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DÉZIEL, JOSEPH-DAVID, Roman Catholic parish priest; b. 21 May 1806 at Saint-Joseph in Maskinongé, Lower Canada, son of Gabriel Déziel, dit Labrèche, and Marie Champoux; d. 25 June 1882 at Lévis, Que.
After studying at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal (1819–21) and the Séminaire de Nicolet (1821–27), Joseph-David Déziel taught at the latter (1827–30). He continued theological studies and on 5 Sept. 1830 was ordained priest by Bishop Joseph Signay* in the church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste at Nicolet. Déziel served as curate successively at Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue in Rivière-du-Loup (Louiseville, Que.), Saint-Édouard in Gentilly, and Saint-Joseph in Maskinongé, and then was appointed parish priest of Saint-Patrice in Rivière-du-Loup in 1835. He transferred on 29 Sept. 1837 to Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets (Les Becquets). Here he succeeded in restoring harmony among the parishioners who had been split since 1830 on the issue of the site and dimensions of their future church; the church opened in 1839. In October 1843 Abbé Déziel was appointed parish priest of Saint-Joseph at Pointe-Lévy (Lauzon), a parish of more than 4,000 persons that stretched from Beaumont to the Rivière Etchemin, and from the St Lawrence to the parish of Saint-Henri-de-Lauzon (Saint-Henri). There was no lack of work for a dynamic young priest. Since 1784 the parishioners had been asking for a new church located nearer to the centre of the territory it had to serve. In 1845 this question and plans for dividing the parish were brought up again; indeed in the next five years there were at least 15 petitions and counter-petitions to the bishop for permission to build a new church, each suggesting a different site. On 18 April 1850 Bishop Pierre-Flavien Turgeon*, the administrator of the archdiocese of Quebec, gave authorization for a chapel of ease to be built in the commune or village of Aubigny on a piece of land situated on the edge of the cliff facing Quebec that the government had granted for this purpose in 1848. The parish councillors of Saint-Joseph, however, viewed such a division of the parish with disfavour, perhaps because it would lead to reduced revenues. Abbé Déziel did not back down; through seven generous donors he obtained land adjoining the lot given by the government. There the church was to be built, in accordance with Bishop Turgeon’s enactment of 17 July 1850 which also specified it should be named Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire. The new church was opened on 20 Nov. 1851, and in October 1852 Déziel came to take charge of the new parish, leaving the parish of Saint-Joseph to Abbé Joseph-Honoré Routhier. Two years later, following a decree of Bishop Turgeon on 23 Nov. 1854, the presbytery was built and the church enlarged.
Déziel had further plans: by January 1851 his wish was to build a college close to the proposed church. In June 1851 three parishioners, Pierre Carrier, Thomas Fraser, and Marie Couture, gave part of their lands adjoining the church for a college, and on 12 Sept. 1851 a subscription was started. Under the priest’s direction the parishioners began to cut timber, quarry stone and sand, and cart them, by corvée, to the proposed site of the college, which became truly a cooperative endeavour. The new Collège de Lévis opened on 15 Sept. 1853. The Brothers of the Christian Schools agreed to take on the teaching there, after the Jesuits and the Clerics of St Viator refused. The college initially offered a commercial course, but in 1859 Abbé Déziel wanted to introduce Latin classes. The superior general of the Christian Brothers opposed this suggestion, and they returned control of the college to its founder. The priests of the Séminaire de Québec then agreed to run the college, beginning in September 1860. Two Latin classes were provided, but they were dropped at the end of 1870 because there were not enough pupils, and in 1874 the seminary gave the college back to Abbé Déziel. The annals of the Séminaire de Québec state: “Henceforth we shall have nothing to do with the Collège de Lévis. Up to now the moral and intellectual aspects have been our concern; but through a combination of circumstances M. Déziel, the parish priest of Notre-Dame-de-Lévis, who was responsible for the temporal aspects, has come to think a full [and independent] corporation should be set up, and thus the Collège de Lévis will be on its own.” Still parish priest of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire, Déziel became the first superior of the college when it was incorporated on 23 Feb. 1875. That year the council of the college, chaired by Déziel as superior, undertook a building programme which roughly doubled the size of the 1853 structure. Déziel had to struggle until 1879 to get permission for a classical course: the Séminaire de Québec and the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière feared the loss of some of their students. Bishop Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau* finally gave his consent, and on 24 May 1879 Abbé Thomas-Étienne Hamel, rector of Université Laval, announced the university council was affiliating the Collège de Lévis with the faculty of arts.
The education of boys had been assured, but Abbé Déziel had also long been concerned about the education of girls. In 1852 he had begun efforts which were to lead to the opening of the convent of Lévis and the Hospice Saint-Michel in the same building in 1858. The site of this building was the land granted by the government in 1848 for the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire. In 1852 the parish councillors of Notre-Dame asked the government for use of the site; however, the land was not finally given over until January 1857, largely as a result of the opposition of the parish councillors of Saint-Joseph. Déziel wanted not only to ensure the education of young girls by building a “convent,” but also to provide for the needs of old and infirm priests. In 1856 a subscription was launched among the priests, and by 1861 it had brought in 1,761 louis. However, the Sisters of Charity of Quebec did not arrive to take charge of both hospice and convent until 22 Sept. 1858.
Déziel wanted to endow the convent with a boarding-school, but Bishop Charles-François Baillargeon* was opposed, as he had entered into an agreement with the parish priest of Saint-Joseph and with the Religious of Jesus and Mary that there would be no other boarding-school for young girls in the region until the one at Saint-Joseph was well established. The letters exchanged by Abbé Déziel and Bishop Baillargeon reveal the priest’s tenacity, as well as his financial difficulties, particularly in 1859 when he saw no alternative but to give up his parish: “My spirit of self-denial is not great enough to permit me to witness with my own eyes the ruin of a work so dear to me which has cost me so much toil . . . a new parish priest will, I hope, be better able than I to enter into the views of your Excellency and those of my neighbour [the parish priest of Saint-Joseph].” Apparently his resignation was not accepted. In 1861 the parish council made over the hospice and convent to the Sisters of Charity on condition that they support both; finally, in 1863 Bishop Baillargeon, “yielding to the urgent pleas of the parish priest of Notre-Dame-de-Lévis,” allowed the sisters “to take up to 20 boarders.”
Such work and worry had undermined Déziel’s health, and in 1865 he took a rest-cure of 11 months, during which he visited Europe, journeying twice to Vichy, France, to take the waters; since he possessed nothing, the generous parishioners of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire had raised a fund to cover his expenses. Completely recovered, Abbé Déziel took up his work again, with unremitting and ubiquitous activity. Since 1851 the population had increased appreciably: the 1861 census gives 6,694 inhabitants in the parish of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire at Lévis, and Lévis itself as the third largest town in Canada East, its incorporation as a town having in fact occurred that year. The parish priest took part in all developments in his town, and even helped draft the municipal regulations. The charitable organizations he founded or supported were numerous and varied. However, Déziel was forced to think of dividing the parish of Notre-Dame because of the increase in its population, which had reached 9,032 by 1871. A new parish, west of Notre-Dame, was erected canonically on 21 Aug. 1875, under the name of Saint-David-de-Lauberivière (Saint-David), partly to honour Déziel and partly to commemorate the fifth bishop of Quebec, François-Louis de Pourroy* de Lauberivière. When Notre-Dame was divided, Abbé Déziel, who had had to face many objections, wrote to Taschereau: “I believe I have done my duty before God and man, in all things bearing in mind only the glory of God and the spiritual good of my parishioners . . . .”
It was also in 1875 that Déziel dedicated his zeal and energy to yet another charitable endeavour, the building of a hospice-orphanage, which he had long had in mind. A piece of land was given to him by Louis-Édouard Couture; the Sisters of Charity of Quebec agreed to handle this project also and one of them drew up the plans. Déziel prepared the estimates and himself directed the work on site. Construction, begun in 1877, was completed two years later; management of the establishment was entrusted to the Sisters of Charity from the convent, but in 1881 the two houses, and the two endeavours of education and orphanage, were separated. The Hospice Saint-Joseph-de-la-Délivrance was incorporated the following year. When it opened in 1879, the hospice had taken in 40 girls; six years later it took in 300. The first group of orphans were in fact already students at the convent, by virtue of the system of “industrial schools” set up by the government in 1870 to provide orphans with “a shelter and preparation for an honest and useful future”; the convent at Lévis had been selected as one of these schools and allotted 40 scholarships for this purpose.
In 1880 solemn celebrations were held at Lévis to mark the golden jubilee of the ordination of the venerable parish priest of Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire, who received from Rome the title of privy chamberlain to Leo XIII. Worn out by toil and care, Abbé Déziel died in his presbytery on 25 June 1882, at the age of 76. A builder, leader of men, priest, and citizen, he had participated in the shaping of the religious and civil life of Lévis from its .earliest years, and he is rightly considered the founder not only of a parish but also of the town of Lévis. In 1885, only three years after his death, the citizens of Lévis erected a magnificent monument to their founder, created by sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert* .
AAQ, 210 A, XXIV: 602; XXVII: 660; 211 A, K; 258r, 279–99; 511 CD, II: 16; 61 CD, Lauzon, II: 9, 16; Notre-Dame de Lévis, I: 3–7, 18–21, 30, 43, 46, 72, 73, 75, 83, 84, 101, 107, 108, 113, 115, 124; Saint-David, I: 3, 3c-f, 8, 10, 11. Arch. du collège de Lévis, Fonds J.-D. Déziel; Fonds G.-É. Sauvageau, I. ASQ, Séminaire, 68: no.3. PAC, RG 31, A1, 1861 census, Notre-Dame-de-la-Victoire de Lévis. P.-G. Roy, Dates lévisiennes (12v., Lévis, 1932–40). I–III; X. J.-E. Roy, Mgr Déziel, sa vie, ses œuvres (Lévis, 1885). P.-G. Roy, Glanures lévisiennes (4v., Lévis, 1920–22). Julien Déziel, “Mgr Jos.-David Déziel (1808–1882), sa vie et son ascendance familiale,” BRH, 68 (1966): 27–36.