GRAVÉ DE LA RIVE, HENRI-FRANÇOIS, Roman Catholic priest, superior of the Séminaire de Québec, and vicar general; b. 25 April 1730 in Vannes, France, son of Charles-Yves Gravé de La Rive, at one time a judge in commercial court, and Louise-Jeanne-Marguerite Mercier; d. 4 Feb. 1802 at Quebec.
Having completed classical studies in his home town, Henri-François Gravé de La Rive went to finish his education in Paris, first at the Académie de Paris, and then at the Sorbonne, where he obtained the degrees of master of arts in 1753 and bachelor in theology the following year. He received the subdiaconate on 16 June 1753 and the diaconate on 31 March 1754. On 15 March 1755 he was ordained priest at Rouen, from which he was preparing to sail for Canada with Urbain Boiret*. They arrived at Quebec on 26 July and settled in at the seminary.
On 16 Feb. 1759 Gravé was appointed a director of the institution. In the summer, when the British siege of the city began, the seminary was evacuated. The superior, Colomban-Sébastien Pressart*, and Gravé went to Montreal at the same time as Bishop Henri-Marie Dubreil* de Pontbriand, with a few students from the senior classes, and took refuge at the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice. There Gravé taught philosophy, at the same time acting as chaplain to the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général of Montreal (Grey Nuns).
Gravé returned to Quebec in September 1761, when the restoration of the seminary was sufficiently advanced for the priests to live in it. The following year, at the end of Pressart’s term of office as superior, the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris appointed his successor, according to the pre-conquest practice; it named Pierre Maillard*, a missionary in Acadia, or failing him, Gravé. But Governor Murray* objected to these appointments, denying that Paris had any right to interfere in Canadian matters. Henceforth the priests of the Séminaire de Québec had to elect their superior themselves, and Murray remained opposed to the election of the two designated candidates. In July 1762 Boiret was elected, and Gravé served as assistant to the superior. When the Petit Séminaire reopened in 1765, it had to assume the responsibilities formerly discharged by the Jesuit college, which had closed its doors permanently. It now had to offer classical studies, which had previously been provided solely by the Jesuit institution; it was also obliged to accept day pupils as well as students seeking to enter the liberal professions. Since the priests were unable to undertake the increased burden of work, theological students were pressed into service as masters or professors.
On 13 April 1768, after the death of Jean-Felix Récher*, parish priest of Notre-Dame in Quebec, the seminary decided to give up its union with this parish charge and, as a result, the right to designate the priest. Gravé objected to this renunciation, claiming that the union was a legal act, obligatory and inalienable. He even registered his dissent in the presence of a notary and never reconsidered his position. In 1768 also, Gravé took over a cause that Father Récher had upheld before him; with the backing of a colleague, Joseph-André-Mathurin Jacrau*, he supported the churchwardens of Notre-Dame in their refusal to make their newly restored church the diocesan cathedral. When Bishop Briand* finally took possession of the church as his cathedral six years later, all those who had been opposed had given in, except Gravé. In 1768 Gravé had replaced Boiret as superior of the seminary and he held that office until 1774.
In 1777–78 Gravé assumed the responsibilities of bursar and in the latter year was again elected superior. In 1779 he was a member of the first board of the Quebec Library, and from 1780 Île was chaplain to the Ursulines. At the end of his term as superior in 1781 he again became bursar and retained that post until 1787. The Hôpital Général was able to take advantage of Gravé’s administrative experience: he held the office of temporal director of that institution from 1784 to 1789. In 1784, although he was personally in favour of the steps that Jean-Baptiste-Amable Adhémar* and Jean De Lisle took in London to request constitutional reform, Gravé maintained that the clergy must remain neutral, without however disapproving of those supporting the reform.
In December of that year the new bishop of Quebec, Louis-Philippe Mariauchau* d’Esgly, renewed Gravé’s letters as vicar general, which had originally been granted by Briand in 1781. But in 1788, D’Esgly reproached Gravé for insubordination and took away his powers. The coadjutor, Jean-François Hubert*, upheld Gravé, and when Hubert replaced D’Esgly in June 1788, he hastened to reinstate Gravé as vicar general. The preceding year Gravé had once more been elected superior of the seminary and he remained in office until 1793.
The clergy did not greatly appreciate the introduction of parliamentary government in 1791. “Those who, in my opinion, reflect a little are very angry at this change,” Gravé observed, “for there are several of our vain Canadians and many English, admirers of the [French] National Assembly, who are already talking of establishing the rights of man as principles in the laws.” In March 1791, as superior of the seminary, proprietor of several seigneuries, Gravé signed a petition along with 59 other Canadian seigneurs against the proposal to replace seigneurial tenure by free and common socage; this proposal had already been put forward by loyalists in 1788 and had been supported by Charles-Louis Tarieu de Lanaudière [see Thomas-Laurent Bédard*].
In 1793 Gravé became the director of the Grand Séminaire, a post he retained until 1795, when he took charge of the Petit Séminaire for the next three years. In 1797 Bishop Denaut renewed his letters as vicar general. The following year he was elected superior for a final term of four years. Over and above all these duties Gravé taught theology and took an interest in philosophy. In addition he wrote a small catechism, consisting of 72 lessons for pupils in the Petit Séminaire.
In 1800 Bishop Denaut asked Gravé’s opinion when the British authorities introduced the practice of making Catholics swear on the Protestant Bible in law courts. Gravé encouraged the bishop to fight this action, whereas coadjutor designate Joseph-Octave Plessis* and vicar general Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins* did not see anything objectionable about it. Denaut favoured Gravé’s view.
Although he had some reactionary views and a Breton’s stubbornness, Gravé certainly possessed superior talents and human qualities, as is borne out by the important responsibilities repeatedly entrusted to him by the bishops of Quebec and by his colleagues at the seminary. Even after his dissent on the issue of the parish charge of Quebec in April 1768, people evidently did not bear a grudge against him, since on 20 August he was elected superior. François Sorbier* de Villars, superior of the Missions Étrangères in Paris, held him in high esteem. The religious communities in Quebec regarded him with deep respect and affection. After his death the Quebec Gazette, which published eulogies of him on 11 and 18 Feb. 1802, claimed: “Lastly, and it was one of the most prominent traits of his character, his Majesty had not a more faithful a more devoted or a more affectionate subject than Mr. Grave.” If this affirmation contains no flattery, it is proof of splendid loyalty in the last upholder of the ancien régime.
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