LE COURTOIS, FRANÇOIS-GABRIEL, Roman Catholic priest and Eudist; b. 29 Aug. 1763 in Tirepied, France, son of Jacques Courtois and Marguerite Le Ménager; d. 18 May 1828 in Saint-Laurent, Île d’Orléans, Lower Canada.
François-Gabriel Le Courtois is believed to have begun his studies at the college run by the Eudists in Avranches, France. He joined the order in 1784 and continued his training at Valognes. Ordained priest at Bayeux on 21 Sept. 1787, he was admitted as a member of the community of the Congrégation de Jésus et Marie (Eudists) the following year. Then he taught the Philosophy program at the Collège de Valognes.
During the French revolution Le Courtois refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy imposed by the National Constituent Assembly on 1 Oct. 1791. He went into exile in England in October 1792, joining some of his colleagues. Two years later, through the agency of Jean-François de La Marche, bishop of Saint-Pol-de-Léon, and at the request of Jean-François Hubert*, bishop of Quebec, Le Courtois was sent to Lower Canada. He reached Quebec in June 1794, along with abbés Louis-Joseph Desjardins*, dit Desplantes, Jean-Baptiste-Marie Castanet*, and Jean-Denis Daulé*.
After spending a few days at the Séminaire de Québec, Le Courtois was sent to minister to the parish of Saint-Philippe-et-Saint-Jacques at Saint-Vallier. On 18 September he was transferred to Saint-Nicolas, where his four years as priest proved fruitful. In 1798 Le Courtois asked for a larger charge. Hubert assigned him Rimouski, the king’s trading posts, and the Montagnais mission. Ministry to this territory was no sinecure. Besides serving Rimouski, Le Courtois had to cover an area extending from Trois-Pistoles to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts on the south shore of the St Lawrence, as well as the Saguenay, Lac Saint-Jean, and the north shore. The distances were enormous and the means of transportation rudimentary – circumstances to dismay the most intrepid. In May 1799 Le Courtois signed his first entry in the parish registers at Tadoussac. The next year he journeyed beyond Natashquan, on the lower north shore, and there encountered Indians who in some instances had never seen a priest. Because he was unfamiliar with the language of the Montagnais and had difficulty communicating with them, he feared that on his missionary visits he would carry out his ministry badly. Like his predecessors, the Jesuit fathers, he also had to fight against the sale of spirits to the Indians.
In 1806 the bishop of Quebec, Joseph-Octave Plessis, put Le Courtois in charge of the parish of Saint-Étienne at La Malbaie. Le Courtois took up his post on 10 Jan. 1807. As the first resident priest in the parish, he made it his business to finish the church, which he subsequently continued decorating. All the gold needed for gilding was brought from France at his expense. He also furnished it with a huge lamp, a basin for holy water, a monstrance, and altar cruets, all in solid silver.
Despite appearances Le Courtois was delicate. By the time he came to the colony, he was suffering from serious disabilities. In 1808 Plessis asked him explicitly to seek medical treatment and to conserve his strength. He added that this kind of need “is what we, strong-willed men who always think we are above being ill, have difficulty understanding.” Four years later he sent a deacon to spend the winter with Le Courtois and be initiated into ministry to the Indians.
Judging himself unable to minister to his parish properly, Le Courtois asked Plessis in September 1822 to give him a smaller one. On condition that he visit the Indians in the Saguenay region from time to time, in November the archbishop assigned him the parish of Saint-Laurent, on Île d’Orleans. Le Courtois took up his task, but his zeal was quickly thwarted by his growing disabilities. He was forced to resign in 1827 and seek permission to live in the presbytery of Saint-Roch parish at Quebec. In the spring of 1828, in an effort to recover his failing health, he returned to Saint-Laurent to live in a parishioner’s home. He died there on 18 May.
AD, Manche (Saint-Lô), État civil, Tirepied, 29 août 1763. ANQ-Q, CE1-10, 21 mai 1828. Allaire, Dictionnaire. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Denaut,” ANQ Rapport, 1931–32; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Hubert et de Mgr Bailly de Messein,” 1930–31; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Panet,” 1933–34; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Plessis,” 1927–28; 1928–29. Arthur Buies, Le Saguenay et la vallée du lac St. Jean (Québec, 1880). Dionne, Les ecclésiastiques et les royalistes français. Charles Guay, Chronique de Rimouski (2v., Québec, 1873–74). J.-D. Michaud, Le Bic, les étapes d’une paroisse (2v., Québec, 1925–26). É.-T. Paquet, Fragments de l’histoire religieuse et civile de la paroisse Saint-Nicolas (Lévis, Qué., 1894). J.-E. Roy, Hist. de Lauzon. René Bélanger, “Les prêtres séculiers du diocèse de Québec, missionnaires au Domaine du roi et dans la seigneurie de Mingan, de 1769 à 1845,” CCHA. Rapport, 23 (1955–56): 13–23. Émile George, “À travers vingt-cinq années d’apostolat, les eudistes au Canada, 1896–1916,” Rev. acadienne (Montréal), 1 (1917): 153–55. J.-C. Taché, “Forestiers et voyageurs; étude de mœurs,” Les Soirées canadiennes; recueil de littérature nationale (Québec), 3 (1863): 125–28: