BOUCHER (Boucher, dit Belleville), JEAN-BAPTISTE, Roman Catholic priest and author; b. 23 July 1763 at Quebec, son of Jean-Baptiste Boucher, dit Belleville, and Marie Martin; d. 6 Sept. 1839 in La Prairie, Lower Canada.
Jean-Baptiste Boucher entered the second form at the Petit Séminaire de Québec in 1777, and had the good fortune to do the sixth form (Rhetoric) and the two-year Philosophy program under the expert guidance of Charles Chauveaux. Upon completing classical studies in 1784 he was admitted to the Grand Séminaire. During his final year of theology in 1786–87 the Petit Séminaire put him in charge of the pupils of the fifth form. After being ordained priest on 7 Oct. 1787, Boucher was not appointed to teach in the seminary, but instead was named assistant priest at Saint-Ours. Two years later he became the parish priest, and then was sent to take over the parish of La Nativité-de-la-Très-Sainte-Vierge at La Prairie, where he served from 1792 until his death. For nearly half a century he devoted himself to pastoral duties, while acting as counsellor to the bishop of Quebec and the curés in the Montreal region. A distinguished intellectual, he used his leisure for study. The activity of a priest in a rural parish followed the rhythm of the seasons and the liturgy, which itself was seemingly created to accompany life in the fields. Sunday brought the entire population to mass and Boucher, who was fond of preaching, never let slip the opportunity for a sermon.
In politics Boucher was a thoroughgoing supporter of the authorities. Like the rest of the clergy, he had had his thinking shaped by the French revolution and counter-revolution. On 25 March 1810, he complied with Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis*’s request to remind parishioners from the pulpit of their duty to King George III, and on that same Sunday he also read Governor Sir James Henry Craig*’s proclamation which, among other things, called upon the people to remain loyal. As he said in a letter to the bishop three days later, Boucher thought that in so doing the clergy would bring upon itself “the implacable hatred of the revolutionary party [the Canadian party].” On 9 April La Gazette de Montreal printed a letter, signed Æquitas, in which Boucher referred to the governor’s “truly paternal sentiments” and declared that “the Catholic religion . . . was completely loyal to the monarchy and the established government.”
The La Prairie region, south of Montreal, was of strategic importance during the War of 1812. A military camp was set up there, and in 1813 it was the scene of constant troop movements. De Meuron’s Regiment proceeded to La Prairie after arriving at Quebec that summer. In its ranks were soldiers of Napoleon taken prisoner in Spain who had agreed to serve in North America provided they would not have to fight against France. The officers, on the other hand, were staunch royalists. Boucher had to billet soldiers from the regiment in his presbytery, and on some occasions he was called upon to accompany deserters of Spanish origin to the scaffold, since he had learned the language of Cervantes. He got along famously with the officers and received them at his table, but he had a great deal of trouble with certain of the men who hated priests and denigrated them when talking with people in the parish.
Bishop Plessis appreciated the talents of Boucher, with whom he had probably become friends at the seminary. As the diocese had no French books to counter possible inroads of Protestantism, Plessis asked Boucher to translate John Mannock’s The poor man’s catechism: or the Christian doctrine explained, with short admonitions (London, 1752). The translation came out at Quebec in 1806 as Manuel abrégé de controverse: ou controverse des pauvres. It was more a defence of Catholicism than an attack upon Protestantism, and thus avoided offending the Church of England. Boucher also translated, under the title “Fondements de la foi,” Richard Challoner’s The grounds of the Catholick doctrine contain’d in the profession of faith of Pius IV (1734), but his work remained in manuscript form and is thought to have been used only in the Grand Séminaire de Québec. Boucher had begun a treatise on the “Preuves abrégées des dogmes de la religion catholique,” and here he tried to cast doubt on the apostolic succession in the Church of England. Like the “Fondements,” these “Preuves,” or “Lettres dogmatiques,” which were sent to Plessis during the period 1801–13, remained unpublished. When the bishop turned his attention to a reworking of the longer catechism of Quebec in the period 1811–18, he appointed Jean-Charles Bédard* and Boucher to help him. Previously he had asked Boucher to translate the Douai catechism, which was used in Ireland and at Halifax.
Boucher, however, had not waited for the bishop’s orders before publishing; in 1795 he had had a Recueil de cantiques à l’usage des missions, des retraites et des catéchismes printed by John Neilson at Quebec. In 1817 he submitted to the same publisher a work meant to complement his Recueil and to be used in catechizing and in the schools. These “Extraits pieux et élégants,” which never appeared in print, included the most brilliant pieces from French prose and poetry to demonstrate the truths of religion, on the model of La bibliothèque portative des écrivains français ou Choix des meilleurs morceaux extraits de leurs ouvrages, which had been published in London in 1800 by François Moysant.
Writing in 1921, Mgr Louis-Adolphe Paquet* remarked on Jean-Baptiste Boucher’s talent and his erudition, calling it astonishing for the period. In his “Lettres dogmatiques” alone Boucher quotes and comments upon 120 authors, yet his thought remains clear and his style elegant. Such a work, dealing with theology and controversial topics, presupposes a tremendous amount of reading and a knowledge of several languages. Besides French and Latin, which he had learned at the seminary, he had studied Greek, Hebrew, English, and Spanish. This learning explains his need of books. The record of the sale of his belongings after his death reveals that he had built up a personal library of more than 800 titles and 2,000 volumes, not counting the books sold in job lots. Among them were the Latin and Greek classics and the great French, English, and Spanish authors of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in the fields of theology, history and geography, science, and the arts, as well as in belles-lettres. He even owned a copy of St Thomas Aquinas’s Summa theologica. The foreign-language dictionaries for use in translation and the 27 grammars for seven different languages are proof that he engaged in serious linguistic studies. In addition he subscribed to the Quebec and Montreal newspapers, and he exchanged books with Plessis and other parish priests. He was respected by the bishop and the Quebec and Montreal clergy. He was also esteemed by his father and brothers, who had come to live at La Prairie around 1800. Eager to prepare young men for the priesthood, he always lodged some at his presbytery and taught them rhetoric in particular. His attitude during the events of 1837–38 is not known, but by then he was old and he had been ill since 1834. With his death on 6 Sept. 1839 a priest of great intellectual and moral excellence was lost.
[Jean-Baptiste Boucher is the author of Recueil de cantiques à l’usage des missions, des retraites et des catéchismes (Québec, 1795), which went through numerous editions, the tenth being in 1833; a copy of the work is held in the library of the Séminaire de Québec. From 1801 to 1813 Boucher sent Bishop Plessis various “Lettres dogmatiques,” which were brought together under the title “Preuves abrégées des dogmes de la religion catholique attaqués dans les trente-neuf articles de la confession de foi de l’Église anglicane, dans une suite de lettres adressées à Sa Grandeur, monseigneur J.-O. Plessis, évêque de Canath, et coadjuteur de Québec” and are held in two manuscript volumes at ASQ, mss, 218–19. The ASQ also holds a copy of John Mannock’s Manuel abrégé de controverse: ou controverse des pauvres, translated by Boucher and published at Quebec in 1806 (mss, 281). c.g.]
AAQ, CD, Diocèse de Québec, V: 6; 60 CN, IV: 12–95; 26 CP, D: 62. ANQ-M, CE1-2, 9 sept. 1839; CN1-233, 23 sept.–3 oct. 1839. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 24 juill. 1763. Arch. du diocèse de Saint-Jean-de-Québec (Longueuil, Qué.), 2A/16–123. ASQ, Fichier des anciens; Lettres, Y, 107. AUM, P 58, U, Boucher, dit Belleville, à Augustin Chaboillez, 27 mai 1834. PAC, MG 24, B1, 1–3, 7–8, 12, 18, 20. J.-B. Boucher, “Lettre de l’abbé J.-B. Boucher à John Neilson,” BRH, 35 (1929): 255–56. Pierre Caron “Le livre dans la vie du clergé québécois sous le Régime anglais” (thèse de ma, univ. Laval, Québec, 1980). Claude Galarneau, La France devant l’opinion canadienne (1760–1815) (Québec et Paris, 1970); Les collèges classiques au Canada français (1620–1970) (Montréal, 1978), 24. Lambert, “Joseph-Octave Plessis,” 764–93, 820–25, 895–96, 948. Fernand Porter, L’ institution catéchistique au Canada; deux siècles de formation religieuse, 1633–1833 (Montréal, 1949). Luc Lacourcière, “Le général de Flipe [Phips],” Cahiers des Dix, 39 (1974): 256. E.-Z. Massicotte, “La complainte des 40 noyés,” BRH, 26 (1920): 90–93. L.-A. Paquet, “Un controversiste canadien,” Le Canada français (Québec), 2e sér., 6 (1920–21): 10–17. P.-G. Roy, “Cantique de Noël,” BRH, 1 (1895): 77.