GAUVREAU, ANTOINE (baptized Antoine-Adolphe), Roman Catholic priest; b. 22 Sept. 1841 in Saint-Germain-de-Rimouski (Rimouski), Lower Canada, son of Pierre Gauvreau, a notary, and Élisabeth Dubergès; d. 26 Feb. 1911 at Quebec.
Antoine Gauvreau began his classical studies at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière on 6 Oct. 1853, at the age of 12. In the fall of 1861 he donned the soutane and was tonsured, symbolically entering into the ecclesiastical life. When he began the study of theology, he at the same time became a teacher and monitor in the college. On 3 Sept. 1863 he enrolled in the Grand Séminaire de Québec to complete his theological studies and prepare himself for the priesthood.
Ordained priest at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière) on 2 Oct. 1864, Abbé Gauvreau was immediately appointed curate at Rivière-au-Renard, near Gaspé, where he served for two years. In October 1866 he was named chaplain to the archdiocese of Quebec. In this capacity he carried out various duties, including the distribution of the alms (componendes) obtained from the sale of dispensations. He also acted as procurator and from December 1867 to May 1870 was chaplain to the Société de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul at Quebec. According to a piece in L’Action sociale on 6 March 1911 by Henri Têtu, himself a chaplain of the society, Gauvreau’s name appeared in the minutes of every meeting: “He was not content simply to be present; he knew how to get people out . . . and almost always had something to say. . . . he had an apostolic soul, all-consuming zeal for saving others, indomitable energy, and rare organizational understanding. He undertook to found libraries in each chapter for the members and the poor. And he was the first to establish, under the patronage of the Société S. Vincent de Paul, the night schools that lasted from 25 Nov. 1868 until 1872 inclusive.”
From 1870 to 1875 Gauvreau was the curé of Saint-Nicolas, where he set up a convent of the Sœurs de la Charité de Québec. In 1875 he received an important appointment: to head the parish of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, famous as a place of pilgrimage since 1658, where an immense task awaited him. He had to finish construction of a new church on which work had scarcely begun, although the cornerstone had been blessed in 1872. This third church, built to replace one which had grown too small, would become the first basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in 1887. The new curé also had to assume responsibility for welcoming the ever-increasing crowd of pilgrims and visitors who came in the summer. Their numbers soared from 27,000 in 1875 to 38,500 in 1877. Abbé Édouard Lamontagne, who was then curate, noted: “In the summer of 1877 about 40,000 pilgrims visited the new shrine opened for religious use the previous fall. MM. Gauvreau, [François-Xavier-Lactance] Mayrand, and I were the only three priests. There was so much work that we got no rest day or night. It is very difficult, M. Gauvreau said to us one day, for secular priests to do all this work properly. . . . M. Gauvreau asked Archbishop [Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau*] to assign the parish and the work of the pilgrimage to a religious community.” Several approaches were made to a few communities and finally the Redemptonsts took over in 1878, the year Gauvreau left [see Jean Tielen*].
Contrary to claims made elsewhere, Gauvreau neither initiated nor helped complete the new church. When he left in 1878, the fabrique was $80,000 in debt – an enormous sum for that time – and the church still had no steeple or furniture. Moreover, he had had the old church, which dated back to 1676, demolished and replaced in 1878 by the existing commemorative chapel. It was his request, however, that had prompted Archbishop Taschereau of Quebec to call in a religious community, thereby enabling the shrine to gain a new lease on life. Gauvreau was also responsible for founding the monastery of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.
In 1878 Gauvreau was appointed curé of Saint-Romuald, on the south shore of the St Lawrence, where he remained for four years. Following the death of Joseph-David Déziel* he was made priest of the parish of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire in Lévis. His stay there was marked by three developments in particular. Through his efforts the Marist Brothers were put in charge of the boys’ schools in the town of Lévis in 1886. Two years later he founded the parish of Saint-Antoine-de-Bienville in Lévis. Again, it was through his efforts that the Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis was set up in 1892, after the Augustines de la Miséricorde de Jésus (Augustinian nuns) from the Hôtel-Dieu at Quebec agreed to take charge of it.
In 1895 Gauvreau was named curé of Saint-Roch at Quebec. His chief accomplishments there were the establishment in 1897 of the Hospice Saint-Antoine and the creation of three parishes, Saint-Zéphirin-de-Stadacona (1896), Saint-Charles-de-Limoilou (1896), and Notre-Dame-de-Jacques-Cartier (1901), all of which were detached from the parish of Saint-Roch.
Appointed a Roman prelate in 1906, Monsignor Antoine Gauvreau carried on his ministry in Saint-Roch until 31 July 1910, when he retired to the hospice he had founded. He died there on 26 Feb. 1911, “poor in the world’s goods but rich in esteem and affection.” His funeral was held on 2 March 1911 in the church of Saint-Roch, where he was buried.
AAQ, 12 A, Q: 61. AC, Québec, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Roch (Québec), 2 mars 1911. ANQ-BSLGIM, CE1-6, 22 sept. 1841. La Semaine religieuse de Québec, 4 mars 1911. J.-B.-A. Allaire, Dictionnaire biographique du clergé canadien français (6v., Montréal et Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué., 1908–34). J.-P. Asselin, Les rédemptoristes au Canada; implantation à Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, 1878–1911 (Montréal, 1981). Ludger Dumais, Oraison funèbre de Mgr Antoine Gauvreau, prononcée dans l’église Saint-Roch de Québec, le 2 mars 1911 (Québec, 1914). Lucien Gagné et J.-P. Asselin, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré: trois cents ans de pèlerinage (nouv. éd., Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Qué., 1984). A.-C. Morin, Dans la maison du père: nécrologie sacerdotale du diocèse de Rimouski, 1867–1967 (Rimouski, Qué., 1967), 46. Nativa Routhier, De la sève à la floraison (s.l., 1976). P.-G. Roy, Trois curés de Lévis: Mgr Déziel, Mgr Gauvreau, Mgr Gosselin (Lévis, Qué., 1947).