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PAQUETTE, WILFRID – Volume XIV (1911-1920)

d. 25 May 1917 in Montreal


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

CAZEAU, CHARLES-FÉLIX, Roman Catholic priest and vicar general; b. 24 Dec. 1807 at Quebec City, son of Jean-Baptiste Cazeau, a wheelwright, and Geneviève Chabot; d. there 26 Feb. 1881.

Charles-Félix Cazeau began classical studies in 1819 at the Collège de Saint-Roch in Quebec City, which had been founded the previous year by Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis*; Charles-François Baillargeon*, later archbishop of Quebec, was one of his teachers. In 1822 Cazeau entered the Séminaire de Nicolet, where he pursued his education until 1825 when Plessis, who had paid for his stay at Nicolet, chose him as his under-secretary. While learning about the administration of the diocese, Cazeau continued theological studies at the Grand Séminaire de Québec. The day after his ordination to the priesthood by Bishop Bernard-Claude Panet* on 3 Jan. 1830, he was given the post of secretary of the diocese of Quebec and became chaplain to the Congrégation des Hommes de Notre-Dame-de-Québec. He remained responsible for the spiritual direction of the congregation until April 1849, and served as secretary of the diocese until October 1850.

At the time Cazeau was appointed secretary in 1830, the Roman Catholic Church in Canada was suffering from a severe shortage of priests so that, as soon as they were ordained, most were sent to a parish or mission. Cazeau and Ignace Bourget were the only priests ordained in the first three decades of the 19th century to hold solely administrative posts throughout their priesthood.

From his earliest years as secretary, Cazeau gave evidence of the qualities that would mark his long administrative career in the archdiocese of Quebec. His particular responsibility while Panet was bishop was to carry out decisions related to the temporal government of the diocese: establishing new and dividing old parishes, assigning priests to new offices or duties, building churches, and handling petitions from parishioners. Although he was only 22 at the time of his appointment, his bishop already seemed to have great confidence in him. Abbé Narcisse-Charles Fortier*, who had been secretary to Plessis and Panet, was not unaware of this confidence when he suggested to his friend Charles-François Painchaud* in September 1830 that he work through Cazeau to get the bishop to accept Painchaud’s choice of a director for the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière: “Through Cazeau, you will succeed in this endeavour.” At the same time Cazeau was learning the role which was to become his major responsibility – that of spokesman to the government for the episcopate. In the autumn of 1831 he attended the sessions of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada when a parish council bill was being debated, and he apparently conveyed the bishops’ desiderata in the matter to representative Jean-François-Joseph Duval. Cazeau was also becoming aware of the importance of the press as a vehicle to serve the interests of the church. In 1831 he attempted without success to interest Panet and Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue* in launching a newspaper, to be edited by a competent priest, a venture which Cazeau believed “necessary to counter the anti-political and anti-religious doctrines . . . coming from abroad.” Despite this setback, he none the less indirectly influenced the press through his efforts to avert possible conflict between politicians and members of the clergy. At the end of 1831 Cazeau took the initiative of advising Lartigue to remove from an article the bishop was about to publish in a Quebec newspaper a reproof directed at two members of the assembly; he thought Lartigue should avoid setting these two against the clergy since the latter might in future have need of their support.

When Bishop Joseph Signay* succeeded Panet in February 1833, he probably only retained Cazeau as secretary because of his thorough knowledge of diocesan affairs, for during his 16 years in office the bishop displayed a great deal of distrust of him. By August Signay’s new coadjutor, Bishop Pierre-Flavien Turgeon*, urged him to show more confidence in Cazeau and suggested he should not humiliate him too much. Turgeon further emphasized that it was especially in Signay’s interest to treat his secretary with consideration since “one cannot do without his services.” The situation apparently did not improve much, for on 16 July 1834 Cazeau’s friend, Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher*, urged him to remain in office until he was driven out, otherwise “everything is going to go topsy-turvy in the diocese.” Cazeau therefore decided to perform his duties without recriminations against his superior, until such time as the future of the bishopric, which was made an archdiocese in 1844, seemed to him compromised by Signay’s behaviour. At the beginning of 1846 Cazeau secretly conveyed his concern to Bishop Bourget, inviting him to come and see for himself the sorry state of affairs in the archdiocese, a situation he attributed to Archbishop Signay’s incompetence. Shortly before Bourget left for Rome in the autumn of that year, Cazeau suggested that he should intercede with the Holy See and request Signay’s resignation. He also provided Bourget with the requisite information to justify such a step. Rome delayed its decision, and from 1846 to 1848 Cazeau repeatedly pressed Bourget to reiterate his request for the resignation to the Holy See at the same time urging him to persuade the archbishop of Quebec to resign. But in November 1848 Cazeau found out that, without the knowledge of his entourage, Signay had already tendered his resignation to Rome on 17 March. He immediately informed Bourget, exhorting him to intervene again with the Holy See, but this time to see that Signay’s request would be denied, since the financial terms attached to it were such that his successor would find it impossible to meet the administrative needs of the archdiocese. Signay finally reached an understanding with his immediate associates as to the terms of his resignation, and on 10 Nov. 1849 turned over the administration of the archdiocese to his coadjutor, Bishop Turgeon. Less than a year later, on 8 Oct. 1850, Turgeon took possession of the metropolitan see of Quebec following Signay’s death. The next day he conferred on Cazeau the title of vicar general.

During Signay’s episcopal tenure, the diocese of Quebec, one of the most extensive in the world, was run by four people – the bishop, his coadjutor, a secretary, and an under-secretary – with occasional aid from one or two others. Cazeau was thus led to undertake a large part of the management of affairs, especially since illness often forced Turgeon, the coadjutor, to take more or less prolonged periods of rest. In these years Cazeau, whose power increasingly surpassed his status as the bishop’s authorized representative, took particular care to see that both the canonical erection and the incorporation of new parishes were valid, and often intervened to settle conflicts between parishioners or churchwardens and their parish priest. Exceeding somewhat his authority as secretary, he at times took certain priests to task for rebelling against their bishop. On matters of ecclesiastical discipline he was, moreover, uncompromising; Signay’s incompetence in this area was one of the reasons Cazeau urged Bourget to request the archbishop’s resignation. “The Clergy,” he wrote to Bourget in 1846, “is becoming accustomed to not respecting its leaders, and it will take many years to restore things to their normal state.” Cazeau did not hesitate to remind even ecclesiastics with a rank above his of their duty to respect and obey the bishop of Quebec. In 1836, on the occasion of Bishop Lartigue’s assumption of episcopal office in Montreal, he reproached Lartigue for his offhand attitude towards Signay. Ten years later he reprimanded Vicar General Alexis Mailloux* when he accused Signay of ill will towards him. All the same, Cazeau maintained cordial relations with the clergy as a whole, and it was not uncommon for a priest to go through him to obtain some particular authorization from the bishop or his coadjutor.

Cazeau played an important role in the missionary thrust that developed within the Canadian church from the 1840s, after a notable increase in its ranks. In 1844, thanks to Cazeau and Turgeon, Provencher obtained for the northwest a number of Oblate missionaries whom Bourget had recruited in France. In Canada East the priests in charge of the Saguenay and north shore missions, in particular fathers Jean-Baptiste Honorat* and Flavien Durocher*, corresponded frequently with Cazeau, informing him of their endeavours and seeking his services in practical matters: financial transactions, approaches to the government about land grants to the Indians, the hiring of labourers, the purchase of various objects required for worship, and the supervision of the printing of a prayer book. When missionaries complained about being harassed by certain agents of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Cazeau negotiated the settlement of these disputes with James Keith*, a company official in residence at Lachine, or with the governor, Sir George Simpson*; he came to an agreement with them about the terms upon which numerous missionaries might travel westward in company canoes. But Cazeau’s principal role was to manage the funds earmarked for missionary activity by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. It was a tedious job, as he admitted to Provencher in April 1850, requiring him to keep a strict record of the money he distributed to the missions in Canada East and in the northwest. He was also obliged to maintain voluminous correspondence, not only with the many missionaries but also with the boards of the society in Lyons and Paris and with Abbé Mailly, the procurator in London of certain Canadian bishops.

Officially the titular bishops communicated directly with government representatives, but in the 1840s Cazeau, although only a secretary, became a key figure in the relations between church and state. He kept a close watch on the proceedings in the legislature, and regularly intervened when the interests of the church were at stake. Acquainting himself with bills likely to affect the legal status of any religious corporation, he consulted the bishops concerned and, when necessary, made rough drafts of amendments. He then passed these on to the member or minister responsible for steering the bill through the assembly, supplying him if need be with arguments to counter opposition that might arise during the debate. Cazeau thus took an active part in legislation dealing with parishes, the incorporation of religious, educational, and charitable institutions, the recognition of bishops as corporate entities, immigration, and the licensing of taverns. He also approached government officials and commissioners appointed to put various enactments or laws into effect when their decisions might be detrimental to the acquired rights of the church. Furthermore, he reached agreements with the governors general, either directly or through their associates, concerning the appointment and working conditions of priests in institutions under the control of the British army, such as the military hospitals and the quarantine station on Grosse-Île in Canada East. Finally, numerous clergy and even some laymen who sought favours from the government or had petitions to submit to it secured Cazeau’s intervention on their behalf, thus increasing their chances of success.

Immediately following his accession to the see at the end of 1850, Turgeon greatly increased the number of his advisers and assistants; hence Cazeau was freed of some of his administrative tasks and was able to give more attention to his role as the Canadian bishops’ emissary to governmental authorities. Cazeau’s numerous initiatives were no longer intended solely to protect the interests of the church, but were also conducive to securing for the church a measure of ecclesiastical control. Thus in 1851 he urged Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine*, the attorney general for Canada East, to entrust the operation of a teachers’ college that the government was planning to set up to a board of education rather than a government department, to enable the episcopate or persons selected by it to direct the institution. Two years later, as a result of Cazeau’s influence with the ministers, the superior of the College of Bytown (Ottawa) was included on the senate of the University of Toronto. In December 1854 he considered securing the appointment to the Legislative Council of a candidate favourable to the episcopate. Two months earlier he had even asked a minister to eliminate a sentence in the preamble to a bill to secularize the clergy reserves, claiming it might suggest that the state wanted to free itself “from all religious control.” In his opinion, societies could not govern themselves “without the help of religion.” At that moment Cazeau’s influence with politicians was such that Joseph-Bruno Guigues*, the bishop of Ottawa, considered him practically a minister of the crown.

Cazeau’s political interventions, always discreet and unofficial, had the unobtrusive character of operations behind the scenes. His place in the clerical hierarchy hardly equipped him for sensational deeds or resounding utterances. “A good vicar general,” as Bourget so rightly remarked to him at the time of his appointment to this office, “is duty-bound to work in the shadow of his bishop.” Cazeau found this advice quite acceptable. He rarely signed public pronouncements: he only published a few corrections and clarifications in the newspapers when he felt personally attacked, such as in 1850 when Jean-Baptiste-Éric Dorion* of L’Avenir and Édouard-Louis Pacaud in Le Moniteur canadien of Montreal accused him of “intriguing” on behalf of ministerial candidates in the ridings of Quebec and of Mégantic. His comments in the newspapers, appearing first in the 1830s, became more numerous and consequential as his relations developed with eminent members of the Liberal-Conservative party – La Fontaine, Augustin-Norbert Morin*, René-Édouard Caron*, Étienne-Paschal Taché*, Jean-Charles Chapais, George-Étienne Cartier*, Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau, and even “dear brother” John A. Macdonald*. His influence upon a part of the clerical and conservative press (for instance Le Courrier du Canada during the 1860s [see Léger Brousseau]), his fierce, determined opposition to liberalism, and his unshakeable support of the Liberal-Conservative party can be traced to the alliance forged between the clergy and the moderate Patriotes after the rebellions of 1837–38. This alliance gave rise to the definition and maintenance within Quebec society of a conservative and defensive nationalism focused on survival.

Throughout the episcopacies of Turgeon and Baillargeon from 1850 to 1870 Cazeau did not abandon his role as advocate to the civil government of the interests of the church. He made unofficial representations concerning the bill presented by Thomas-Jean-Jacques Loranger on the chairing of parish council meetings (1860), the separate school bills (1861 and 1866), the bill concerning registers of marriage, baptisms, and burials (1862), and the Code civil (1865) [see René-Édouard Caron]. He performed this role in addition to continuing to deal with the ordinary business of the diocese. He was chaplain to the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (known as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd) at Quebec, and he saw to the installation of religious communities in parishes such as Saint-Patrice at Rivière-du-Loup, Saint-Louis at Lotbinière, and Saint-François-Xavier at Chicoutimi. During this period he supervised the creation of new dioceses in the ecclesiastical province of Quebec and, as the agent of Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché* of Manitoba and the procurator of Bishop Edward John Horan* of Kingston and Bishop Guigues of Ottawa, he found time to make profitable investments for them in banks or with friends such as businessman Thomas McGreevy*.

Cazeau’s interest in education naturally led him to foster its development. He attended the opening of the École Normale Laval on 12 May 1857, and the following month addressed the teachers’ banquet at which his brother Vincent, himself a teacher, was no doubt present. It was through his endeavours that the College of Bytown in Ottawa, St Michael’s College in Toronto, and Father Flavien Durocher’s school in Saint-Sauveur Ward at Quebec regularly received their government grants. He gave unceasing support to the Université Laval. Adhering to the policies of the archdiocese of Quebec and the rector of Laval, he, too, unhesitatingly exerted pressure, even on the Vatican, in order to block the proposal to set up a rival university at Montreal [see Charles-François Baillargeon].

Over the span of his career, it is clear that Cazeau’s political militancy assumed exceptional importance at the time of confederation. From the “Great Coalition” of June 1864 [see George Brown*] to the eve of the elections in the summer of 1867, during which few months the parliaments in Ottawa and London took the steps to adopt the new constitution, the clergy officially kept silent. There was no need for the clergy to address publicly a question upon which the electorate did not have to declare itself. Whenever its interests seemed threatened, the clergy invariably responded privately, exerting pressure on parliamentarians and journalists. Cazeau carried out this task with tact, firmness, and speed.

On 23 June 1864, after the coalition ministry had been formed, George Edward Clerk* of the True Witness and Catholic Chronicle of Montreal vigorously denounced the union “with the fanatical and anti-clerical [George] Brown.” The vicar general rebuked him that very day, and two days later complained to the bishop of Montreal: “To protect ourselves against anarchy, indecision had to be avoided; it was necessary to resort to this union, however lacking in balance it may seem.” Bourget refused to intervene with the journalist. Cazeau returned to the charge in November. At his suggestion the bishops, assembled at Trois-Rivières to celebrate Bishop Thomas Cooke*’s 50 years of priesthood, addressed to Bourget their complaints against the True Witness, which was now opposing the too liberal aspects of confederation. This meeting was on November 7, and by then the specific content of the resolutions of the Quebec conference was already known; that same day Antoine-Aimé Dorion* denounced them in a manifesto to his electors in Hochelaga County.

Months before confederation was brought before the legislature on 3 Feb. 1865, the bishops of Canada East, with the exception of Bourget, had, therefore, decided to support it. The ministers and members supporting the coalition lost no time in getting the clergy behind them. When Cartier announced in the assembly on 7 February the adhesion of the clergy, it was to the great displeasure of Vicar General Alexis-Frédéric Truteau* of Montreal, but no anxiety was occasioned in the bishopric of Quebec. “Silence gives consent,” Bishop Baillargeon confided to the bishop of Kingston. Cazeau was of the same opinion.

The debate raised two delicate questions for the clergy: divorce and minority rights. With regard to the first, it should be recalled that the delegates to the Quebec conference anticipated inserting in the new constitution a clause on marriage and divorce, placing them under the jurisdiction of the federal government. As divorce was not allowed in Canada East, there was controversy among ecclesiastical leaders – the religious authorities of Quebec were accommodating, whereas those in Montreal, modelling themselves on Pius IX in his encyclical Quanta cura, proved uncompromising. In Cazeau’s opinion Catholic legislators owed it to themselves “to tolerate an evil that they cannot forestall,” a contrast to the attitude he would take in 1870 to an analogous bill permitting divorce in New Brunswick. At that time he adopted the view of the bishopric of Montreal and asked Cartier, in a letter dated 3 March 1870, to withdraw the bill, in obedience to the Syllabus. It is true that in the archdiocese of Quebec in 1865 the plan of confederation “had become a matter of dogma, and an attempt was being made to see how to circumvent that of marriage” in order to preserve the overall scheme.

On the question of minority rights in Canada East and West, an issue debated in the assembly in the summer of 1866, the bishops agreed unanimously, and found it hard to accept the spinelessness of their Conservative allies. The bishops wanted to know what the Conservatives proposed for the Roman Catholics in Canada West to compare with what they were already providing for the Protestants of Canada East (protected counties, bilingualism, and the make-up of the Legislative Council). Robert Bell*, the representative for Russell, sponsored a bill on separate schools in 1866 similar to one presented on 31 July by Hector-Louis Langevin* on behalf of the Protestants of Canada East; given the context, the hostility of the members from Canada West verged on insult and outrage [see Joseph-Édouard Cauchon]. The bishopric of Quebec was greatly disturbed. “What are we to tell our friends and enemies to vindicate you?” Cazeau asked Cartier on 3 Aug. 1866. Cartier withdrew the Langevin bill. Cazeau immediately congratulated him, but not without holding him “responsible for what will be settled” in London concerning the privileges of the English-speaking minority in Canada East.

From June 1864, and especially during the constitutional debates of 1865 and 1866, the political and religious powers had collaborated spontaneously, despite a few differences of opinion which never seriously affected their mutual trust. This cooperation was so close that in the autumn of 1865 at Cartier’s request Cazeau and Horan, the bishop of Kingston, went to the Maritimes on a mission to persuade the Roman Catholics of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to accept confederation. In the March 1865 election in New Brunswick the Conservative government of Samuel Leonard Tilley* had been defeated on the issue of confederation. This reverse was attributed to the defection of the Roman Catholics, including the Acadians, and of the clergy who, like the bishops of Saint John and Chatham, were opposed to the plan. These were the circumstances that prompted Tilley and Cartier to seek the assistance of Cazeau and Horan. “The more events unfold,” Cartier wrote to Cazeau, “the more we must be aware of the needs of Confederation, in order not to be engulfed in the horrible, vulgar and anti-Catholic democratic system of our neighbours.” This was also Cazeau’s conviction. Were these the arguments that won the support of James Rogers*, the bishop of Chatham, and of the whole Catholic hierarchy in the Maritimes? Curiously enough, it seems that Tilley’s victory in 1866 was due to the return of some of the province’s Catholic vote.

Until the spring of 1867 the political role played by Cazeau was of prime importance. It was he who directed what might be called the secret interventions of the church on behalf of confederation, for the archbishop of Quebec had been crippled for more than 10 years and his coadjutor, Bishop Baillargeon, feeling that political affairs were beyond him, merely ratified the positions adopted by his associates. Thus, led to play a decisive role, Cazeau filled the vacuum that attracted neither Bourget, for ideological reasons, nor bishops Joseph La Rocque of Saint-Hyacinthe and Thomas Cooke of Trois-Rivières, for health reasons. After Bishop Louis-François Laflèche* was elevated to the office of coadjutor in the diocese of Trois-Rivières in 1867, Cazeau left to him the task of convincing the episcopate to take official steps in favour of the new régime. Laflèche had proposed that each bishop prepare a special pastoral letter on the confederation scheme. With the exception of Bourget, all the bishops welcomed this idea with enthusiasm.

When Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau* acceded to the office of archbishop of Quebec in 1870, Cazeau, while remaining active, seemed to keep more in the background. On two occasions, from October 1870 to March 1871 and from December 1872 to April 1873, he ran the archdiocese in the archbishop’s absence. During this period he became a target for more overt criticism. In 1871 Alphonse Villeneuve, the author of La Comédie infernale ou conjuration libérale aux enfers, par un illuminé, published in Montreal, accused him of having deliberately distorted Archbishop Taschereau’s thinking towards a disavowal of the Programme catholique [see François-Xavier-Anselme Trudel]. The following year Bourget denounced Cazeau’s intervention in the matter of the law on registers of births, marriages, and deaths, because an amendment had resulted that favoured the Sulpicians in their claim to the parish of Notre-Dame in Montreal [see Joseph Desautels].

The evolution of thinking in the church and in society also was of great concern to Cazeau. The victory of the Liberals in the federal elections of 1874, the legal proceedings resulting from the role of the clergy in the elections and the condemnation of the undue influence it exercised [see Pierre-Alexis Tremblay*], the Gaumist quarrel [see Charles-François Baillargeon] and the progress of Catholic liberalism even within the clergy [see Luc Désilets], despite Taschereau’s pastoral letter of 22 Sept. 1875, saddened him to the point that, as he said, he almost wished “to reach the end of [his] career.” His reflections on the history of liberalism in Canada matched the official opinion of the church since the conquest: in both were found the same references to “law and order,” and both drew the same analogies between atheism and disloyalty to England, and between democracy and anarchy. This was in essence what he confided to the publisher of L’Événement on 10 March 1877 and it was the substance of an article which he published under the pseudonym of an English-speaking Catholic in the Quebec Daily Evening Mercury in March and April of that year.

In December 1879 Cazeau ended his career and went to live at the Asylum of the Good Shepherd in Quebec City, which he had directed since 1862. Here he celebrated his jubilee as a priest on 3 Jan. 1880 and here he died on 26 Feb. 1881. The testimonies that poured in from all sides on the occasion of these two events evoked in their own way the qualities of refined courtesy, politeness, simplicity, and charity that the vicar general seems to have cultivated throughout his life. The Irish community of the province of Quebec had lost a protector, who had succoured some 700 orphans during the epidemics of 1847 and 1849. And the people of Quebec, also sorely tried by these epidemics and by the fires of 1849, 1854, 1860, and 1866, mourned a man whose devotion had become proverbial.

A member of the Institut Canadien and the St Patrick’s Literary Institute of Quebec, Cazeau was also remembered in intellectual circles. Various historians and archivists, such as Jacques Viger*, Henry de Courcy, Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan*, abbés Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Ferland* and Louis-Édouard Bois, and even Francis Parkman, considered him an associate. The poet Octave Crémazie* was in some measure his protégé.

No better witness to this man, whom some contemporaries termed the Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli of Canada (recalling the secretary of state under Pius IX) and the éminence grise haunting the very corridors of parliament, can be found than his own words: “My life, for the 55 years that I have lived in the presence of the archbishops of Quebec, has been in no way extraordinary. My merit consists entirely in having done my best to help the prelates who have honoured me with their confidence to administer the diocese.”

Marcel Bellavance and Pierre Dufour

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General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Marcel Bellavance and Pierre Dufour, “CAZEAU, CHARLES-FÉLIX,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cazeau_charles_felix_11E.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/cazeau_charles_felix_11E.html
Author of Article:   Marcel Bellavance and Pierre Dufour
Title of Article:   CAZEAU, CHARLES-FÉLIX
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   May 25, 2024