BERGIER, MARC, priest, missionary, vicar general of the bishop of Quebec for the missions in the Mississippi valley and superior of the missionaries of the seminary of Quebec in that region; b. c. 1667 at Tain, in the diocese of Vienne in the province of Dauphiné (probably Tain-l’Hermitage, department of Drôme); d. 9 Nov. 1707 at the Tamaroa mission (Cahokia, Ill.).
Marc Bergier arrived in Quebec in 1698. On 30 July 1699 he was received as a member of the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères of Quebec, and the next day he was appointed vicar general of Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix] for the Mississippi region.
At this time he introduced himself as a “doctor of laws,” the son of Jean-Jacques Bergier, a priest in retirement at the Hôpital Général of Vienne. He explained that his father had entered the priesthood shortly after becoming a widower, when Marc was still only a child four years of age. Unfortunately the missionary did not say where he had been educated, nor what were the circumstances that brought him to New France.
On 7 Feb. 1700, after an arduous six-month trip, Bergier arrived among the Tamaroas in company with the young ecclesiastic, Michel Buisson de Saint-Cosme, who was his helper until 1703. The vicar general was to succeed the founder of the Sainte-Famille mission, Jean-François Buisson de Saint-Cosme (1667–1706), his companion’s older brother.
Being entrusted with the care of what was a “disputed vineyard,” Bergier in his turn soon came into conflict with the Jesuits, who continued to claim the Tamaroas’ village as their exclusive spiritual fief. Indeed, a month later, Fathers Pierre-François Pinet and Joseph de Limoges came to take up the task of Saint-Cosme’s rival, Father Julien Bineteau, who had died. The change in protagonists merely extended the quarrel over the Tamaroas. At the beginning, however, Bergier compromised with the Jesuits to avoid a scandal, while waiting for Bishop Saint-Vallier to settle the dispute. He contented himself with ministering to the handful of Frenchmen in the locality. Besides, it was difficult for him to compete with Pinet, since he possessed neither Pinet’s gift for languages nor his missionary experience in the Illinois country.
After living for two years among the Tamaroas, Bergier complained of being still “a missionary without a mission, a superior without a command, and a vicar general without authority.” The fact was that the Jesuits were unwilling to recognize the jurisdiction of the bishop of Quebec and his delegate. They even went further, according to Bergier, and resorted to the shabbiest means to prevent him from learning the Indian language with the aim of keeping a monopoly on the conversion of the Indians. “They would like to possess the right and the left in the kingdom of Jesus Christ,” declared the missionary, frustrated in his field of action.
In the spring of 1702, however, Bergier was out of patience, and in order to obey Bishop Laval and Bishop Saint-Vallier he decided to carry out his duties among the Indians. He had been supplying his adversaries for eight months but henceforth was willing to let them have mass wine only in exchange for Illinois Indians whom he could evangelize. He even went so far as to lay Pinet under an interdict. On the orders of his superior, Father Gabriel Marest, Pinet ignored the interdict. The vicar general consequently regretted having come to such an extremity. “So now we have confusion, scandal, and division in the village,” exclaimed Bergier, “with altar against altar, missionary against missionary, Indians against Indians!” He even had doubts about the validity of his interdict, which the Jesuits disputed. More and more the Jesuits cried persecution, and pretended that they were the victims of the priests of the Missions Étrangères everywhere in the world, linking the quarrel over the Tamaroas with that of the Chinese rites.
But when Father Pinet finally learned that the arbitrators appointed by the king had a year before settled the dispute in favour of the seminary of Quebec, he gave way and on 14 June went to establish himself two leagues away among the Kaskaskias. Clear-sighted as he was, Bergier did not consider that because of this settlement he was out of his difficulties. He was too well aware of his limitations. “In this I recognize that the secrets of providence are truly impenetrable, and that God does not judge after the fashion of men,” he said, “for the fact that He has taken this mission away from that Father to entrust it to me seems contrary to all reason, and I fear that it is a result of His justice upon me and upon the Indians for having responded so badly, all of us, to His favours. There they are, reduced to dry breasts. May God make them abundant, through His infinite mercy!”
As Bergier had foreseen, the mission to the Tamaroas was to make only slow progress under his direction, although at the time he was recognized to be the best missionary of the Missions Étrangères in the Mississippi country. The main obstacle to his apostolate was the impossibility, after Michel Buisson de Saint-Cosme’s departure, of his accompanying the Indians on their summer and winter hunts. Having lost his assistant, he could hardly absent himself. At the beginning of 1707, however, he had to do so, to go to seek supplies at Mobile. He took advantage of his stay there to appease the violent quarrels between the civil and religious authorities of the locality.
Bergier applied himself to his ministry with fervour and great rigour. He raised several questions touching upon the celebration of baptism and marriage, as well as the observance of the Sabbath among the Indians: the solutions proposed by the Jesuits did not satisfy him. He moreover displayed a detachment and a trust in providence that were uncommon. In his opinion the missionaries should have looked to the generosity of the Indians for their subsistence rather than engaging in the fur trade, which associated the priests in the Indians’ eyes with rich merchants. Despite the notorious poverty of the missions in the Mississippi country, he even reproached the bishop of Quebec for sending him too much money.
Bergier was indeed an ascetic whose extreme austerity caused fears for his health. His colleagues’ misgivings were justified since he died 9 Nov. 1707 “with his stomach full of abscesses internally and externally, without any doctor or surgeon other than God alone.” His death resulted from an epidemic during which he had lavished his attentions without stint upon the Indians. His death was esteemed to be even more heroic than that of St Francis Xavier, since the missionary to the Tamaroas had not been able to find support during his solitary agony in thinking of the fruits of his ministry.
The Indians mourned him, after having ill treated him. They bestowed upon him their highest praise, saying that Bergier was truly a man.
ASQ, Lettres, M, 38, p.29; N, 133; O, 41; P, 8, p.10; R, 29, 30, 41–73, 86; S, 101; Polygraphie, IX, 11, 26, 27. JR (Thwaites). Old Cahokia, a narrative and documents illustrating the first century of its history, ed. J. F. McDermott et al. (St Louis, 1949). Provost, Le Séminaire de Québec: documents et biographies, 435f. Alvord, Illinois country, I, 117, 139. Delanglez, French Jesuits in Louisiana, 20–23, 37–39, 62f., 379–86. Giraud, Histoire de la Louisiane française, I. Gosselin, Vie de Mgr de Laval, II, 463–94. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle, III, 550–73; Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIIe siècle, I, 254–63. J. H. Schlarman, From Quebec to New-Orleans: the story of the French in America . . . Fort Chartres (Belleville, Ill., 1929).