BÉdard, Julien-Augustin, Roman Catholic priest, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, missionary, and educator; b. 20 April 1858 in St-Eugène, Upper Canada, son of Joseph-Olivier Bédard and Rose-de-Lima Leblanc; d. 20 Dec. 1932 in New Westminster, B.C.
Julien-Augustin Bédard was born into a French Canadian farming family from Upper Canada. He worked for several years before attending the College Bourget in Rigaud, Que. In 1882 he entered the Oblate noviciate at Lachine (Montreal). He took his solemn vows on 20 Sept. 1884 and then continued his studies for the priesthood in Ottawa. Ordained there by Archbishop Joseph-Thomas Duhamel* on 24 June 1887, he was sent to British Columbia.
Since 1858 the Oblate superiors on the Pacific coast – bishops Louis-Joseph d’Herbomez* and his successor, Paul Durieu* – had developed a system of missions for First Nations. As the railway construction of the 1880s brought more settlers to the province, they assigned French-speaking Oblates (mainly from France and Belgium) to the Indigenous missions and English-speaking Oblates (usually of Irish origin) to parish work in towns. Bédard, who was bilingual, was a valuable addition to their staff since he could serve in both situations.
Bédard began his career in 1887 at St Louis’s mission in Kamloops. In addition to serving at the nascent Sacred Heart parish, he joined Father Jean-Marie-Raphaël Le Jeune* in ministering to the Shuswap (Secwepemc). While director of missions in the Kamloops area in 1891–92, he took part in negotiations with the federal government to establish the Kamloops Industrial School for Indigenous people. By then he had already toured the West Kootenay region, ministering to railway crews, miners, and loggers, and he had organized congregations in several communities. In 1893 he was raising funds to build a church and presbytery in Nelson when Durieu sent him to St Joseph’s mission at Williams Lake as bursar. There, the Oblates and the government wanted to establish another industrial school. Bédard became known as a person who easily overcame the difficulties of travel and readily handled the variety of work necessary to interior missions.
In 1897 Durieu posted Bédard to the St Mary’s Mission Indian Residential School on the Fraser River near the Oblate headquarters at New Westminster, the aim of which was to assimilate Indigenous people [see Peter Henderson Bryce; Allen Patrick Willie]. Bédard also undertook some pastoral duties with the Stó:lō and white settlers. During 1899 and 1900 he served as principal of the school. His generous nature was evident in his annual reports, in which he thanked the staff, particularly the teachers, the Sisters of St Ann.
Bédard’s experience suited the plans of Augustin Dontenwill, Durieu’s successor as bishop of the diocese of New Westminster, who changed the direction of Oblate missions, steering them away from the establishment of Indigenous model villages towards the development of schools and parishes. In 1900 he sent Bédard to Greenwood, the centre of a booming mining district in southeastern British Columbia. Bédard set up parishes and Catholic organizations in Greenwood in 1901, Grand Forks in 1902, and Phoenix in 1904. He also obtained the assistance of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace from Newark, N.J., to build and staff a hospital in Greenwood.
Bédard’s next assignment was as parish priest at St Edmund’s in the growing city of North Vancouver. While stationed there from 1911 to 1917, he attended the Oblate provincial council in Vancouver. He also assisted as chaplain and fund-raiser for Kathleen Fanny O’Melia, who had founded the Catholic mission to the Japanese. The Monthly Bulletin (Vancouver) of the archdiocese acknowledged their work at a time when Catholic home missions to Asians had barely begun and racism was prevalent. In the late 1920s Canadian Franciscan priests and American Franciscan Sisters and Friars of the Atonement would come to join the mission.
It is not surprising that Bédard would later describe the time he spent preparing Japanese candidates for baptism (with O’Melia translating) as “fruitful work,” since he faced many challenges and tensions in his next assignments as bursar of his order in British Columbia and member of the Oblate staff at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church in Vancouver, posts he took up in 1917. The number of French-speaking Oblates in the province had declined. After 1908 no new recruits had come from France. English-speaking clergy were increasingly needed, yet there was a shortage of anglophone recruits. Dontenwill’s successor, Neil McNeil, was the first non-Oblate to head the church in the province, as archbishop of Vancouver. He made unwise investments during the pre-World War I real-estate boom and the archdiocese was almost bankrupt. His replacement, Timothy Casey, was unable to cope with the serious financial problems. These circumstances worried Bédard and the local Oblate superiors, John Welch and William Patrick O’Boyle, since the Oblates carried the mortgage for the construction of Holy Rosary Church. According to historian Vincent Joseph McNally, it was “due largely to Oblate leadership” that in 1927 the parish, the most prosperous in the archdiocese, finished paying the mortgage. Casey then brought in secular priests to take over the parish. Bédard and the other Oblates at Holy Rosary moved to St John’s mission house, which he had established in the west end of the city a few years earlier.
In 1930 Bédard transferred to St Peter’s in New Westminster, which had become the provincial house for English-speaking Oblates after the congregation reorganized along linguistic lines in 1926. He became chaplain of St Mary’s Hospital, where he died on 20 Dec. 1932 of angina pectoris and pleurisy.
Scholars writing on the Roman Catholic Church and the Oblate congregation in British Columbia have focused on missionaries from France – such as Durieu and Adrien-Gabriel Morice, who worked with First Nations – and have overlooked the Canadian members of the community and their contributions, particularly those of Bédard. He built missions, churches, and schools, established parish associations, and organized Oblate finances during difficult times. He was one of the few in his order to minister to Japanese immigrants as well as to Indigenous peoples and Euro-Canadian settlers. Contemporaries recognized him as a founder of the Catholic missions to the Japanese, and the Vancouver Daily Province referred to him at his death as “a pioneer in the interior of British Columbia.”
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