation of the Priests of Saint Basil,” which he has compiled since 1928. Volumes 1, 6–9, 12, 14, 23, and 34 were used in the preparation of this biography.
Basilian Arch. (Toronto), A.313, 1852, .51–53 (St Michael’s College, Letters, 1852–90). Univ. of St Michael’s College Arch. (Toronto), Charles Vincent, Letters. R. J. Scollard, Dictionary of Basilian biography: lives of members of the Congregation of Priests of Saint Basil from its beginnings in 1822 to 1968 (Toronto, 1969). F. J. Boland, “An analysis of the problems and difficulties of the Basilian fathers in Toronto, 1850–1860” (phd thesis, Univ. of Ottawa, 1955). James Hanrahan, The Basilian fathers (1822 1972): a documentary study of one hundred and fifty years of the history of the Congregation of Priests of St. Basil (Toronto, 1973). Mary Hoskin, History of St. Basil’s parish, St. Joseph Street (Toronto, 1912). Jubilee volume, 1842–1892: the archdiocese of Toronto and Archbishop Walsh, [ed. J. R. Teefy] (Toronto, 1892). Charles Roume, Origines et formation de la communauté des prêtres de Saint Basile: contribution à l’histoire religieuse du Vivarais (Privas, France, 1965). L. K. Shook, Catholic post-secondary education in English-speaking Canada: a history (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1971). “Laudemus viros gloriosos: Charles Vincent, C.S.B., 1828–1890,” Basilian Teacher (Toronto), 4 (1959 60): 145–47. L. K. Shook, “St. Michael’s College: the formative years, 1850–1853,” CCHA Report, 17 (1950): 37–52.