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LANGEVIN, JEAN (baptized Jean-Pierre-François-Laforce), Roman Catholic priest, teacher, educational administrator, author, and biship; b. 22 Sept. 1821 at Quebec, eldest son of Jean Langevin and Sophie Laforce; d. 26 Jan. 1892 in Rimouski, Que.

Jean Langevin was brought up in a warm, harmonious, and supportive family where the intellectual climate fostered the early opening out of his intelligence. After being taught by a governess, he entered the Petit Séminaire de Quebec in 1831 and proved a brilliant student. On 2 Oct. 1838 he began studies at the Grand Séminaire leading to the priesthood. The same day he was appointed to teach mathematics in the Petit Séminaire, a post he kept after he was ordained on 12 Sept. 1844. He spent five years in this propitious intellectual milieu, which provided contact with individuals who would play prominent roles in the Canadian Catholic Church, such as Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau, Edward John Horan*, and Louis-Jacques Casault*. Langevin also devoted himself to research in history, the arts, and archaeology, for the edification of the members of the Institut Canadien of Quebec, to which he belonged.

In 1849 Langevin became assistant to the curé in the parish of La Nativité-de-Notre-Dame at Beauport and the following year parish priest of Sainte-Claire. He returned to Beauport in 1854 as curé. In these parishes he involved himself in the education of the young, and he opened his presbytery to poor children. The problems of country schools deeply concerned him: the lack of qualified teachers, scarcity of school equipment, absenteeism of pupils, and indifference of the rural population. In April 1858 he was given the task of remedying these deficiencies when he was appointed principal of the École Normale Laval at Quebec.

Langevin drew up a curriculum and timetable of basic subjects to be taught in the elementary and model schools. Practical classes alternated with strictly academic ones, which Langevin often visited to stimulate the students’ enthusiasm through competitions and through private or public examinations, both oral and written. This mixture of theory and practice was dubbed the Langevin method, in honour of its promoter. He also produced teaching aids. In 1848 he had brought out at Quebec a Traité élémentaire de calcul différentiel et de calcul intégral, and it was followed by other publications in the fields of history, agriculture, and liturgy. His Cours de pédagogie ou principes déducation, published at Rimouski in 1869, made him known above all as a teacher and theorist of education.

Langevin’s pedagogy was grounded in a strong family feeling with all its implicit demands and virtues. He also had a firm belief in the human and divine potential of every baptized person, who despite inevitable limitations is none the less a candidate for salvation and therefore perfectible. In the heart of every sanctified being lies dormant a desire to rise that is to be counted on in education. Langevin insisted upon the importance of discipline and attention to detail, and he showed himself uncompromising in the face of disorder and intellectual superficiality. He wanted to give future teachers the most thorough training possible. The program even included exercise of a military nature. Physical education was to mesh with training in the arts. Mechanical arts were to be taught along with the fine arts, which in his view had to be accompanied by instruction in science.

The training devised by Langevin did not end at normal school. He endeavoured to support his former students in their daily work and to see that the spirit imbibed at normal school was carried into their professional lives. He corresponded with them and supplied them with teaching materials. He was an acknowledged pioneer in offering correspondence courses in mathematics, history, geology, and archaeology. Similarly, it seems, he was the first in Lower Canada to call for a salary scale for teachers.

In 1867 Langevin reluctantly left the École Normale Laval upon his appointment as bishop of the new diocese of Rimouski. It would be his responsibility to administer an immense territory stretching some 150,000 square miles on both sides of the St Lawrence. Remoteness, poverty, isolation, and ignorance were the social and economic conditions experienced by the approximately 60,000 people scattered across the diocese, which had only 32 parishes. Langevin undertook to carry out the plans he had outlined for his apostolate: “maintenance of the diocesan seminary in a state of vitality; encouragement of proper upbringing and education; hard work to promote colonization and farming; struggle towards stability for the people of the diocese, towards temperance and modesty; support for Christian life through preaching to adults, the catechism for children, confraternities of all sorts; organization of family and parish life; constant appeals for the practice of social virtues and respect for authority.”

Bishop Langevin announced to his flock that he considered it his first pastoral task to “encourage [them] to devote themselves zealously to farming and to settling uncultivated land.” His thinking in social and economic matters was thoroughly consistent with that of the other church leaders in the second half of the 19th century. His ideological model, according to Gerald Garon, was clearly “that of a traditional, rural, and agricultural society, theocratic and sacral in character, trusting in providence.” This thinking prompted him to persuade Indians, fishermen, labourers, and lumberjacks to take up farming. He directed his attention and efforts to everything that bore on his objective: roads, immigration, professional associations, colonization and agricultural societies, and material, spiritual, and intellectual aid to the rural population. In Réponses aux programmes de pédagogie et dagriculture . . . and Cours de pédagogie ou principes déducation he laid particular stress on two patriotic aims for schools that illustrate his desire to encourage farming and colonization: the schools must impart a fondness for the native soil and for farming as an occupation.

To realize such an ideal, more schools had to be provided and teaching of high quality ensured. When Bishop Langevin arrived in the diocese in 1867, there were three teaching communities: the Sisters of Charity of Quebec, who also had the responsibility of caring for the sick and the poor, the Congregation of Notre-Dame, and the Religious of Jesus and Mary. The diocese had only 175 elementary schools. To increase their number, competent personnel had to be found. Since it was all but impossible to recruit young graduates from the normal schools at Quebec or Montreal, Langevin approached the Department of Public Instruction about setting up a normal school at Rimouski, but in vain. As an alternative, to train schoolmistresses from the diocese, he founded an institute which was meant to remain an association of well-trained laywomen who would staff the primary schools. After hesitating and watching carefully for five years, Langevin finally yielded to the requests of Elisabeth Turgeon, who could see the work continuing only through a religious community. Similar advice came from Edmond Langevin*, the vicar general, who through skill and quiet perseverance was able to persuade his brother to change his approach. The Sœurs des Petites Écoles was founded in 1875 and became the Congregation of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in 1891. Throughout his episcopate Langevin took care to give them his instructions, drawn from the Cours de pédagogie, in anticipation of their spreading through the countryside, “invested with the patriotic mission of encouraging farming.”

A similar concern for rural life prompted Langevin’s dealings with the Collège de Rimouski, which he raised to the status of diocesan seminary on 4 Nov. 1870. He was its superior from 1867 to 1882 and from 1883 to 1885. Although the bishop’s relations with the institution were not always easy, it must be acknowledged that he showed unflagging devotion to the seminary, which moved into a new building in 1876 as a result of a famous subscription, the Œuvre du Quinze Sous. After a fire on 5 April 1881, Langevin began the laborious process of raising the establishment from the ashes. At the seminary, as elsewhere, he combined theory with practice; he advised the students to familiarize themselves with farming techniques and lore by working in their spare time on the seminary farm, which had been the gift of Langevin himself.

With the strong support of his brother Edmond, Bishop Langevin established his diocese on solid foundations. The development of a network of roads, and especially the building of the railway linking Rivière-du-Loup with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1876, had been spurs to progress. Missionary work in this immense diocese was, however, beginning to weigh heavily on him. On 28 Aug. 1882 he announced to his flock that the diocese was being divided and the prefecture apostolic of the Gulf of St Lawrence had been set up. Mgr François-Xavier Bossé took charge of about 5,000 people, for the most part Acadians and Indians, whom the bishop had been able to visit only once, in 1875.

Bishop Langevin’s administration has sometimes been severely judged. For example, it has been likened by historian Andrée Désilets to “a 25-year fight to carry out his own wishes in his diocese and within the episcopate.” He did indeed often find himself engaged in struggles and trials of strength. But they were hardly exceptional in the last third of the 19th century, when religion and politics were so closely linked. It would certainly have been difficult for Langevin to hide his sympathies for the Conservative party, to which his brother Hector-Louis* belonged. In one of his earliest pastoral letters he gave his support to confederation, which had recently come into effect, as “the expression of the supreme wish of the legislator, of the legitimate authority, and consequently of God himself.”

Family and political loyalties prevented Bishop Langevin from supporting the Programme catholique published on 20 April 1871 by die-hard ultramontanes [see François-Xavier-Anselme Trudel*], which expressed the concerns and ideas of Louis-François Laflèche, the bishop of Trois-Rivières. Langevin’s friendship with Laflèche, which dated back to the first Vatican Council, suffered somewhat from this difference of opinion, especially during the 1872 electoral campaign, when a self-styled Catholic press threatened to bring to the fore again the Programme catholique and the bishops’ disagreement. Langevin denounced these newspapers, which claimed the right to tell Catholics what to do at election time, without regard for the pastors who were responsible for applying rules of prudence in their diocese. However, the two bishops, all nuances considered, were both ultramontanes, supporters of Pius IX and of the Syllabus of Errors; the friendship between them would be renewed, particularly when the question of undue influence arose. It did arise with the new federal electoral law in 1874, which laid down that: “Every person who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes use of any force . . . or threatens the infliction by himself, or by or through any other person, of any injury, damage, harm, or loss, or in any manner practises intimidation upon or against any person, in order to induce or compel such person to vote or refrain from voting . . . at any election, shall be deemed to have committed the offence of undue influence.” The provincial election in Bonaventure riding in 1875 gave Langevin the chance to apply his theocratic concept of society, according to which the church could impose its political candidates – the “right-thinking” – even to the extent of pitting its spiritual might against the people’s will. A fight was shaping up between Conservative Pierre-Clovis Beauchesne and Liberal John Robinson Hamilton. Bishop Langevin saw fit to write: “I hear that a certain Protestant merchant is a candidate for election to the provincial house for the constituency of Bonaventure. It seems to me that our religious interests in particular would be ill placed in his hands. Consequently I want the clergy to use its influence prudently but actively, to urge our Catholics not to back him.” Several letters of similar inspiration accompanied the pastoral of 28 May 1875, in which the bishop delivered his recommendations at a time when election campaigning was already in full swing.

The clergy took part openly in the campaign, with the result that Liberal newspapers unanimously complained about their conduct. Beauchesne won by 70 votes. Hamilton and his friends decided to contest the election results in the courts, claiming undue priestly influence. The final decision was delivered on 19 Dec. 1876 by judge Louis-Napoléon Casault*, a professor of law at the Université Laval. He declared both candidates ineligible to sit for seven years, Hamilton for having bought people drinks on election day, Beauchesne for not meeting the property requirement and for the undue influence exercised by the clergy.

The lengthy Casault-Langevin affair developed from negotiations Langevin undertook with Archbishop Taschereau, with his other episcopal colleagues, and even with Rome in reaction to the Casault decision. Langevin first wanted Casault to be “deprived of his chair in the interest of the young people and for the honour of the university.” In a pastoral letter published on 15 Jan. 1877 he condemned five propositions in the Casault decision and declared “those who uphold these propositions or any one of them unworthy of the sacraments until they have disavowed them.” He would have been only too happy to gain the assent of all his fellow bishops; instead, they proved lukewarm and hesitant with regard to the document, an attitude that disappointed Langevin and even led him to the darkest suspicions, in particular about Bishop Antoine Racine of Sherbrooke, who had formerly been sympathetic to his views.

In this whole affair, isolation and disappointment awaited Langevin. Rome sent a delegate, Bishop George Conroy*, who on 13 Oct. 1877 acted as spokesman for the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda: Casault could retain his chair of law at the university. Conroy was also instrumental in getting a pastoral issued on 11 Oct. 1877 by the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Quebec, which gave precise instructions to all the clergy on how to behave during elections.

That year the exercise of undue influence caused grief to another member of the Langevin family. On 22 Jan. 1876 Hector-Louis had been elected in Charlevoix after an epic struggle against Pierre-Alexis Tremblay*. Tremblay was defeated because of the role played by the clergy, who unhesitatingly brandished the threat of spiritual sanctions against those in sympathy with the Liberals. He contested the election results right up to the Supreme Court of Canada, where he won on 28 Feb. 1877. Judge Jean-Thomas Taschereau ruled the election null and void by reason of undue influence. Hector-Louis thought that through his family connections he could get the clergy to take a favourable attitude if he ran for Rimouski in the general elections of September 1878. He had cause to regret the decision because he was defeated by Liberal Jean-Baptiste-Romuald Fiset. The defeat has been attributed to “Bishop Langevin’s unpopularity, which prejudiced people against his brother Hector.”

Bishop Langevin had a difficult temperament. An ecclesiastic who was close to him even called him “the God of thunder.” Andrée Désilets sees him as “the classic example of the authoritarian bishop whose authority [was] absolute and without appeal, ambitious, meticulous, capable even of aggression, injustice, and tyranny.” Nive Voisine calls this portrait “cruel but realistic.” To complete the picture of Langevin’s contradictory nature, Gérald Garon’s assessment is helpful: “Bishop Langevin is . . . remembered as a man both hard and tender, violent and gentle, proud and humble, loved and feared, showered with praise and disparaged, generous and miserly, generally respectful but sometimes insolent, idealistic and realistic, an artist and a scientist.”

Bishop Langevin’s spiritual life was nurtured in the school of St Ignatius of Loyola. His spirituality was voluntaristic, active, energetic, and intransigent, and he aspired to precise and effective action “based upon the conviction that the educator holds the nation’s destiny in his hands.” Temperament aside, here was the profound difference between Langevin and his brother Edmond, who belonged to a third order inspired by the spirituality of Francis of Assisi, a saint with a ready welcome and patient attentiveness. Perhaps it can be agreed that Langevin should be remembered as a former pupil of the Séminaire de Rimouski recalled him: “He was a man of authority. He was bishop and wanted people who dealt with him to know it. But if he liked to berate priests, seminarists, and pupils, if he objected to people coughing when the bishop was speaking, he was kind-hearted to a degree that could never be surpassed.”

Bishop Langevin spent the last three years of his life in sorrow. When his brother Edmond died, on 2 June 1889, he lost not only his vicar general but, perhaps worse, the indispensable support that had enabled him to traverse the often stormy and always difficult years of his long tenure. From then on his poor physical and mental health prevented him from facing vigorously and lucidly the mountain of problems that had been piling up throughout his administration. As his coadjutor André-Albert Blais observed, the diocese of Rimouski was then “in a state of general suspension.”

Concretely, this disarray meant that although there were good and faithful servants of the church in the ranks of the diocese’s clergy, there were unfortunately also too many without a vocation, with little intelligence or knowledge and weak moral character. In administrative matters Langevin had given too much liberty to men who were inexperienced or prodigal. The seminary in particular was in a “veritable state of insolvency.” When confronted with these problems, Langevin invariably replied: “That’s my business. I am bishop, and I do not like people encroaching upon my powers and upon my rights. You are annoying me.”

Informed of the situation, the prefect of Propaganda asked Cardinal Taschereau to advise Langevin to give up his episcopal duties. On 12 Dec. 1890 Langevin wrote to Taschereau: “If the Holy Father wants to have me deliver into his hands my resignation from my pastoral charges, I am ready to comply with his wishes without hesitation, in return for a suitable pension. The will of the pope shall always be sacred to me, and I shall be happy to be able to lay down this heavy burden at his feet, after twenty-four years of diocesan administration.” When Langevin resigned in February 1891 he was succeeded by Bishop Blais and was given the honorary title of archbishop of Leontopolis in partibus infidelium. He died on 26 Jan. 1892.

Noël Bélanger

Jean Langevin is the author of Traité élémentaire de calcul différentiel et de calcul intégral (Québec, 1848); Lhistoire du Canada en tableaux . . . (Québec, 1860; 2e éd., 1865; 3e éd., 1869); Notes sur les archives de Notre-Dame de Beauport (Québec, 1860); Réponses aux programmes de pédagogie et dagriculture pour les diplômes décole élémentaire et décole modèle (Québec, 1862; 2e éd., 1864), a work which also appeared in English as Answers to the programmes on teaching agriculture, for elementary school, model school and academy diplomas (Quebec, 1864); Cours de pédagogie ou principes déducation (Rimouski, Qué., 1869); and Mandements, lettres pastorales, circulaires de Mgr Jean Langevin, et statuts synodaux du diocèse de Saint-Germain de Rimouski (2v., Rimouski, 1878–89).

There are more than 10,000 letters and other documents by Langevin in various archives, mainly in the Arch. de l’Archevêché de Rimouski and the ANQ-Q. Collections in the ASQ are also interesting for describing his role as educator. The Archivio della Propaganda Fide (Rome), Scritturi riferite nei Congressi, America settentrionale, 32, is the source for materials regarding Langevin’s resignation.

ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 23 sept. 1821. Le Messager de Sainte-Anne de la Pointe au Père (Rimouski), 10 (1892), no.10. Album des anciens du séminaire de Rimouski (Rimouski, 1940). Jacqueline Alary, Une congrégation se définit (Rimouski, 1967). Jules Bélanger et al., Histoire de la Gaspésie (Montréal, 1981). Noël Bélanger, “Une introduction au problème de l’ influence indue, illustrée par la contestation de l’élection de 1876 dans le comté de Charlevoix” (thèse de licence, univ. Laval, Québec, 1960). Béatrice Chassé, “L’affaire Casault–Langevin” (thèse de {{ma}}, univ. Laval, 1965). Désilets, Hector-Louis Langevin. Mosaïque rimouskoise, une. histoire de Rimouski, sous la direction de M.-A. Caron et al. (Rimouski, 1979). Gérald Garon, “La pensée socio-économique de Mgr Jean Langevin” (thèse de {{ma}}, univ. de Sherbrooke, Qué., 1977). Séminaire de Rimouski, fêtes de cinquantenaire les 22 et 23 juin 1920 (Rimouski, 1920). Voisine, Louis-François Laflèche. Nive Voisine et al., Histoire de lÉglise catholique au Québec, 1608–1970 (Montréal, 1971). Léo Bérubé, “Histoire religieuse du diocèse de Rimouski,” CCHA Sessions détude, 34 (1967): 67–74. Nive Voisine, “La correspondance Langevin–Laflèche,” CCHA Sessions détude, 34: 79–86; “Il y a cent ans . . . une bénédiction difficile,” Rev. dhist. du Bas Saint-Laurent (Rimouski), 3 (1976–77): 12–16.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Noël Bélanger, “LANGEVIN, JEAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/langevin_jean_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/langevin_jean_12E.html
Author of Article: Noël Bélanger
Title of Article: LANGEVIN, JEAN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: April 24, 2014