BORNEUF, JOSEPH, Roman Catholic priest, Sulpician, and bursar; b. 26 Sept. 1762 at Quebec, son of Pierre Borneuf, a merchant, and Marie-Madeleine Degrès; d. 15 Nov. 1819 at the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal, Lower Canada.
After studying at the Petit Séminaire de Québec, Joseph Borneuf entered the Grand Séminaire at the age of 22. There he received a spiritual and theological education similar to that being offered at the non-Jansenist seminaries in France, which typically was old-fashioned, superficial, and lacking in originality. At the end of his theological studies, during which he had also taught in the rigorous milieu of the Petit Séminaire, Borneuf was ordained priest by Jean-Olivier Briand* on 8 Oct. 1786. The following year, along with Michel Leclerc, Jean-Baptiste Marchand*, and three other Canadians, he joined the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal, where he became a member of the community on 21 Oct. 1788.
This influx of new recruits provided the seminary with a Canadian majority – almost despite itself: the superior, Étienne Montgolfier*, and Gabriel-Jean Brassier* had tried in vain to bring Sulpicians from France to maintain French predominance. Moreover, given the advanced age of the last French Sulpicians who had arrived before the conquest, the young Canadians were in a good position to accede to high responsibilities, as the bishops of Quebec expressly wished them to do. In 1793, for example, Bishop Hubert* proposed that Borneuf be appointed parish priest of Montreal. However, the seminary, which was responsible for the appointment to this post, chose the Frenchman Candide-Michel Le Saulnier*, who had arrived that year, rather than Borneuf. In addition, the French revolution, which had softened the British authorities’ opposition to the recruiting of French ecclesiastics [see Gabriel-Jean Brassier], led to the immigration of 11 new French Sulpicians in 1794. Their arrival restored numerical superiority to the French and at the same time relegated the Canadians to posts that, although important, were devoid of prestige and authority. Borneuf’s subsequent career as a priest was entirely devoted to administering the Sulpicians’ seigneurial properties, under the firm direction of French superiors: first Brassier, who appears to have allowed him considerable initiative, and then Jean-Henri-Auguste Roux*, who would not delegate authority.
It seems, in fact, that Borneuf had begun to assume the duties of bursar as early as 1789, through his direct involvement in the legal dispute over the Sulpicians’ seigneurial rights, a dispute that the British authorities would allow to continue for some four decades more. The lawyers engaged to fight the claims of the censitaires who were contesting these rights consulted him, kept him informed of the progress of the cases, and submitted their bills to him. Borneuf was also concerned with the collection and administration of the funds deriving from the cens et rentes and lods et ventes, as well as with the operation of the mills on Montreal Island, which were under the seminary’s exclusive control. Although it is still impossible to draw up a complete table of the economic activity supervised by Borneuf, it has been discovered that 93 per cent of the Sulpicians’ revenues in 1799 came from various seigneurial rights, and that the tithe accounted for less than 2 per cent. The breakdown of expenses for this year was: 60 per cent for the upkeep of the seminary and the members’ living expenses, 26 per cent for social services and education, 5 per cent for legal expenses, and the remainder for a variety of other uses. In 1815, towards the end of Borneuf’s term of office, the seminary doubled the sums for education and good works in order both to meet the needs of the population and to justify its enormous revenues in the eyes of the British government.
For unknown reasons Borneuf resigned as bursar in 1796 but three years later was reinstated. By the beginning of the 19th century, however, the French priests at the seminary were sufficiently acquainted with the situation in Montreal to take complete control. As a result there are few further traces of Borneuf’s activity. On the pastoral level he was restricted to the modest function of confessor at the church of Notre-Dame, to the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu, and to the nuns of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, for whom he also served as chaplain from 1796 to 1798. In addition Borneuf was appointed in 1794 to attend the meetings of an association founded in that year to support the British government.
A discreet and reliable subordinate, Borneuf died on 15 Nov. 1819, before a prolonged crisis was precipitated by the accession to the bishopric and by the activity in Montreal of Jean-Jacques Lartigue*, a Canadian colleague at the seminary.
ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 26 sept. 1762. ASSM, 21, papiers Borneuf; 33,17 nov. 1819. “L’Association loyale de Montréal,” ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 261. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Hubert et de Mgr Bailly de Messein,” ANQ Rapport, 1930–31: 211, 296; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Mariaucheau d’Esgly,” ANQ Rapport, 1930–31: 192. Desrosiers, “Corr. de cinq vicaires généraux,” ANQ Rapport, 1947–48: 113–14, 121, 123. Gauthier, Sulpitiana. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, 2: 360. Lemire-Marsolais et Lambert, Hist. de la CND de Montréal, 6: 312. Louis Rousseau, La prédication à Montréal de 1800 à 1830; approche religiologique (Montréal, 1976).