DUFRESNE, NICOLAS, Sulpician priest and missionary; b. 10 Sept 1789 at Montreal, son of Louis Dufresne and Marie Arbour; d. 10 July 1863 at Montreal.
Nicolas Dufresne was a brilliant pupil at the Collège de Montréal from 1797 to 1806. At the end of his studies, he was still too young to go into theology and accepted the position of form-master at the college. He held this charge for six years until his ordination to the priesthood on 18 Oct 1812.
Despite Dufresne’s ardent desire to be admitted to the Sulpicians, Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis* of Quebec kept him in his diocese, and appointed him curate at L’Islet for two years. He then became parish priest in charge of the mission of Caughnawaga with the care of Lachine and later of Chateauguay, and finally, in 1819, parish priest of the Iroquois mission at Saint-Régis, on Lac Saint-François.
In 1824 Nicolas Dufresne received permission to join the Sulpicians. Shortly afterwards, at the suggestion of the bishop of Quebec, the sacred Congregation of the Propaganda decided to appoint him coadjutor to the bishop. Dufresne was determined to avoid episcopal honours and duties and immediately begged Antoine Duclaux, the superior general of Saint-Sulpice, to intercede with the papal nuncio in Paris. The appointment was not made.
For ten years Dufresne exercised his ministry at Notre-Dame in Montreal, among both the parishioners and the religious communities. At all times he distinguished himself by a gentle firmness, moderation, and prudence. These qualities were responsible for his appointment in 1834 to the difficult post of director of the mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka). He had barely taken up his duties when his name was again put forward, this time as coadjutor to the bishop of Montreal. Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue* supported his candidature, but the opposition of Joseph-Vincent Quiblier*, the superior of Saint-Sulpice in Canada, thwarted the plan.
During his administration of the mission until 1857, Dufresne experienced trying moments. He had to face the Iroquois, who disputed the Sulpicians’ right of ownership of the seigneury of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes. Around 1789 the British courts had acknowledged that the Iroquois had no right to the seigneury, but as title deeds for the Sulpician seminary had not been drawn up, the Iroquois for some years had continued to appeal to the courts. With the seigneurs’ permission, they did have the right to cut timber for personal use, but not for trade. They gained the support of the Algonkin chieftains and succeeded in stirring them up against the seminary. All Dufresne’s firmness and skill were needed to calm them and dissuade them from apostasy.
Despite these difficulties, the mission made some progress. A temperance society, established following the visit of Bishop Charles-Auguste-Marie-Joseph de Forbin-Janson*, almost completely eliminated drunkenness among the Algonkins and Iroquois. In 1849, at the time of Étienne-Michel Faillon’s visit, it was decided to entrust the boys’ school to the Brothers of the Christian Schools. They were so successful that the school soon had to be enlarged and the number of teachers increased. Three years later, the seminary established a model farm to introduce the young Indians to agriculture. This measure was not successful, and the school had to close in 1860.
In 1857, because of his age and poor health, Dufresne was recalled to the Séminaire de Montréal. He later returned to the mission on several occasions to assist the missionaries, in particular at the time of a retreat in 1858 and, shortly afterwards, during the pastoral visit of Bishop Ignace Bourget*, for whom he acted as interpreter to the Iroquois. He died at the Séminaire de Montréal on 10 July 1863.
ASSM, 8, A; 36, André Cuoq, “Notes inédites pour servir à l’histoire de la mission du Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes” (typescript). Allaire, Dictionnaire. Almanac de Québec . . . , 1807–12. Henri Gauthier, Sulpitiana (2e éd., Montréal, 1926). Lemire-Marsolais et Lambert, Hist. de la CND de Montréal, VI, VII, IX. Olivier Maurault, Le collège de Montréal, 1767–1967, Antonio Dansereau, édit. (2e éd., Montréal, 1967), 198. Rumilly, Hist. de Montréal, II, 212. J. A. Cuoq, “Anotc Kekon,” RSC Trans., 1st ser., XI (1893), sect.i, 178–79.