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FORBES, GUILLAUME (baptized Joseph-Guillaume), Roman Catholic priest and archbishop; b. 10 Aug. 1865, probably on Île Perrot, Lower Canada, son of John Forbes, a farmer, and Octavie Léger; d. 22 May 1940 in Ottawa.

The second of 16 children, Guillaume Forbes moved to Montreal with his family in 1869. After attending kindergarten at the Asile Nazareth, run by the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montreal, he went to the Catholic Commercial Academy of Montreal from 1872 to 1878. He did his classical studies at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal from 1878 to 1884, and then began his theological training at the Grand Séminaire de Montréal. He was ordained priest on 17 March 1888 by Archbishop Édouard-Charles Fabre*.

On 26 April, after serving for a few weeks in Saint-Clet in the diocese of Valleyfield, Forbes was appointed vicar of the Saint-François-Xavier mission at Caughnawaga in the archdiocese of Montreal, where he assisted the curé, Nicolas Burtin, who was an Oblate of Mary Immaculate. Following four years of initiation among the Iroquois, he spent slightly more than ten active years as director of the mission. Not only did he renovate both the church and the presbytery, but he learned the Iroquois language, whose unique character he particularly liked. He wrote and published at least one grammar book and one almanac in this language. The Iroquois in his mission thought highly of him, as demonstrated by the nickname they gave him: “the man with the clear mind and kind heart.”

On 13 May 1903 Forbes was transferred to the parish of Sainte-Anne-du-Bout-de-l’Île, where he remained for eight years. On 6 March 1911 he was appointed curé of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, in Montreal, where before long he had to take charge of rebuilding the parish church, which was destroyed by fire during the night of 27–28 June. He set about raising the necessary funds and preparing new plans for the interior, but it was his successor, Louis-Alexandre Dubuc, who would see the project to completion in 1915.

Forbes celebrated the silver anniversary of his ordination in June 1913. On 6 August he became the second bishop of Joliette, succeeding Joseph-Alfred Archambeault*. Archbishop Paul Bruchési officiated at his consecration on 9 October in the cathedral of Saint-Charles-Borromée. Forbes set up the Œuvre de la Sainte-Enfance (1914) and reorganized the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (1915), which he entrusted to the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception [see Délia Tétreault*].

Forbes’s ministry was marked above all by his missionary spirit. This man, whose great-grandfather, John Forbes, had come from Scotland with the army of Major-General James Wolfe*, demonstrated throughout his career the desire to spread his Catholic faith. So too did his elder brother, John*, who was the first Canadian to become a member of the Society of Missionaries of Africa and to be appointed a bishop in that community. For his part, Guillaume had a hand in founding and developing the Séminaire de la Société des Missions Étrangères de la Province de Québec. This institution, which was established in Montreal, was created in February 1921 by the bishops of the province. Its aim was to train missionaries and promote missions in the Far East, especially in China (People’s Republic of China). From that time on Forbes was secretary of the episcopal committee responsible for organizing the seminary, which was chaired by Archbishop Paul-Eugène Roy*. From 26 April 1922 he was a member of the board of directors of the Société des Missions Étrangères de la Province de Québec, which had been incorporated in March, with the seminary as its fundamental unit. On 2 Sept. 1924, in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Laval), he had the honour of blessing the chapel of the seminary, which had just opened. Canon Joseph-Avila Roch became its superior. In the spring of 1925 Forbes presided over the society’s first ordinations, and on 1 June he received the oath of stability from its first members: Roch, his six colleagues, and six seminarians. On 11 September Forbes bade farewell to the first missionaries bound for Manchuria (People’s Republic of China), the abbés Eugène Bérichon, Louis-Adelmar Lapierre, and Léo Lomme.

On 29 Jan. 1928 Forbes was promoted archbishop of Ottawa, thereby assuming the duties of Archbishop Joseph-Médard Emard*, who had died the previous year. Mgr Andrea Cassulo, the apostolic delegate to Canada and Newfoundland, presided at his enthronement on 29 March during a ceremony in Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Ottawa. He received the pallium, the symbol of his archepiscopal authority, on 29 Jan. 1929 and on 12 Sept. 1935 he was appointed assistant to the papal throne. His unfailing support of the foreign-missions society was enhanced in 1932 by the establishment in his diocese of the Pontifical Society of St Peter the Apostle and the Œuvre Pontificale de la Sainte-Enfance. In 1934 Bishop Forbes organized the first week of missionary studies in Canada and took part in its activities.

His great interest in the education of priests was also manifest in the archdiocese. He encouraged the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to found a seminary affiliated with the Université d’Ottawa, which they administered. Opened in 1936, St Paul’s University Seminary offered post-secondary courses in theology. It was an adjunct to the diocesan seminary in Ottawa, the Grand Séminaire Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin, which continued to train priests but did not require them to take theological instruction at the university level. Indeed, the archdiocese of Ottawa did not insist that all its priests hold a university degree in theology. The courses offered at the Grand Séminaire Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin placed greater emphasis on pastoral education.

While serving as archbishop of Ottawa, Forbes established a number of parishes: St Theresa of the Child Jesus (1928), St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1929), Christ-Roi (1930), Holy Canadian Martyrs (1930), Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1931), Marie-Médiatrice (1931), Our Lady of Perpetual Help (1938), Sainte-Bernadette-Soubirous (1938), and the mission of Notre-Dame-de-la-Présentation at Overbrook (1930). Moreover, he opened his archdiocese to religious communities. An English-language noviciate and scholasticate, run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (1928), and the scholasticate of Our Lady of Africa under the Society of Missionaries of Africa (1938) were added to the convents, mother houses, noviciates, and scholasticates already in existence. His archdiocese was associated with Action Catholique, a movement that was to expand in French Canada. On 8 Dec. 1934 Forbes, inspired by Pope Pius XI, issued a pastoral letter inviting the clergy of his archdiocese to coordinate the “existing religious charities” so as to “organize the activities of all Catholics in conformity with pontifical directions, and with a view to winning the cooperation of the laity for the hierarchical ministry.” He also announced the creation of a diocesan committee of Action Catholique for his clergy, and asked his curés to set up parish committees of laypeople.

Forbes had the satisfaction of seeing a good number of his priests rise to the episcopacy. Among them were Joseph Charbonneau*, bishop of Hearst, Ont. (1939), and archbishop of Montreal (1940–50); Jean-Marie-Rodrigue Villeneuve*, bishop of Gravelbourg, Sask. (1930–31), and archbishop of Quebec (1931–47), who was made a cardinal on 12 Feb. 1933; and John Christopher Cody*, bishop of Victoria (1937–46). Rome had confidence in Forbes’s judgement.

On 2 Feb. 1940, at the end of the ceremony for the consecration of his successor, Alexandre Vachon*, Archbishop Guillaume Forbes felt ill and was taken to the Ottawa General Hospital, run by the Sisters of Charity. On 1 April, in a letter addressed to the clergy of his archdiocese, he wrote, “For nearly two months now, I have not been able to go up to the holy altar.” Although he had been ill for three years, he nevertheless proposed to make his pastoral visit and officiate at confirmations. He died on 22 May at the age of 74.

Robert Choquette

BANQ-CAM, CE601-S50, 11 août 1865. Le Devoir, 23, 26 mai 1940. Jules Bernard, “Les débuts de la Société des Missions-étrangères de la province de Québec,” CCHA, Sessions d’étude, 38 (1971): 31–54. Canadian R.C. bishops, 1658–1979, comp. André Chapeau et al. (Ottawa, 1980). Robert Choquette, “An historical overview,” in Planted by flowing water: the diocese of Ottawa, 1847–1997, ed. Pierre Hurtubise et al. (Ottawa, 1998), 11–39. LeBlanc, DBECC. Hector Legros et Sœur Paul-Émile [Louise Guay], Le diocèse d’Ottawa, 1847–1948 (Ottawa, [1949]). Lettres pastorales, mandements et circulaires (14v. parus, Joliette, Québec, 1908–    ), 4–6. Lettres pastorales, mandements et circulaires de Monseigneur Guillaume Forbes … (2v., Ottawa, [1933?–40?]). Clovis Rondeau, “Mgr Guillaume Forbes, missionnaire,” Bull. de l’Union missionnaire du clergé (Québec), 6 (1942): 209–16. La Société des Missions-étrangères de la province de Québec, Canada (Pont-Viau [Laval, Québec]), 1930, 1932. Univ. Laval, Annuaire, 1878–88.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert Choquette, “FORBES, GUILLAUME (baptized Joseph-Guillaume),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 21, 2017, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/forbes_guillaume_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/forbes_guillaume_16E.html
Author of Article: Robert Choquette
Title of Article: FORBES, GUILLAUME (baptized Joseph-Guillaume)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 2015
Year of revision: 2015
Access Date: November 21, 2017