CRESPIEUL, FRANÇOIS DE, priest, Jesuit, missionary to the Montagnais Indians; b. 16 March 1639 at Arras, son of Jean de Crespieul, a lawyer, and of Marguerite Théry, baptized by his uncle, canon Antoine Théry; d. December 1702.
François de Crespieul entered the noviciate in Tournai on 27 Sept. 1658, then studied philosophy at the Jesuit college in Douai; he did his classical studies at the college in Lille, where from 1662 to 1666 he taught, chiefly in the senior class. During his years of teaching, Crespieul wrote five letters to the general of the Jesuits in Rome, Father Jean-Paul Oliva, to obtain the favour of joining the missions in India, or Martinique, or New France.
In the spring of 1670, as soon as he was ordained a priest, Crespieul sailed on the Sieur Denis Guyon’s ship with another young missionary, Father Jacques Robaud, for the missions in Canada. The crossing of the Atlantic was a long and arduous one. A contagious disease broke out among the soldiers and claimed several victims, among them Robaud, who died on 15 July 1670 when he landed at Tadoussac.
The superior of the Jesuit college in Quebec entrusted Father Crespieul with the task of teaching Latin and Greek in the senior class, while requiring him to complete his theological studies. In addition, he was to take lessons in the Montagnais language. As his teacher he had Father Charles Albanel*, who had an excellent knowledge of this language and its dialects.
On 29 Oct. 1671 Crespieul arrived at Tadoussac to begin his arduous missionary work. His parish, comprising all the Montagnais territory, stretched from Île-aux-Coudres to Sept-Îles and from Tadoussac to Lake Mistassini, and took in Chicoutimi, Métabetchouan, and Nekoubau. The missionary ranged in every direction through this immense country of forests, leading the same life as his nomadic Montagnais. He wrote: “The life of a missionary to the Montagnais is a long, slow martyrdom . . . during the winter the missionary sits or kneels nearly the whole day long, exposed to almost continual smoke . . . He eats when there is something to eat, and when he is offered something . . . suffering and affliction are the lot, of these holy and painful missions.” Despite these highly unsatisfactory living conditions, Crespieul remained 30 years in this mission country. He was assisted by Father Bonaventure Fabvre, who in 1688 replaced Father Antoine Dalmas* among the Montagnais. For nearly 11 years Fabvre travelled through the huge Montagnais mission, at a time when Father Crespieul, sick and exhausted by his missionary work and by hardships of all kinds, found himself obliged to live at Chicoutimi. Father Fabvre died on 6 Dec. 1700 at Quebec.
In 1696, Father Crespieul was honoured with the title of “apostolic vicar” (?) to the Montagnais tribe. At the end of July 1702 he returned to Quebec, where the superior appointed him an adviser. He died at the end of December of the same year, a victim of the smallpox epidemic raging at Quebec. “He died from the fatigue that he incurred while visiting the sick, and from compassion for the public distress for which he saw no remedy, as the whole town had become nothing more than a general hospital.”
Father Crespieul had shown special devotion to Marie-Catherine de Saint-Augustin [Simon*]. As he noted in his journal, it was in consideration of this devotion that “The Reverend Mother Saint-Ignace, superior of the Nuns Hospitallers, presented [to him] in 1693 an important relic of the blessed Mother Catherine de Saint-Augustin, contained in a small mother of pearl shrine sent by Bishop Du Linot.”
AAQ, Manuscrit montagnais. AHDQ, Annales, 1636–1716. AMUQ, Annales manuscrites du monastère des Ursulines de Québec, I, 116. ASQ, MSS, 360. Archives de la Société historique du Saguenay, Documents relatifs à la jeunesse de François de Crespieul, compilés par Pierre de Lattre, s.j. JR (Thwaites), LIX, LX, LXXI. “Reglemens concernant le bon estat de la mission de Tadoussac par François de Crespieul,” BRH, VI (1900), 269–73. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle, III, 415–29.