Dorion, FRANÇOIS-xAVIER-Jules (he signed F.‑X.‑Jules Dorion and Jules Dorion), physician, journalist, and newspaper manager; b. 9 Oct. 1870 in the parish of Saint‑Roch in Quebec City, son of Édouard Dorion, a carpenter, and Marie-Émilie Chabot; m. first 12 July 1897 Émélie Bernier (d. 1 March 1907) in the same city, and they had three sons and three daughters; m. there secondly 21 April 1914 Valérine Guay, widow of Joseph-Odilon Turgeon; d. there 13 March 1939.
Born into modest circumstances, François-Xavier-Jules Dorion pursued his classical studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1880 to 1889. He obtained his doctorate in medicine in 1893 at the Université Laval in Quebec City, and then opened a practice in the Saint‑Roch district. At the age of 26, despite the scepticism of older doctors who had witnessed previous unsuccessful attempts, he proposed establishing a new medical society in the city. His perseverance met with success and he became the first secretary-treasurer (1897–1902) of the Société Médicale de Québec, founded on 14 Jan. 1897.
A committed Roman Catholic who was sensitive to the new social realities caused by industrialization and urbanization, Dorion in 1905 joined the Société d’Économie Sociale et Politique de Québec, set up by Abbé Stanislas-Alfred Lortie*, a friend since the days at the Petit Séminaire. From the society’s discussion groups emerged the idea of creating a large organization for Catholic social action in the archdiocese of Quebec. The archbishop, Louis-Nazaire Bégin*, approved the project and established the Action Sociale Catholique and the Œuvre de la Presse Catholique through a pastoral letter published on 31 March 1907. Abbé Paul-Eugène Roy*, appointed director of the Action Sociale Catholique, and Abbé Lortie asked Dorion to run what was to be the core of the Œuvre de la Presse Catholique: the daily newspaper L’Action sociale (which became L’Action catholique on 9 June 1915).
The proposal was surprising because Dorion had only limited journalistic experience. He had been on the editorial staff of the Bulletin médical de Québec from 1899 to 1905. He had also participated in founding La Libre Parole of Quebec City [see Jacques-Édouard Plamondon*] in 1905 and had contributed columns from January 1906 to September 1907. Still affected by the recent death of his wife, Dorion accepted the offer and decided to abandon his medical career to run the paper; he received an annual salary of $2,000 for his work. The first issue of L’Action sociale was published in Quebec City on 21 Dec. 1907. Dorion set out its program in his editorial. Taking up the main ideas in Archbishop Bégin’s pastoral letter, he proposed that the newspaper be instructive and independent of political parties. The goals were to disseminate Catholic doctrine and religious news, and to promote a spiritual society and the Catholic trade-union movement. Dorion also wanted to provide readers with news about municipal, national, and international matters. Two subjects, international current events and Prohibition, particularly interested him, and were topics, moreover, on which he would produce numerous editorials. The journal’s beginnings were promising, and, in a letter to Bégin on 4 Jan. 1908, Roy rejoiced in having chosen Dorion.
Dorion did not work alone. He was supported by the editorial committee, which met every month under the authority of the director of the Action Sociale Catholique to discuss finances and publication content, the latter of which evolved to maintain the paper’s position in a competitive market. It was distributed in Quebec City, but especially in rural areas around and to the east of the capital. It had a circulation of 13,100 in 1913, and then of 40,000 in 1921. It was slow to adopt the practices of its competitors, however, and its readership dwindled. From 1924 to 1930 its circulation was to fall to 17,327.
The appearance of L’Action catholique changed in many ways in the course of those years. Initially it had a very sober look and was comparable to its main rival in Quebec City, Le Soleil. The front page was crowded, and the layout, without illustrations or headlines, was more reminiscent of the austere 19th-century newspapers of opinion than of the new journals of the 20th century. To face up to the competition and to win readers, Dorion did away with the severe layout and gradually adopted the measures that ensured the success of mass-circulation papers: headlines and subheadings, illustrations and photographs, and more feature columns. All topics were now covered in the daily, from politics to sports, and short news items, articles for women, and entertainment pages were also included. Archbishop Bégin’s decision in 1923 to distance himself from the content and the management of the paper was probably related to this development. In 1931 the accession of Eugène L’Heureux to the position of subeditor brought new impetus to the publication. L’Heureux had thought about the importance of offering a Catholic press that was “up to date,” as he stated during a lecture in November 1936, and he worked actively to modernize the newspaper. Success would come and, in 1938, sales of L’Action catholique, with its circulation of 52,611, exceeded for the first time those of Le Soleil, as they would for a few more years. On the eve of World War II, L’Action catholique would thus compare favourably to other large news dailies.
Yet, in order to guide readers along the right path, Dorion made sure that there was always a Catholic perspective to the news. Advertising continued to be closely monitored by the directors of the Action Sociale Catholique and major constraints were imposed in this respect: advertisements for alcohol or the cinema were not tolerated. To compensate for the low advertising revenues, the archdiocese of Quebec provided appropriate funding.
Even though he worked at the newspaper almost ten hours a day, Dorion found time to carry out other duties that were close to his heart. He was an officer of the credit committee of the Caisse Populaire de Québec-Est from its founding, on 23 June 1910, in his native parish. Dorion was also a commander of the Papal Zouaves of Quebec City. Although he no longer practised medicine regularly, he remained attached to his profession. He used the pseudonym Le Vieux Docteur for his scientific chats entitled “Machine humaine” in the Quebec City review L’Apôtre, published by the Action Sociale Catholique from 1921 to 1931, and sometimes treated the poorest in his community free of charge. From 1933 to 1938 he lectured on the history of Catholic journalism at the École de Sciences Sociales at the Université Laval, the institution that granted him an honorary doctorate on 1 July 1937. Between 1936 and 1939 he commentated on religious affairs for the weekly radio program L’Heure dominicale, broadcast by Radio-Canada, the French-language network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In recognition of the quality of his work as a journalist, he was honoured by the papacy, being named a commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great.
François-Xavier-Jules Dorion’s health gradually began to fail. In 1931 he was off work for several months. He died in harness, at the age of 68, of heart failure. He had directed the Catholic daily for 32 years. When his death was announced, nearly every newspaper in the province of Quebec paid him tribute. They emphasized his humility, charitable nature, patriotism, and perseverance in defending Christ and the church. His determination and, above all, the solid financial backing of the archdiocese had enabled him to make L’Action catholique a serious news daily and an important vehicle of Catholic thought.
Readers interested in the ideas of the newspaper under the direction of François-Xavier-Jules Dorion should refer to Richard Jones’s study L’idéologie de “L’Action catholique” (1917–1939) (Québec, 1974). To better understand the paper’s evolution, it would be helpful to read the author’s “La presse catholique au Québec: 1910–1940” (thèse de phd, univ. du Québec à Montréal, 1999) and the book that drew upon it, Un quotidien pour l’Église: “L’Action catholique,” 1910–1940 (Montréal, 2004). Dorion’s contribution to the newspaper is also underlined in the biography by P.‑É. Roy, Tâcheron de la plume: Louis-Philippe Roy, m.d.: commandeur de l’ordre de St‑Grégoire le Grand (Beauport [Québec], 2003).
There are no archival collections dedicated to Dorion, but some sources that trace his work with L’Action catholique are located at AAQ, 50 CF (L’Action sociale catholique et L’Action sociale Ltée), I: 4 janv. 1908, 12 avril 1917, 1er juin 1919; 26 CP (diocèse de Montréal), XV: 47, 51; 1 N (L’Action sociale catholique et L’Action sociale Ltée). To understand some aspects of Dorion’s relationship with the members of the clergy and the editors of the newspaper, the reader can consult Musée de la Civilisation (Québec), Fonds d’arch. du séminaire de Québec, fichier général, and Centre de Référence de l’Amérique Française (Québec), Dépôt du séminaire de Québec, P7, P7/8/6 (séances des comités de rédaction et de direction du journal L’Action catholique). The Almanach de l’Action sociale catholique (Québec), 1917–40, gives a partial account of the activities of the newspaper. Jules Dorion: type achevé de l’apôtre laïque ([Québec?, 1939?]), a collection of various tributes to the journalist at the time of his death, provides a measure of his importance in the media landscape of the province of Quebec.
As well as many articles and editorials, Dorion is the author of La bicyclette (Québec, 1898) and Impressions d’un passant aux bords de l’Europe, de l’Asie et de l’Afrique (Québec, 1934).
Arch. de la Fédération des Caisses Desjardins du Québec (Lévis, Québec), Fonds Alphonse-Desjardins, 0.22: 4d-1 (lettre d’Alphonse Desjardins à Jules Dorion, 23 janv. 1913); 32410101 (dossiers constitutifs). BANQ-Q, CE301-S22, 10 oct. 1870, 12 juill. 1897, 21 avril 1914. FD, Cimetière Saint-Charles (Québec), 16 mars 1939. L’Action catholique (Québec), 1907–40. Le Devoir, 14, 16, 22 mars 1939. Denis Goulet et André Paradis, Trois siècles d’histoire médicale au Québec: chronologie des institutions et des pratiques (1639–1939) (Montréal, 1992), 354, 356. Guy Grenier, 100 ans de médecine francophone: histoire de l’Association des médecins de langue française du Canada (Sainte‑Foy [Québec], 2002). J. Hamelin et al., La presse québécoise, vols.4–6. Dominique Marquis, “Être journaliste catholique au xxe siècle, un apostolat: les exemples de Jules Dorion et Eugène L’Heureux,” CCHA, Études d’hist. religieuse, 73 (2007): 31–47. [P.‑E. Roy], L’Action sociale catholique et l’Œuvre de la presse catholique: motifs, programme, organisation, ressources (Québec, 1907). Univ. Laval, Annuaire, 1880–93, 1932–38.