LANGEVIN, ADÉLARD (baptized Louis-Philippe-Adélard), Oblate of Mary Immaculate, priest, and archbishop; b. 23 Aug. 1855 in Saint-Isidore, near La Prairie, Lower Canada, one of the 16 children of François-Théophile Langevin and Marie-Paméla Racicot; d. 15 June 1915 in Montreal and was buried in St Boniface, Man.
Adélard Langevin’s parents were local notabilities. His father, a notary, was secretary to both the school board and the municipal council. His mother, the daughter of a notary, had studied briefly with the Sœurs du Sacré-Cœur. In 1867 they placed their son in the Petit Séminaire de Montréal, run by the Sulpicians. Langevin stood at the top of his class. After completing his classical studies in 1875, he entered minor orders and began teaching at his alma mater. Admitted to the Grand Séminaire de Montréal two years later, he was prevented by ill health from pursuing his theological training. He rested, served as a study master, and eventually received some private tutoring in theology. In 1881 he entered the noviciate of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Lachine after he had been discouraged by the Sulpicians from joining their ranks. The following year, on 30 July, he was ordained by Bishop Édouard-Charles Fabre* of Montreal in the chapel of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd (Angers), which had been erected with the support of Langevin’s uncle Zotique Racicot, then diocesan procurator.
A man of action and a gifted orator, straightforward and highly strung, Langevin seemed well suited to an order committed to fanning the flames of religious fervour among the lower classes and to proselytizing the native peoples. His talents were not wasted. Shortly after his ordination, he preached retreats and temperance crusades throughout the diocese from his base in the Oblate parish of Saint-Pierre-Apôtre in Montreal. His life took a different turn, however, after he contracted a mild form of smallpox during the epidemic that ravaged the city in 1885. The intense, quick-paced work of religious revival abruptly ended. After his recovery he devoted the next few years to teaching and administration in Ottawa.
The Oblates enjoyed a monopoly of Catholic higher education in Ottawa, controlling the College of Ottawa, the Grand Séminaire which trained secular priests, and the scholasticate which prepared members of their community. Despite his scant theological studies, Langevin became director of the Grand Séminaire and professor of moral theology. Following the death in 1886 of Joseph-Henri Tabaret*, rector of the college, Langevin stood third in the establishment’s Oblate hierarchy. In 1890 he was named associate dean of the faculty of theology, a promotion which probably led to the dd the college conferred on him. That same year he attended the general chapter of the Oblates in Paris.
At the request of Alexandre-Antonin Taché*, Oblate archbishop of St Boniface, Langevin was sent to western Canada, where he settled permanently. Arriving in St Boniface in July 1893, he was put in charge of Oblate institutions and personnel in the archdiocese and thus was Taché’s likely successor. By mid December he had also been named pastor of Winnipeg’s first and largely English-speaking parish, St Mary’s. Taché’s death the following year left the diocesan clergy divided. Secular priests, who made up nearly half the contingent, insisted that his successor come from their ranks because St Boniface was no longer a mission territory. Taché, however, had earlier convinced the Oblates that they should continue to administer the archdiocese. After a six-month hiatus, Pope Leo XIII appointed the 39-year-old Langevin on 8 Jan. 1895. He was consecrated archbishop by Fabre, aided by Joseph-Thomas Duhamel* of Ottawa and Oblate Vital-Justin Grandin* of St Albert on 19 March.
As archbishop, Langevin presided over the ecclesiastical province of St Boniface. As well as his own archdiocese, the province included the diocese of St Albert, which roughly corresponded to the southern half of the present province of Alberta, and the vicariates of Athabasca-Mackenzie and Saskatchewan. The first spanned parts of what are now the Yukon and the Northwest Territories as well as northern British Columbia and Alberta. The second stretched to Hudson Bay and the eastern Arctic from its southern border with St Boniface. In 1895 the archdiocese of St Boniface itself had 24,000 Catholics, mostly French-speaking, but with some Irish, Germans, Flemings, and native people. It encompassed the southern halves of present-day Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as the land east of the Nelson River to Lake Superior. At Langevin’s death in 1915, the massive influx of immigrants from Europe and other parts of North America had altered the face of this territory. There were then over 160,000 Catholics, of whom roughly a third were French-speaking, another third were Ukrainian, and the rest included, in descending order, Germans, anglophones, and Poles, among others. Five years earlier, however, a portion of St Boniface had been removed to form the diocese of Regina, suffragan to St Boniface. That same year the archdiocese lost part of its northern frontier to the newly created vicariate of Keewatin, also suffragan. These alterations left St Boniface with about 97,800 Catholics. Less than a third were of French origin, and there were as many Poles as there were English-speakers. In 1912 Ukrainian Catholics across Canada, including 30,000 in the archdiocese, had been detached from the Latin hierarchy and placed under the authority of their own Eastern-rite bishop. Langevin’s 20-year episcopate had witnessed portentous changes.
The issue of Catholic educational rights in the prairies immediately confronted Langevin; it would dominate his years in office and dog him to the grave. Three weeks after his appointment, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council handed down its judgement in Brophy and others v. Attorney-General of Manitoba. It found that Ottawa could indeed redress the wrongs done to Catholics in Manitoba by the abolition in 1890 of the denominational school system under Liberal premier Thomas Greenway*. The JCPC added rather enigmatically, however, that “it is certainly not essential that the statutes repealed by the Act of 1890 should be re-enacted.” After a long delay, the federal Conservatives, led in effect by Sir Charles Tupper, finally introduced in the last months of their parliamentary mandate in 1896 a bill substantially restoring these rights. The Liberals, led by Wilfrid Laurier, mounted a filibuster with the result that the bill was withdrawn shortly before the dissolution of parliament on 24 April.
Faced with imminent elections, the Quebec hierarchy signed a collective pastoral letter in May 1896 obliging Catholics in conscience to vote only for candidates who supported remedial legislation. Langevin issued a similar directive to his own diocesans. Despite these actions, Laurier’s Liberals emerged triumphant on a platform of gentle persuasion. In November the Laurier–Greenway agreement was signed. It allowed for religious instruction in the public schools after hours and, where numbers warranted it, for the hiring of teachers of the same denomination as the students, as well as for instruction in English and in the students’ native tongue. Confronted by the French Canadian hierarchy’s implacable opposition to the arrangement, the Liberals mounted an international lobby at the Vatican [see Jean-Baptiste Proulx*], accusing the clergy of political partisanship. Laurier pressed for the appointment of a permanent apostolic delegate who would keep priests out of politics. In March 1897 the Holy See sent Rafael Merry del Val on a special mission to smooth over the strained relations between clerics and politicians. Following a four-month stay, the envoy prepared a report which formed the basis for Leo XIII’s Affari vos. The encyclical termed the Laurier–Greenway agreement defective and inadequate, but urged Canadian bishops to accept it and to try to improve it.
Throughout these events Langevin was kept very much on the sidelines. He would not be satisfied with anything less than the full restoration of Catholic education, including church control of Catholic schools. Since politicians had not the slightest intention of realizing these objectives, he was ignored in talks leading up to the Laurier–Greenway agreement. As well, although his position had the approval of high-ranking officials at the Vatican, Laurier had managed to convince Rome that the issue was one involving relations not only between the Catholic minority and the Protestant majority, but between the dominion and the British empire. Officials at the Holy See were persuaded that diplomatic considerations should override strictly moral ones. The archbishop was therefore not consulted in the intense negotiations carried on between Laurier and Merry del Val. He would also be largely marginalized by the first two resident apostolic delegates, Diomede Falconio and Donato Sbarretti y Tazza, who were led to believe that Laurier’s sunny ways would effectively restore Catholic rights.
Following Merry del Val’s mission, Langevin no longer had strong support from his Quebec colleagues, who had been told by Rome not to interfere in politics. Meanwhile, federal politicians loudly proclaimed that the Manitoba school question had been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Langevin was left on his own to extract whatever minor improvements he could from federal and provincial politicians. As a result, Manitoba Catholics lived in a dual regime. Rural and largely French-speaking communities had Catholic schools in all but name, at public expense. In cities such as Winnipeg and Brandon, Catholics were subjected to double taxation if they sent their children to Catholic schools. Despite his best efforts, Langevin was often criticized by English-speaking Catholics for being inept and having a mentality too foreign to wrest concessions from governments, while his French-speaking diocesans could not understand his obsession with the school question. Laurier and the Vatican’s envoys, for their part, accused him of damaging their work of conciliation by his excitable, partisan, and inflexible nature. Langevin, however, understood that the Laurier–Greenway agreement fell well short of what the Brophy judgement allowed; that, given the intense hostility of Manitoba’s urban Protestants, Catholic educational rights could be secured only through federal intervention; and that failure to act would undermine such rights elsewhere in Canada.
The archbishop’s fears were soon realized. Another school crisis erupted in 1905 when the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were created. Initially Langevin and Sbarretti were on the same side, pleading for the entrenchment of denominational education in these provinces, as well as for Catholic control of such schools and adequate public funding for them. The issue provoked a cabinet crisis in Ottawa when Clifford Sifton* resigned on 27 Feb. 1905, arguing that the provinces should be left to determine their own educational systems. Laurier’s subsequent inability to deliver on promises he had made to prelates, including Sbarretti, left clerical leaders bitterly divided.
Langevin wanted the Quebec hierarchy to mount a public campaign in favour of Catholic rights in the west. A diplomat first, Sbarretti backed off from his earlier stand in the hope that improvements could be achieved in a less heated environment. His position was supported by a key player in the Quebec episcopate, Archbishop Paul Bruchési* of Montreal, a former classmate and rival of Langevin, as well as an ally of Laurier. Not even in his own ecclesiastical province was Langevin able to achieve consensus, since Bishop Émile-Joseph Legal of St Albert aligned himself with Sbarretti. In the end, no further concessions were forthcoming in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where only a minority of Catholics, those who constituted a majority in their school districts, had the right to their own publicly funded schools. Catholic education was further eroded in 1912 when Ottawa extended Manitoba’s boundaries to incorporate the District of Keewatin. Langevin urged the Conservatives under Prime Minister Robert Laird Borden* to guarantee the existing rights of Keewatin’s Catholics, but was defeated by those who argued once again for provincial autonomy. He came to the bitter realization that when Protestant opinion clamoured for common schools, politicians were unwilling to fight for minority rights and his own episcopal colleagues were loath to risk political confrontation and crisis.
In Langevin’s opinion the survival and expansion of a living Catholic culture in North America depended on language almost as much as on denominational education. He shared the vision of Peter Paul Cahensly, a contemporary German-American Catholic, of an America of ethnic communities, each preserving its language and culture and having the church at the core of its social life. The alternative, he feared, was massive loss of faith resulting from assimilation, a development that Cahenslyists believed had reached alarming proportions in the United States. For this reason, it was vitally important to have multilingual priests and nuns who could serve the particular needs of various groups. Accordingly, while Langevin recruited secular priests, he welcomed the establishment in the archdiocese of close to 20 male and female religious communities which had both the financial and the cultural resources for such work. These included the multilingual Redemptorist priests (1898) and Benedictine sisters (1905), the German-speaking Ursulines of Cologne (1905), and the Ukrainian-speaking Basilian Order of St Josaphat (1905) and Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate (1905). He also encouraged the foundation in 1904 of the Missionary Oblates of the Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate, a teaching order working in poor missions and parishes. Langevin promoted the publication of Catholic newspapers in French, German, Polish, and Ukrainian. He was also instrumental in getting the Conservative premier Rodmond Palen Roblin* to institute Polish and Ukrainian teacher-training schools to form bilingual teachers. His vision was in opposition to the program of cultural homogeneity promoted by the British Canadian political élite with the support of some prominent English-speaking Catholics.
Ukrainians presented the archbishop with a unique problem. Their worship was conducted according to the Eastern rite. As immigrants, they were bereft of spiritual services because in 1894 the Holy See had barred married priests, who made up almost all of their clergy, from immigrating to the Americas. Since Langevin himself feared the introduction of such clerics in the west, he thought it best that Ukrainians gradually be initiated into the Latin rite by local Polish priests who spoke their language. He had not reckoned with the Ukrainians’ deep-seated suspicion of the Latin clergy caused by the Polish church’s centuries-old efforts at assimilation. Although he soon admitted to his archdiocese unmarried priests belonging to the Basilian Order of St Josaphat, the prelate clung to Latinization as the only long-term solution and, to this end, encouraged a few French-speaking clerics to go over to the Eastern rite in the hope that they would bridge the gap between the two rites.
In view of the massive influx of Ukrainians to Canada in the first decade of the century and the imminent danger represented by the proselytizing of Protestants and Orthodox alike, Rome concluded that Ukrainians would not be satisfied until they had their own bishop. Pressured by the apostolic delegate, Pellegrino Francesco Stagni, to accept this proposal, Langevin reluctantly agreed. In December 1912 Nykyta Budka*, apostolic exarch of Canada, officially took possession of his see in Winnipeg. Ukrainian Catholics across the country were detached from the Latin hierarchy and placed under his authority. Even then, Langevin continued to contribute important sums of money to Ukrainian works, including the parish, school, and newspaper in Winnipeg, the outlying missions, and the training of priests.
Never an ethnic prelate, Langevin nevertheless shared Taché’s dream that French Canadians would form a compact corridor of settlement from Quebec to the Rockies. In his own words, “All Catholics are welcome, but the French are doubly so.” For him it was a simple matter of persuading the multitude of French Canadians emigrating to the United States to turn westward instead. He also hoped for the repatriation of Franco-Americans, who were actively courted by colonizer-priests appointed by him and paid by the federal or provincial government. Through Catholic networks, including religious orders established in his archdiocese, he recruited settlers from France and Belgium. These significant initiatives produced only paltry results, so that in the end French speakers formed isolated and relatively small settlements in comparison with the overall population. Responsibility for this failure was attributed to governments hostile to Catholic interests and especially to Sifton, minister of the interior from 1896 to 1905, whose colonizing zeal extended to what Langevin termed “the ragged coming out of Russia and the Socialists,” but not the French. Somehow, too, Langevin felt that the Quebec clergy, because of its fear of losing its faithful, had not done enough to encourage the movement westward. He could not appreciate the essentially economic forces that drew French Canadian emigrants to the United States.
Although French speakers comprised the plurality of Catholics in the dioceses of St Boniface, Regina, and St Albert in 1911, their relative decline with respect to other ethnic groups fuelled the battle over episcopal nominations. As metropolitan of all prairie dioceses, Langevin argued, with some justification, that bishops of French origin should continue to be appointed to his ecclesiastical province because they alone valued and encouraged cultural diversity. For their part, English-speaking Catholic leaders, seeing themselves as associate gatekeepers of the nation, were just as insistent that they alone could bring about the assimilation of immigrants. To this end the Catholic Church Extension Society had been organized in 1908 by a group of prominent Catholics including Archbishop Fergus Patrick McEvay of Toronto. Led by an ardent imperialist, the Reverend Alfred Edward Burke*, the society had no French Canadian clerics on its board of directors and aroused Langevin’s anger because of its intrusions into his archdiocese.
Meanwhile pressure mounted to have English-speaking bishops and religious orders on the prairies. When the diocese of Regina was created in 1910, Langevin was unable to obtain the appointment of his nominee, Arthur Béliveau, who would nevertheless become his auxiliary bishop with right of succession in 1913. As a result of strong pressure from English-speaking Catholics to have one of their own appointed bishop, Rome had closely investigated the ethnic composition of the Catholic population of Regina before choosing Olivier-Elzéar Mathieu, an intimate friend of Laurier. In November 1912 the Holy See detached the present province of Alberta from Langevin’s ecclesiastical province, creating the new archdiocese of Edmonton and making Calgary into a diocese whose incumbent, John Thomas McNally*, was appointed a few months later without Langevin’s consultation. Langevin denounced this and other plots to anglicize French speakers and non-British immigrants. “It is the beginning of the end for us and our works. And it is the Holy See that apparently strikes at us,” he complained. Rome had in fact come to the conclusion that the claims of English-speaking Catholics were on the whole justified; thus by 1920 all major prairie dioceses were in their hands. Langevin was spared the ultimate indignity of witnessing the division of his own archdiocese, which occurred shortly after his death. The new archdiocese of Winnipeg was given to Alfred Arthur Sinnott*, former secretary of the apostolic delegation.
In the late spring of 1915 an ailing Langevin attended the jubilee celebrations for Louis-Nazaire Cardinal Bégin* in Quebec City. On his way back to St Boniface, he stopped at Montreal, where the diabetes that had undermined his health in previous years took its toll. Death came within hours of his admittance to the Hôtel-Dieu. Ironically two prelates most closely identified with Laurier in the school controversies played major roles at his funeral. Bishop Joseph-Médard Emard* of the diocese of Valleyfield gave the eulogy in Saint-Jacques cathedral in Montreal, and Bruchési said the mass. Bruchési then accompanied Langevin back to Winnipeg, where they were met by 20,000 people at the train station. After funeral masses said in Eastern and Latin rites, Langevin was laid to rest in the crypt of the cathedral he had built.
Adélard Langevin was on the losing side of history. A theological conservative, he surrounded himself with advisers such as the controversial Dom Paul Benoit, who firmly believed in the church’s leadership in civil society. He waged war on clerics who shied away from wearing soutanes in public, arguing that a Catholic priest should proudly proclaim his status even in overwhelmingly Protestant cultures. An ardent adversary of theological modernism, he aligned himself rigidly with Pius X. For all his fidelity, however, the Holy See would not support his struggles for denominational education and cultural diversity, preferring to heed the easy optimism of politicians and the smug assertions of English-language prelates.
A passionate defender of the equality of French and English Canadians, Langevin was apparently the one who goaded Henri Bourassa* into refuting the assertion of the archbishop of Westminster, Francis Alphonsus Bourne, at the International Eucharistic Congress in 1910 that the progress of North American Catholicism depended on the English language. He was an active participant in the first congress of the French language held in Quebec City two years later [see Stanislas-Alfred Lortie] and he promoted French in those bleak years when it was under bitter and prolonged attack. A founder of the Société Historique de Saint-Boniface in 1902, he encouraged French Canadians to be aware of their long presence on the prairies. Yet their failure to follow him out west in sufficient numbers made it increasingly difficult for him and others to argue in favour of their special place in the western church and in society. His growing focus on immigrants from continental Europe continues to sustain his compatriots’ incomprehension and criticism.
Langevin was certainly wrong in expecting immigrant cultures to survive intact on the prairies, but he did provide services to newcomers in their native tongue, something his English-speaking colleagues in Canada and the United States were reluctant to do. Even there his legacy was obscured by politicians who manipulated public opinion through patronage. Awarded printing contracts and government advertising, the multilingual and partisan prairie press was all too happy to use Langevin as a favourite whipping boy. In the end, “the great wounded man from the west” was defeated by diplomacy, demography, and political smugness.
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Cite This Article
Roberto Perin, “LANGEVIN, ADÉLARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/langevin_adelard_14E.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:
|Author of Article:||Roberto Perin|
|Title of Article:||LANGEVIN, ADÉLARD|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||June 2, 2023|