LAGORCE, CHARLES-IRÉNÉE, priest, Cleric of St Viator; b. 6 June 1813 at Saint-Hyacinthe, Lower Canada, son of Charles Lagorce, notary, and Marie-Angèle Morin; d. 23 Feb. 1864 at Sainte-Claire, on the Etchemin River, and buried at Saint-Hyacinthe.

Charles-Irénée Lagorce was educated at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe. He was ordained priest on 30 July 1837 and appointed to the parochial ministry, serving as curate at Saint-Denis on the Richelieu (1837–38) and at Sorel (1838–41), then as parish priest at Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines (1841–44) and at Saint-Charles on the Richelieu (1844–48). At Saint-Charles Abbé Lagorce attempted to give instruction to a deaf mute, Antoine Caron. From his initiative sprang the Institution des Sourds-Muets in Montreal.

With the support of Bishop Ignace Bourget*, Lagorce actually started a class for deaf mute boys on 27 Nov. 1848 in the hospice of Saint-Jérôme-Émilien, in the Québec faubourg of Montreal, assisted by a man named Reeves, himself a deaf mute. On Sundays Lagorce gave lessons to deaf mutes of both sexes, usually in a room in the Asile de la Providence [see Albine Gadbois*]. After several changes to ensure the progress and stability of the undertaking, it was established canonically by a pastoral letter of Bishop Bourget, dated 30 Aug. 1850. Lagorce immediately began a regular teaching programme for deaf mute boys in a three-storey building at Côte Saint-Louis (Montreal).

But devotion was not enough to make up for shortage of well-trained staff. On the advice of the founder, Bishop Bourget decided to entrust the work to a religious community. Lagorce therefore went to France in May 1851 in order to learn the teaching methods used by those religious who might agree to come to Canada. Unsuccessful among the religious of the Congregation of the Holy Cross at Le Mans (dept of Sarthe), he turned to the Clerics of St Viator at Lyons. In mid January 1852, no doubt with better service to deaf mutes as his aim, Lagorce entered the noviciate at Vourles. He took his first vows there in July, returned to Montreal with Brother Joseph Fayard on 4 September, and went to L’Industrie (Joliette), where the Clerics of St Viator had been established since 1847 [see Antoine Manseau].

Lagorce resumed his teaching first at L’Industrie, where he took in seven or eight deaf mutes, then at Côte Saint-Louis in August 1853. He was director of the Institution des Sourds-Muets and priest in charge of the developing parish. But soon the task became too heavy for him. A sick man, he gave up teaching in June 1855, and handed over to his community (which in fact he left in August 1856) the responsibility of continuing his work, content that the institute was in excellent hands and knowing that his was the honour of founding it. After numerous ups and downs Brother Jean-Marie-Joseph Young (Yung), in the years 1856 to 1863, gave the institute its greatest development. Lagorce again tried life in a religious order, this time among the Fathers of the Holy Cross, and he ended his days at the Trappist monastery of Sainte-Justine-de-Langevin, which he had entered in 1862.

Lagorce’s life in itself is not of particular interest. In 1848, when an institution for deaf mutes was started, Bishop Bourget was already looking for a founding priest. The work would have borne fruit at the same time without Lagorce’s zeal. But the founding of the Institution des Sourds-Muets illustrates two points in the religious history of Canada. If the church was the guiding spirit behind so many social undertakings in a country already involved in urbanization and social development, it was because its ideal of charity compelled it, as a duty, to fill the gaps left by the state and society. In February 1832 the parliament of Lower Canada had actually authorized the creation of a school for deaf mutes at Quebec, and had undertaken to support it financially. A layman, Ronald MacDonald*, had been put in charge, after he had studied, at Hartford, Conn., methods calculated to ensure its success. But in 1836 the legislature had withdrawn its encouragement of the newly begun project so that in 1849 there were in Canada 1,100 deaf mutes dependent on the charity of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, Lagorce’s undertaking proved that the religious communities usually were best able, through the coordination and continuity of their efforts, to ensure the permanence and stability of any charitable organization in the essentially Francophone Lower Canada of the 19th century. It was therefore in response to the needs of society that European religious communities were brought in or that new Canadian religious communities were established. Thus Bishop Bourget’s zeal proved to be far sighted and adapted to the requirements of his day.

Andrée Désilets

Archives des Clercs de Saint-Viateur, Province de Montréal (Montréal), II, N, États de service du père Irénée Lagorce; P, Institut des sourds-muets. Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, 26 févr. 1864. Mélanges religieux, 12 févr. 1850. Allaire, Dictionnaire. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, I, 391. [J.-P. Archambault], Une œuvre sociale: l’Institution des sourds-muets [. . .] (Montréal, 1949). Antoine Bernard, Les Clercs de Saint-Viateur au Canada (2v., Montréal, 1947–51), I, 650. Notices historiques sur l’Institution catholique des sourds-muets pour la province de Québec dirigée par les Clercs de Saint-Viateur, Mile-End, Montréal (Mile-End, 1893). Hector Tessier, Saint-Viateur d’Outremont (Outremont, Qué., 1954). “Centenaire de l’Institut des sourds-muets, 1848–1948,” L’Ami des sourds-muets (Montréal), octobre 1912, 74–84; avril-mai 1948, 25–40. “Les écoles des sourds-muets à l’exposition de Chicago,” La Semaine religieuse de Montréal, XXII (1893), 117–22. “L’Institution catholique des sourds-muets de Montréal,” L’Ami des sourds-muets, juillet–août 1939, 138–49. “Institution des sourds-muets,” et “L’Institution des sourds-muets au Mile-End, Montréal,” La Semaine religieuse de Montréal, XIX (1892), 299–302 et 237–239, 313–16. “Numéro-souvenir du 75e anniversaire de l’Institution des sourds-muets, 1848–1923, célébré le 16 mars 1924,” L’Ami des sourds-muets, mars–avril 1924, 118–32. Corine Rocheleau-Rouleau, “Parler est chose facile, vous croyez,” RHAF, IV (1950–51), 345–74. P.-G. Roy, “Les commencements de l’Institution des sourds-muets à Montréal,” BRH, XXX (1924), 70–79.

Cite This Article

Andrée Désilets, “LAGORCE, CHARLES-IRÉNÉE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 25, 2024,

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Author of Article:   Andrée Désilets
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   July 25, 2024