CASTANET, JEAN-BAPTISTE-MARIE, priest and Recollet; b. 1766 in the diocese of Rodez, France; d. 26 Aug. 1798 in Quebec City.
Little is known about the early years of Jean-Baptiste-Marie Castanet. He was ordained a priest by the Recollets around 1790 and over the next two years served his order in France. Like many of his religious brothers, he was forced into exile by the progress of the revolution, and he left his homeland for England in late 1792 or early 1793. Some time after his arrival there the bishop of Quebec, Jean-François Hubert, through the agency of Jean-François de La Marche, the bishop of Saint-Pol-de-Léon then residing in London, issued an open invitation to the French refugee clergy to settle in Canada. Castanet was among those who accepted. Approximately 45 French priests in exile left England for Canada between 1791 and 1802. Castanet arrived at Quebec in June 1794, in the company of abbés Louis-Joseph Desjardins*, dit Desplantes, Jean-Denis Daulé*, and François-Gabriel Le Courtois*.
Castanet had a reputation as a scholar and teacher and, since the staff at the seminary of Quebec was limited, he was gratefully accepted there as a professor of philosophy. Not in good health, he found the pressures of regular teaching too demanding and requested a transfer to one of the missions in the Atlantic region. In the summer of 1795 Castanet, Desplantes, and Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins* accompanied Hubert on his first pastoral visit to Acadia. On the bishop’s return to Quebec Castanet took up residence at Caraquet, while Desplantes went to Bonaventure on the Gaspé coast. As successor to Joseph-Mathurin Bourg, Castanet had charge of the Acadian communities on the Baie des Chaleurs, from Caraquet to Nepisiguit (Bathurst) and along the Nepisiguit River. His first mass was celebrated at Caraquet on 28 Aug. 1795. The following year his mission was extended to include the Miramichi region and settlements as far south as Richibucto. In 1798 he informed Governor Thomas Carleton* of New Brunswick that his mission numbered 349 families.
It was a poor region whose chief source of income was fishing. Castanet appears to have been the only missionary who served the area without receiving at least a nominal pension from the government. Nonetheless, he persevered. He commenced construction of a small chapel at Caraquet and attempted to provide some kind of basic instruction, sacred and secular, for the Acadians, most of whom had received little or no education of a formal kind. He also spent a large part of his time among the Micmacs and did much to calm the mounting tensions between Indians and whites. He is said to have negotiated an agreement with the colonial government whereby the Indians were granted lands and exclusive fishing rights on various streams within the area of his mission.
It had presumably been Castanet’s hope that a change in climate and responsibilities might restore his health, but it continued to decline. His last sacerdotal act in the Miramichi region was performed on 29 Oct. 1797 and at Caraquet on 6 March 1798. Two months later he entered the Hôpital Général of Quebec, leaving his mission in the hands of Desplantes and Abbé Jacques de La Vaivre, who had been sent out in 1796 to assist both missionaries. On 26 August 1798 Castanet succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 32, the first of the French clergy in exile to die in Canada. He was buried under the church of the Hôpital Général.
Upon Castanet’s death the parish priest of Notre-Dame de Québec, Joseph-Octave Plessis*, wrote, “This young priest was endowed with a remarkable spirit of order and regularity.” Castanet was eventually succeeded at Caraquet by Abbé René-Pierre Joyer.
CÉA, Fonds Placide Gaudet, 1.52–2, “Notes sur les missionnaires de la baie des Chaleurs.” PAC, MG 9, A5, 3. Allaire, Dictionnaire, I. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Denaut,” ANQ Rapport, 1931–32, 129–242; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Hubert et de Mgr Bailly de Messein,” ANQ Rapport, 1930–31, 199–351. L.-C. Daigle, Les anciens missionnaires de l’Acadie ([Saint-Louis de Kent, N.-B., 1956]). Tanguay, Répertoire. Antoine Bernard, Le drame acadien depuis 1604 (Montréal, 1936). Caraquet: quelques bribes de son histoire, 1967, année du centenaire, Corinne Albert-Blanchard, compil. ([Caraquet, N.-B.], [1967?]). N.-E. Dionne, Les ecclésiastiques et les royalistes français réfugiés au Canada à l’époque de la révolution, 1791–1802 (Québec, 1905). Robert Rumilly, Histoire des Acadiens (2v., Montréal, 1955), II. M. Trudel, L’Église canadienne, I.