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BERGIER, MARC, priest, missionary, vicar general of the bishop of Quebec for the missions in the Mississippi River valley and superior of the missionaries of the seminary of Quebec in that region; b. 7 Nov. 1667 at Tain (Tain l’Hermitage, department of Drôme), son of Jean-Jacques Bergier, court clerk, and Magdelaine Barbier; 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 for the Mississippi region by Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix].

At this time he introduced himself as a “doctor of laws,” and explained that his father, a priest in retirement at the Hôpital Général of Vienne, had entered the priesthood shortly after becoming a widower, when Marc was 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 Tamaroa, members of the Illinois confederacy, accompanied by a young ecclesiastic, Michel Buisson de Saint-Cosme, who was his assistant until 1703. The vicar general was there to succeed the founder of the Sainte-Famille mission, Jean-François Buisson de Saint-Cosme (1667–1706), his companion’s elder brother.

Entrusted with the care of what was a “disputed vineyard,” Bergier in turn soon came into conflict with the Jesuits, who continued to claim the Tamaroa 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 Tamaroa. At the beginning, however, to avoid a scandal, Bergier compromised with the Jesuits 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 Illinois territory.

After living for two years among the Tamaroa, 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 language spoken by the Tamaroa with the aim of keeping a monopoly on their conversion. “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. To obey Bishop Laval and Bishop Saint-Vallier, he decided to carry out his duties among the Indigenous people. For eight months he had been supplying his adversaries with wine for the mass, but henceforth he would be willing to do so only in exchange for Illinois 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 reached 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. Increasingly, the Jesuits claimed that they were being persecuted and pretended that they were the victims of the priests of the Missions Étrangères everywhere in the world, linking the quarrel over the Tamaroa with that of the Chinese rites.

But when Father Pinet finally learned that, a year before, the arbitrators appointed by the king had settled the dispute in favour of the Quebec seminary, he gave way. On 14 June he went to establish himself two leagues away among the Kaskaskia people. The clear-sighted Bergier did not assume that the settlement would relieve him 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 Tamaroa was to make only slow progress under his direction, although at the time he was recognized as the best missionary of the Missions Étrangères in the Mississippi River valley. The main obstacle to his apostolate was the impossibility, after Michel Buisson de Saint-Cosme’s departure, of his accompanying the villagers 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 seek supplies at Mobile. He took advantage of his stay there to appease the violent quarrels between the civil and religious authorities.

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 Indigenous people: the solutions proposed by the Jesuits did not satisfy him. Moreover, he displayed a detachment and a trust in providence that were uncommon. In his opinion the missionaries should have looked to the Indigenous people’s generosity for their subsistence rather than engaging in the fur trade, which, in the eyes of the latter, associated the priests with rich merchants. Despite the notorious poverty of the missions in the Mississippi River valley, he even reproached the bishop of Quebec for sending him too much money.

Indeed, Bergier was an ascetic whose extreme austerity caused fears for his health. His colleagues’ misgivings were justified when he died on 9 Nov. 1707 “with his stomach full of abscesses internally and externally, without any doctor or surgeon other than God alone.” His death came during an epidemic, in the course of which he had lavished his attentions without stint upon the villagers. His death was considered to be even more heroic than that of St Francis Xavier, since the missionary to the Tamaroa had not been able to find support during his solitary agony in thinking of the fruits of his ministry.

The residents of the Tamaroa village mourned him, after having ill treated him. It was reported that they bestowed upon him their highest praise, saying that Bergier was truly a man.

Céline Dupré

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).

Bibliography for the revised version:
Arch. Départementales, Drôme (Valence, France), “Reg. paroissiaux et état civil des communes,” Tain l'Hermitage, 8 nov. 1667: archives.ladrome.fr (consulted 27 May 2022).

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Cite This Article

Céline Dupré, “BERGIER, MARC,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 23, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bergier_marc_2E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bergier_marc_2E.html
Author of Article:   Céline Dupré
Title of Article:   BERGIER, MARC
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1969
Year of revision:   2023
Access Date:   May 23, 2024