CONILLEAU, CHARLES, priest, Jesuit; b. 4 Aug. 1811 at Martigné, diocese of Mans, France; d. 1 April 1879 at Victoriaville (Arthabaska County), Que.
Charles Conilleau, the son of an ex-soldier of Napoleon Bonaparte, entered the Society of Jesus in 1846, after 12 years in the priesthood. In 1854 he was nominated to the New York–Canada mission, which was subject to the ecclesiastical province of France. He went to New York, and for a year devoted himself to studying English before going to Canada West.
From 1855 to 1859 he was at the Jesuit residence at Sandwich (Windsor, Ont.), where, under the immediate direction of the famous Father Pierre Point, he had exclusive responsibility for English-speaking Catholics, who were already numerous in Windsor and Maidstone. To him goes the credit for the erection, in 1858, of the first church of the mother parish of Windsor, Saint-Alphonse. In the same year he reconstructed the church at Maidstone. At both places he established sound bases for religious development, and prepared the way for the canonical erection of both to parishes. In 1857, when the first bishop of London, Pierre-Adolphe Pinsonnault*, decided to bring all his seminarists together in the college at Sandwich, Conilleau became their teacher of theology, the first, it is thought, to hold this position within the confines of the present diocese of London. He watched closely the events that led Bishop Pinsonnault to transfer his episcopal seat from London to Windsor in 1859. The Jesuits at this point closed their house at Windsor and thus put an end to their evangelizing ministry in this historic place.
Father Conilleau was then appointed to the residence at Quebec, and nominated to the ministry, at that time an important one, in charge of parish missions and retreats for the priesthood. From 1862 to 1870 he was superior of the Jesuits at Chatham (Ont.), who worked throughout the region on behalf of English-speaking Catholics. In 1871 he was appointed superior and parish priest of the important parish of Guelph. Two years later, having returned to the province of Quebec, and despite failing health, he gave full attention to hearing confessions and preaching at Montreal and especially at Gésu. He had barely finished a parish retreat at Victoriaville when he died of a heart attack there on 1 April 1879. The clergy and congregation asked that burial be at this place where Conilleau had last preached the faith; he is thus one of the few Jesuits who were not buried in the cemetery of the community.
Father Conilleau’s letters reveal a man who was disinclined to self-display, but conscientious and effective in carrying out the tasks assigned to him. He belongs to the heroic history of the beginnings of the diocese of London. Revered by his congregation, respected and esteemed by those who did not share his religious beliefs, he rendered great services to the Catholics of southern Ontario.