BLANCHE, GUSTAVE (named Gustave-Marie at birth), Roman Catholic priest, Eudist, educator, and vicar apostolic; b. 30 April 1848 in Josselin, France, son of Louis-Marie-Antoine Blanche and Marie-Caroline Hayard; d. 27 July 1916 in Paris.
Little is known about Gustave Blanche’s childhood and youth. From 1858 to 1866 he attended the Collège Saint-Sauveur in Redon, run by the Eudists; from 1868 to 1870 he studied law and worked as a notary’s clerk in that town. During the Franco-German War of 1870–71 he enlisted as a volunteer and took part in the siege of Paris and later the battle of Champigny, in the course of which he attained the rank of second lieutenant. This experience, along with the iron discipline at the school in Redon, decisively shaped his character. After the war he returned to Redon for two years and completed his studies in law. He entered the Eudist noviciate at Roche-du-Theil in 1873 and was ordained to the priesthood on 16 March 1878. From 1877 he held various positions in schools run by his congregation, mainly as head monitor and then as prefect of discipline at the Collège Saint-Jean in Versailles.
In 1890 the general council of the congregation sent Father Blanche to establish a house for the order in Canada. The situation of religious communities was becoming increasingly difficult under the Third Republic, and the Eudists knew that Archbishop Cornelius O’Brien* of Halifax was looking for a congregation that would take responsibility for an educational institution for the Acadians of southwestern Nova Scotia. Blanche reached Halifax in September 1890 and met Archbishop O’Brien, who gave him charge of setting up a school in St Marys Bay and serving the parishes of Saulnierville and Church Point. On his arrival at Church Point, Blanche assessed the extent of the task at hand. He had to build a school, put an academic curriculum in place, find competent staff, recruit pupils, minister to the parishes, and institute a juvénat (part of the teacher-training program). He also had to adjust to the manners and customs of the country and familiarize himself with the English language. The Collège Sainte-Anne officially opened in the fall of 1891. The first year revealed the problems with which Blanche would have to contend during his nine years as superior: a heterogeneous body of pupils differing widely in age and educational level, a varied academic program requiring far too many teachers for quite small numbers of pupils, and external pressures to make English predominate in the curriculum, though the school was meant to counter anglicization.
Besides supervising the school’s progress, Father Blanche was preoccupied with the future of the Eudists in Canada. It was with this concern in mind that he accompanied the general of the congregation during his first visit to North America in the spring of 1893. Together they visited the bishops of various dioceses in the province of Quebec and the Maritimes to sound out the possibilities of establishing a community. These visits would lead in 1894 to the founding of Holy Heart Seminary in Halifax, which was officially opened in the fall of 1895. The other important advance would be to gain a foothold in New Brunswick. The congregation’s establishment in this province was to come from many discussions with Bishop James Rogers* of the diocese of Chatham and his Acadian clergy between 1895 and 1899. In September 1898 the Eudists were finally put in charge of the Collège du Sacré-Cœur in Caraquet [see Prosper Lebastard].
A fire at the Collège Sainte-Anne on the night of 15–16 Jan. 1899 put Blanche’s work in jeopardy. The institution was in a particularly difficult financial position; indeed, from its foundation Blanche had been constantly looking for funding. The need for money had led him to add an English-language commercial academy to the school in 1894 as a means of obtaining a substantial grant from the provincial government. He would be much criticized for this academy because it upset the delicate balance between the French and English elements in the curriculum and the student body. He would also be reproached for making too many sacrifices for financial considerations at the price of distorting the college’s mission. It must be remembered, however, that Blanche had been sent to Canada to establish an enduring community that could serve as a refuge for the Eudists, not to save the Acadians of St Marys Bay.
In this context the fire of 1899 raised a number of questions about the rebuilding to be undertaken and the direction to be given the school. Father Ernest Regnault was sent out by the general council of the congregation in Paris to analyse the situation. In his lengthy report he dealt harshly with Father Blanche’s administration. Although Blanche’s colleagues acknowledged that he was a devout man of virtue, some criticized his inflexibility as superior and his tendency to insist on doing everything himself. The report emphasized the difficulties and even the failures he had experienced in trying to set up a relevant academic curriculum.
In July 1899 Blanche was recalled to Europe to serve the needs of the general administration. He was prefect at the Collège Saint-Jean in Versailles during the academic year 1899–1900, and then superior until 1902. These were again troubled times in the religious history of France. The government had just passed a law requiring congregations to obtain state authorization, failing which they would be “dissolved, their members dispersed, and their property liquidated.” Blanche and his congregation joined in the struggle against the measure, but their imminent exile meant they had to find places of safety outside the country.
Once again Blanche was chosen for the mission and his prolonged odyssey began in August 1902. After unsuccessful attempts in the southern United States, he came to Quebec City where the bishops were attending a meeting of the Council of Public Instruction. There he met, among others, Bishop André-Albert Blais of Rimouski and Bishop Michel-Thomas Labrecque of Chicoutimi, who both needed priests in their dioceses. Before any definite agreement was reached, however, Blanche had to return to Versailles for the beginning of the school year. In November he set out on a new exploratory trip to North America, and he continued meeting and appealing to bishops in western Canada and the western United States until the beginning of 1903. His visits to these regions enabled him to size up the situation, but also made him realize that the Eudists’ lack of proficiency in English and German would make it hard to obtain new appointments for them.
Blanche’s endeavours in 1902 and 1903 would nevertheless bear fruit. In the province of Quebec, the Eudists found teaching positions in the seminaries of Chicoutimi and Rimouski and at the Collège de Valleyfield. They were also given responsibility for the pilgrimage to Pointe-au-Père, near Saint-Germain-de-Rimouski (Rimouski), for a parish in Chicoutimi, and for the prefecture apostolic of the Gulf of St Lawrence. In New Brunswick, they took charge of the missions in Rogersville and on the Tobique Indian Reserve. In the United States, they were given the parish of Woonsocket in South Dakota. Blanche would be criticized for accepting too quickly and haphazardly whatever was offered him. But the situation in 1902–3 offered few means of escape, and the directives of the congregation’s superiors were clear: “We have no choice and we must send our Fathers wherever they will be accepted, in order to procure them work and bread.”
After a short stay in France to report on his mission, Blanche was back in Canada in August 1903 to make ready for the arrival of the exiles. He also had to take care, as the appointed director, of the prefecture apostolic of the Gulf of St Lawrence, which had been entrusted to the Eudists on 13 July 1903 by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda. He took up residence in Chicoutimi, where he would remain until 1905. It was in the church he had helped found and build there that he would be enthroned as bishop of the titular see of Sicca-Veneria and vicar apostolic of the Gulf of St Lawrence on 18 Oct. 1905.
Bishop Blanche immediately announced his intention to take up permanent residence on the north shore of the St Lawrence. He spent the first winter in Pointe-aux-Esquimaux (Havre-Saint-Pierre), and decided in 1906 to move to Sept-Îles, which he wanted to make the centre of his vicariate. A preliminary tour of the region in September 1903 had enabled him to appreciate the challenges he faced: the vast expanse of territory and the harsh climate, the difficulties of communication and the isolated missions to be served, and the liturgical services needed, the costs to be determined, and the chapels to be repaired or built.
As vicar apostolic, Bishop Blanche entered upon a new way of life. The year was divided into two parts. From the close of navigation in November until its reopening in April, the region was virtually cut off from the rest of the world, and communication between the different posts was hard and even dangerous. Isolation and inactivity weighed heavily on him during this period, but in April life would begin again and travel and activity could be resumed.
Blanche tried to attend meetings of the Council of Public Instruction as regularly as possible and to defend the interests of the schools in his vicariate. He obtained an increase in their grants, but the situation was not easy. The buildings were often in poor condition and the teaching was behind the times. Since the people were poor and not very interested in education, parents paid little attention to their children’s progress. It was also hard to recruit staff. His summers were devoted to visiting the various posts, even the most remote ones, where he preached, heard confessions, and conducted confirmations.
Throughout his years as vicar apostolic, Blanche vigorously defended the interests of the north shore in his dealings with the authorities of the congregation. His correspondence shows that he had a number of disputes with the provincial administration. One issue was the fact that the Eudist personnel on the north shore were responsible to the provincial rather than to him. He was constantly clamouring for people who would fit the needs of the missions and he tried unsuccessfully to make it clear that the shortage of personnel prevented him from fulfilling his duties as vicar.
In 1915 he decided to bring his concerns for the vicariate directly before the general council of the congregation, but the war in Europe forced him to put off his plans until the next year. On 27 July 1916, the day before the general assembly was to end, Bishop Blanche, after reading the report he had prepared, suffered a heart attack; he died several hours later.
Arch. Départementales, Morbihan (Vannes, France), État civil, Josselin,1er mai 1848. Arch. des Pères Eudistes (Chaslesbourg, Qué.), AG-3.1, lettre circulaire de Le Doré, 4 déc. 1904; AP-1.1, actes du conseil provincial, 30 juill. 1913; AP-7.2.1, Blanche à Le Doré, 14, 28 août, 24 déc. 1902; 5, 19 mars, 12 août, 8 sept. 20 nov. 1903; AP-7.2.2, Blanche à Le Doré, 5 juin 1905; OE-S1, Le Doré à Lecourtois, 20 nov. 1902; Blanche à Lecourtois, 4 mars 1906, 15 janv. 1907; OEC1-1.1.4, Blanche à M. le rédacteur, 22 nov. 1890; OEC1-1.2.3, Blanche à Le Doré, 16 janv. 1899; OEC1-1.7.1, Blanche à Le Doré, 12 sept. 1890; OEC1-1.7.2, Morin à Cochet, 13 oct. 1890; Morin à Le Doré, 30 oct. 1890; Blanche à Le Doré, 27 juill. 1893; Cochet à Le Doré, 28 déc. 1894; OEC1-1.7.3, Blanche à Le Doré, 8 janv. 1895; OEC1-2.1.1, Blanche à Le Doré, 17 janv. 1896, 29 juin 1897; OEC1-2.2.2, conseil généralice, procès-verbaux, 12 août 1890; 4, 12 avril 1893; 1894–95; OEP4-2.1.3 (Gustave Blanche, “Les origines de la paroisse de Chicoutimi (1902–1905)”); OEP4-3.6.2, Blanche à Dréan, 12 janv. 1906; OEV1-1.1, rapport général, 1909/10, 1910/11, 1914/15; PR-09.3.1 (fonds Alexandre Braud); PR-79.3, Blanche à Le Doré, 19 mars 1906; 15 janv., 28 août 1907; 3 nov. 1911; 1er déc. 1912; 25 mars 1915; PR-79.4, lettres circulaires de Blanche, 15 nov. 1903, 6 janv. 1904; PR-79.6, Blanche à Lebrun, 26 déc. 1916.
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