FOURNIER, CHARLES-VINCENT, Roman Catholic priest; b. 28 Jan. 1771 in Orléans, France, son of Pierre-Laurent Fournier, a starch maker, and Marie-Anne Péguy; d. 26 May 1839 in Baie-du-Febvre (Baieville), Lower Canada.
Charles-Vincent Fournier obtained his classical education in France at the Petit Séminaire de Meung-sur-Loire. In 1789 he decided to enter the priesthood and began his theological studies with the Sulpicians in his home town. He made friends with a young postulant, Jean Raimbault. Driven by uncompromising zeal, they both had a burning desire to serve the church, embraced passionately the cause of the monarchy, and were bitterly opposed to the revolution. In 1790 Fournier was required to swear loyalty to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Like his superiors and colleagues among the Sulpicians in Orléans, he refused and chose to abandon the priesthood. He went back to his family and worked at various tasks in his father’s shop.
Three years later the Constituent Assembly imposed conscription on all unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25. Fournier and Raimbault were thus forced to enlist in a military unit from their town. Late in 1793 they joined their regiment in Paris. Despite close surveillance they managed to flee, and after many different adventures in Belgium and Germany they reached England early in 1795. Horrified at the consequences of the revolution and fearful of being persecuted in France, they decided to go to Lower Canada.
Fournier arrived at Quebec on 24 Oct. 1796. He went to live at the Collège Saint-Raphaël in Montreal, where the Sulpicians welcomed him warmly and invited him to complete his theological studies. On 23 Sept. 1797 Pierre Denaut*, the bishop of Quebec, conferred the priesthood upon him. For Fournier, a childhood dream had come true, and his satisfaction was enhanced by the fact that he was in a British colony where peace, order, and respect for the religious and civil authorities reigned.
Fournier was named assistant priest in the parish of Saint-Michel at Vaudreuil late in 1797, and in that of Saint-Joseph at Chambly a year later. In 1800 Denaut made him curé of Saint-François-d’Assise (in Montreal), which had a very plain church and a badly maintained presbytery and cemetery. Moreover, the faith of a number of his parishioners was evidently weak. Within a few years he had righted matters. He encouraged the people to rebuild the church and presbytery, tried to add lustre to religious ceremonies, set up a new school, and devoted himself to working with the destitute.
In 1810 Joseph-Octave Plessis*, bishop of Quebec, who was extremely pleased with Fournier’s work, named him parish priest of Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue at Baie-du-Febvre. Upon his arrival there Fournier was faced with an epidemic of typhoid fever. He acquitted himself well in the circumstances, giving encouragement to stricken families and administering the last rites without hesitation. So great was his zeal and generosity that his parishioners praised him and afterwards never dared question his authority. Fournier emphasized the decoration of the church, for him a tangible sign of the religious vitality of the parish. He had the cornice of the sanctuary repaired in 1811. Two years later he bought velvet vestments and completed the collection of sacred vessels. From 1815 he committed the fabrique to even greater expenditures, in total more than 20,000 livres: fitting out the chapels, redoing the high altar and the structure housing it (the retable), purchasing a tabernacle, and embellishing the sanctuary. In 1818 he bought ten pictures that had been sent from France by Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins*. By 1825 his church was one of the most spacious and best decorated in the Trois-Rivières region.
Fournier paid particular attention to the evolution of religious practices. In 1812 he promoted the devotion termed the Way of the Cross, putting up stations that became popular for worship. Usually he preached on Sundays and feast days; he also did so occasionally in the special seasons of Advent and Lent. His sermons were uncompromising and dealt with such themes as death, sorrow, hell, sin, the Last Judgement, eternal salvation, and the chosen few. He also became known as a tenacious and demanding confessor, who sought to purge his parishioners of sin and persuade them to take Holy Communion frequently.
In 1816 Fournier drove away a liberal teacher who wanted to set up a school using the pedagogical methods of Joseph Lancaster. From then on education was one of his main concerns. Under his supervision four schools, over which he retained control, were built in less than 15 years. Nor did he allow the leading parishioners to meddle in the business of the fabrique – he even refused to let them attend its meetings. After 1820 he fought against dancing and ordered his people to avoid inns whenever possible. Lust and women’s dress became the focus of his preaching. These strict pastoral instructions were designed to eliminate bad influences that might taint the parish. The religious environment had a considerable impact on his flock. After 25 years of ministry Fournier must have been satisfied: his parish formed a large island of Christianity.
Fournier husbanded his assets, kept his garden well maintained, and oversaw the collection of tithes. In this wealthy parish he had a tithe of 700 minots of wheat and 400 of oats to count on, an income placing him well ahead of most of his parishioners. He owned a farm and some animals. His presbytery, an immense stone building, looked like a manor-house. His furnishings were splendid, and his library had an abundance of religious books and works on the revolution of 1789. His table was laden with luxury items of food and various kinds of meat. He bought a great deal of Spanish wine and West Indian rum. In income and style of life he had little in common with the majority of his parishioners. He also impressed people with his good manners, his learning, and his culture.
Fournier’s authority and prestige were not confined to his parish. His colleagues who had come from France often visited him. These meetings, which were marked by cordiality and friendly understanding, occasioned numerous discussions on priestly duties. Disciplined and demanding, Fournier had the attention of his fellow clergy, who appreciated his good judgement and sensible advice. He maintained amicable relations with the priests of the Séminaire de Nicolet, who often invited him to preach there. Similarly, his frequent meetings with his friend Raimbault, its superior, who was parish priest of Nicolet and an archpriest, enabled him to develop his understanding of education and parish administration. He also involved himself in the missions set up in the Eastern Townships. He often went to the one at Drummondville, and under his influence and that of Raimbault the original chapel was built there. Sure of his devotion and loyalty, Bishop Plessis and later Bishop Bernard-Claude Panet* commissioned him to undertake several administrative tasks in the Trois-Rivières region and occasionally asked him to accompany them on their pastoral visits.
Because he was a man of outstanding mind and character who enjoyed the confidence of his superiors, Fournier won the respect of his parishioners and of the clergy in his region. Having exercised his priestly functions for nearly 40 years, he considered giving his life a new direction, or at least making a new setting for it. In 1836 he retired after a paralytic stroke. On 8 October of that year he turned over his charge to Michel Carrier*, on condition that Carrier provide him with a third of the grain collected in the parishes of Baie-du-Febvre and Saint-Zéphirin-de-Courval. He owned a magnificent house near the church, and there in silence he shut himself up and tried to make the most of the short time he had left to live. He devoted his leisure to reading, his great passion. Unable to walk or even to say mass, he took more interest in prayer. He passed away quietly on 26 May 1839 on the veranda of his house. Two days later a host of priests and laity from the Trois-Rivières region attended his funeral, a clear sign of how well known and popular he was.
A man of the 18th century, brought up in the Age of Enlightenment, profoundly marked by the revolution of 1789, Fournier remained faithful to the prescriptions and solutions of the ancien régime. In this context the development of liberalism in Lower Canada during the early 19th century seemed to him an outgrowth of the French revolutionary and anti-religious spirit. Not only did he fight this ideology with all his strength, but he also ensured that his parishioners were not exposed to its influence. He was better prepared than his Canadian colleagues for his pastoral task and brought greater devotion and zeal to it. Rejecting ideological compromise, and always seeking to uphold principle, he made Baie-du-Febvre a truly Christian place. His French colleagues, who had established themselves in the Trois-Rivières region after the tragic events of the 1789 revolution, served the Canadian church with the same eagerness and determination. These priests defended a form of society that belonged to the ancien régime, asserted their fierce hostility to liberalism, and tended to demand the union of church and state. Well trained for their parochial duties and sharing the same opinions, they became accustomed to helping one another and coordinating their efforts, concurring in the opinion of the wiser among them. They attended particularly to the spiritual welfare of their flocks, and obtained an undeniable success in shepherding the rural masses. It is not surprising that this region experienced a marked resurgence of faith and that Christianity was firmly rooted here well before the church attained a new vigour and ascendancy in the mid 19th century.
ACAM, 355.107, 802-1. AD, Loiret (Orléans), État civil, Orléans, 29 janv. 1771. ANQ-M, CE3-2, 28 mai 1839. ANQ-MBF, CN1-21, 6 mars 1835. AP, Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue (Baieville), Livres de comptes, I; Saint-François-d’Assise (Montréal), Livres de comptes, 1. Arch. de l’évêché de Nicolet (Nicolet, Qué.), Cartable Baie-du-Febvre, I: 77–89. ASN, AO, Polygraphie, III: 5–30; Séminaire, II: 82–101; AP-G, L.-É. Bois, G, 1: 224. Allaire, Dictionnaire. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Denaut,” ANQ Rapport, 1931–32: 134, 137–38, 152, 178; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Hubert et de Mgr Bailly de Messein,” 1930–31: 334–35, 347; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Panet,” 1933–34: 393; 1935–36: 184–85; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Plessis,” 1927–28: 256, 275; 1928–29: 129; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Signay,” 1936–37: 315; 1937–38:113, 120, 128. J.-E. Bellemare, Histoire de la Baie-Saint-Antoine, dite Baie-du-Febvre, 1683–1911 (Montréal, 1911). Dionne, Les ecclésiastiques et les royalistes français. Louis Martin, “Jean Raimbault, curé à Nicolet de 1806 à 1841” (thèse de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1977). “Les morts de 1839,” BRH, 32 (1926): 18.