BÉLANGER, ALEXIS, priest and missionary; b. 18 Jan. 1808 at Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Lower Canada, son of Pierre Manger and Marie-Marthe Talbot; d. 7 Sept. 1868 at Sandy Point, Nfld.
The youngest of a family of 16 children, Alexis Bélanger was not considered healthy enough for heavy work on the land, and was early guided towards study. When the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière was opened on 1 Oct. 1829, he took up the humanities. He finished these studies in 1832, then spent three years at the Grand Séminaire de Québec, and was ordained priest by Bishop Joseph Signay* on 19 Sept. 1835. In 1836, after a brief period at Baie-du-Febvre (Baieville), Abbé Bélanger was appointed parish priest of Sainte-Marie-de-la-Nouvelle-Beauce (Sainte-Marie) with the flattering comment, an “interesting priest” and an “excellent student.”
In 1839 Abbé Bélanger was sent as a missionary to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, which at that period had a Catholic population of 1,380; he arrived in October by schooner. He served among these people of Acadian origin in peace and “the spirit of brotherhood as described in the Gospel” until 1845. However, the increasingly burdensome dues exacted by the heirs of Isaac Coffin*, the seigneur of the islands from 1798 to 1839, and the excessive fishing expeditions by Americans, who had overrun the ports and wharves to such an extent that the islanders had to pay to preserve their fishing rights, brought about a fresh exodus of Acadians in the late 1840s. Wishing to share the fate of his flock, Bélanger offered to minister to them in their new location and spent the winter of 1849–50 at Rustico, P.E.I., and Caraquet, N.B. At Caraquet he received authorization from the archbishop of Quebec to go to Labrador and the west coast of Newfoundland.
On 7 Sept. 1850 Manger arrived at St George’s Bay with credentials as vicar general of John Thomas Mullock, bishop of Newfoundland. He took up residence at Sandy Point, the principal hamlet on the bay, in a log presbytery near a chapel in the same style. He set to work directly, ministering to the fishermen along the west coast. In 1850, 1852, and 1853 he even undertook missionary rounds, each of two months’ duration, in the lower region of the north shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence, an area attached to the diocese of Newfoundland until February 1853.
Cut off and deprived even of necessities, the missionary found solace in visits to his confrères on Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island, and the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. They wrote to him regularly and occasionally sent him books from France, which he called his “dear comrades in exile.” Bélanger proved to be a remarkable letter-writer, gifted with a limpid style, great sensitivity, solid judgement, and truly apostolic zeal. On 7 Sept. 1868, the 18th anniversary of the day he reached the “French shore” of Newfoundland, Alexis Bélanger died, exhausted by his difficult pastoral charge. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried at Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies on 29 September.
Without repudiating the country of his birth, or neglecting the Gaelic speaking Catholics for whom he obtained religious assistance in their own language, Alexis Bélanger devoted nearly 30 years to the poor and despised French population on the islands and coasts of the Gulf of St Lawrence, and supported them in their will to survive.
AAQ, 210 A, XVIII, XIX; 301 CN, I. ASQ, Fonds Plante, 198; Séminaire, 110, no.36. [J. J. Audubon], Audubon’s America; the narratives and experiences of John James Audubon, ed. D. C. Peattie (Boston, 1940), 228–29. Rapport sur les missions du diocèse de Québec . . . , no.21 (mai 1874), 46–48. Allaire, Dictionnaire. Carrière, Hist. des O.M.I., III, 229; IV, 22, 35–36, 38. René Baudry, “L’abbé Alexis Bélanger, missionnaire . . . ,” SCHÉC Rapport, 25 (1957–58), 103–9.