BAILE (Bayle), JOSEPH-ALEXANDRE, Sulpician priest; b. 19 April 1801 at Saint-Genest de Bauzon, dept of Ardèche, France; d. 31 July 1888 at Montreal, Que.
In 1823, after studying under the Basilians, Joseph-Alexandre Baile entered the Sulpician solitude (noviciate) at Issy-les-Moulineaux, dept of Hauts-de-Seine, France; two years later he was sent to Canada. “I scarcely knew in what part of the world the country in question was,” he later remarked. Ordained priest on 1 Oct. 1826, he became a professor of the final year in the classical programme (Rhetoric) at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal by 1827.
From 1830 to 1846 Baile held the position of director of the college. During this troubled period, he was keenly aware of both clerical and lay animosity towards the seminary, and criticized the superior of the Sulpicians in Canada, Joseph-Vincent Quiblier*, for his timorousness in this hostile atmosphere. The petty bourgeoisie, enamoured of revolution, accused the college of playing politics in preaching “blind submissiveness to the authorities.” The director defended his teachers, alleging that their sole concern was to teach the doctrines of Pope Gregory XVI and refute the demagogues who dared to come to the very doors of the college to snatch signatures for their revolutionary petitions. He recommended stern disciplinary measures to counter these abuses. Baile also criticized Quiblier for his authoritarianism, on the grounds that the latter took decisions regarding the Petit Séminaire de Montréal without even consulting the director. Discouraged, Baile sought permission to return to France on several occasions, but his requests were denied. In 1845 hostility to Quiblier spread and the ecclesiastical authorities considered it imperative that the superior depart. Bishop Ignace Bourget therefore urged Quiblier not to seek renewal of his five-year term and on 21 April 1846 Pierre-Louis Billaudèle* was elected superior of the Sulpicians in Canada.
In 1846 Baile went with Bourget to France to report to the superior general of the Sulpicians on the state of affairs in Montreal. Returning to Canada in 1847, he took over direction of the Grand Séminaire de Montréal, which had been founded seven years earlier. In his 20 years in office, Baile vigorously imparted the Sulpician spirit to the seminary. He was particularly concerned about the training of ecclesiastics, having deplored the multiplicity and very uneven quality of the theology courses at Montreal and the lack of theological knowledge among the Canadian clergy. According to him, the young ecclesiastics, who were for the most part impoverished, looked upon the seminary as a makeshift solution while they awaited a more remunerative post in a college. He held that the bishops encouraged this lamentable situation, thereby depriving those under their authority of a sound education. Baile proposed that seminarists should be admitted to orders only after a complete course in theology, a recommendation that Bishop George Conroy* was to adopt 30 years later when he was apostolic delegate to Canada. As to the theological teaching in the seminary, Baile kept a watchful eye on it. His innate conservatism clashed with the reforming zeal of Bourget, who considered the seminary’s courses not sufficiently ultramontane; Baile, however, refused to make any changes.
Baile played a key role in the issue of the division of the parish of Notre-Dame which covered all of Montreal Island and which had been united with the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice. The case, which led to a major confrontation between the seminary and the bishop of Montreal, began as an administrative dispute, became a political, and finally an ideological one, and lasted more than 15 years (1863–78) [see Ignace Bourget]. From May 1863 to February 1866, almost without pause, Baile defended the interests of his community before the court of Rome, where he argued for the status quo in both the administration of the parish and the relations between the bishop and the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice. He suspected Bourget of wanting to destroy the seminary in order to acquire full control of its property, and threatened the Congregation of Propaganda with the removal of his community from Canada if Propaganda changed the established order. Rome settled the dispute in December 1865 by a pontifical decree allowing Bourget to divide the parish.
Three months later Baile succeeded Dominique Granet as superior of the Sulpicians in Canada. He then waged a relentless struggle against Bourget’s administrative reforms. When he was back in Rome in 1867, he alleged that the division of the parish of Notre-Dame was contrary to civil law. He strongly defended his right to chair the parish council and reaffirmed the inviolability of the Sulpician properties. The seminary enjoyed the support of such powerful figures as George-Étienne Cartier*, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau, Thomas Ryan, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee*. All of them supported Baile’s views, both in Canada and in Rome.
In 1871 the superior suggested to Archbishop Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau*, the apostolic delegate in the conflict, a compromise which would leave the seminary with a single parish covering the city of Montreal and make its spiritual charge the responsibility of the Sulpician superior. Bishop Bourget vehemently rejected this solution [see Joseph Desautels]. Finally, after bitter controversy over the independence of the Canadian church and three pontifical decrees, an understanding was gradually reached.
The Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice submitted to the new spiritual régime. The government therefore granted civil status to the five outlying parishes, which had been erected canonically by Bourget at the end of 1867, and in which the seminary had given up responsibility for the cure of souls. The churchwardens of Notre-Dame were charged with the temporal administration of the four other new central parishes. Baile renounced the chairmanship of the parish council. For his part, Bourget recognized the seminary’s property rights but also acquired the use of some Sulpician properties in so far as they served parish purposes. However, the parish council’s debts remained a source of discord, which gave Baile an opportunity to submit to Bishop Conroy in 1877 the plan he had once proposed to Taschereau.
Despite these distressing confrontations, Baile never lost the esteem of his bishop. In 1866 Bourget entrusted him with the spiritual guidance of the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général in Montreal (Grey Nuns), an office he held for seven years. As well, the bishop often asked him to direct ecclesiastical retreats; he had the reputation of speaking simply, without pretence or literary affectation. With Bourget’s approval, he supported setting up the Trappists at Oka. In 1878 Baile had the honour of presiding at the founding of the faculty of theology in the Université Laval at Montreal. He retired in 1881 and died on 31 July 1888.
Baile’s contribution to the field of education is beyond dispute. He had always encouraged his lay and ecclesiastical students to engage in intensive study. On the administrative level, however, he displayed profound conservatism. Preferring tradition to innovation, lest the attempt to improve jeopardize present benefits, he frequently said: “The best is oftentimes the enemy of the good.”
ACAM, 465.101; 468.103; RLB, 13–25. ASSM, 21, Cartons 48–50, 63; 24, Dossier 2, Tiroir 71, no.2; Tiroir 75, no.3; 27, Tiroirs 100–4. La Minerve, 1er août 1888. Allaire, Dictionnaire, I. Louise Dechêne, “Inventaire des documents relatifs à l’histoire du Canada conservés dans les archives de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice à Paris,” ANQ Rapport, 1969: 188–89. Henri Gauthier, Sulpitiana ([2e éd.], Montréal, 1926). Léon Pouliot, “Il y a cent ans: le démembrement de la paroisse Notre-Dame,” RHAF, 19 (1965–66): 350–83.