LEJAMTEL, FRANÇOIS, Roman Catholic priest and Spiritan; b. 10 Nov. 1757 near Granville, France; d. 22 May 1835 in Bécancour, Lower Canada.
François Lejamtel studied at the Séminaire du Saint-Esprit in Paris and was ordained on 14 June 1783. In either 1786 or 1787 he was sent as a missionary to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and assumed responsibility for the parish of La Blouterie on Saint-Pierre. When ordered to take the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy – termed by him an “iniquitous law” – he refused to do so and with another Spiritan priest, Jean-Baptiste Allain*, fled to the Îles de la Madeleine in August 1792. Shortly thereafter he went to Halifax and met with the superintendent of missions, the Reverend James Jones*. After taking the required oath of allegiance to George III of Great Britain as prescribed for Roman Catholics, Lejamtel was assigned to Arichat on Cape Breton Island.
Although installed as pastor of Arichat on 27 Sept. 1792 Lejamtel did not receive a land grant until 1803, and his efforts to establish parish boundaries met with delay. Another annoyance was the difficulty he encountered in gaining control of the Arichat church and presbytery. When Lejamtel arrived in the mission the title to the church property was still in the name of William Phelan, the previous missionary at Arichat, whom Jones had dismissed in April 1792. William Macarmick*, the lieutenant governor of Cape Breton, sympathized with Phelan and, fearing that Lejamtel would encourage disloyalty amongst the Acadians, allowed Phelan to keep the key to the Arichat church. In November 1792, after the heads of 111 Acadian families had petitioned on behalf of Lejamtel and Lejamtel himself had travelled to Sydney to present a certificate confirming that he had taken the oath of allegiance, Macarmick relented and authorized the French priest to take possession of the church. The presbytery, however, was another matter: as late as mid 1794 Lejamtel was complaining that the presbytery was occupied by tenants of Phelan.
Arichat at this time was a small but busy fishing and shipbuilding port and the logical centre for Lejamtel’s missionary activities. From there he visited the Indians at Chapel Island, the Acadians at Chéticamp and Magré (Margaree) on the west coast of Cape Breton, as well as the Irish Catholics at Louisbourg and Little Bras d’Or. In 1799 he made his first visit to Sydney and was appalled at the lack of Christian morality in that settlement. Although he was too busy to minister to Sydney frequently and eventually had to stop visiting the area altogether, he did conduct an annual tour there from 1799 to 1811 (with the exception of 1802 and 1805). In addition to this large area in Cape Breton, Lejamtel was required to care for Tracadie on the eastern mainland and, whenever possible, to visit Acadian families at Tor Bay and Molasses Harbour (Port Felix) in present-day Guysborough County. Such districts were remote and travel to them was practically confined to the summer months when ships could easily navigate the rocky shoreline.
Throughout his missionary years Lejamtel kept his superiors informed of his progress. Describing his travels in a letter of 1800 to Joseph-Octave Plessis, the coadjutor bishop of Quebec, Lejamtel wrote: “The wheel is always turning. In this way, when I am asked if I am well, I reply that I have no time to be sick. However, when it is God’s will, I will have to take the time. I sometimes feel fatigued, but I get my recreation in going from one place to another.” Considering the extent of his territory and the difficulty of travelling, his efforts were highly impressive. During the first nine years of his pastorate on Cape Breton and in the period from 1808 to 1814 he was the only priest on the island, and the survival of the Roman Catholic faith there depended mainly on his exertions. In his lifetime he was highly respected by Catholics and Protestants for his learning and the zeal he demonstrated for those under his care. The Acadians and the Micmacs have good reason to remember Lejamtel for his efforts to bring them spiritual consolation under trying conditions.
Lejamtel’s notable career as a missionary at Arichat ended in the summer of 1819, when he went to Lower Canada to become parish priest at Bécancour; he was succeeded in Arichat by the Reverend Rémi Gaulin*, later bishop of Kingston. He remained in Bécancour until his retirement on 1 Nov. 1833 and died there on 22 May 1835. An outstanding missionary of the Roman Catholic faith, Lejamtel was the last survivor of the Spiritans who had come to British North America because of the French revolution.
AAQ; 312 CN, I, III, VI (copies at Arch. of the Diocese of Antigonish, N.S.). PANS, RG 20B, 1, 16 March 1803. T. C. Haliburton, An historical and statistical account of Nova-Scotia (2v., Halifax, 1829; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1973). J.-O. Plessis, “Journal de deux voyages apostoliques dans le golfe Saint-Laurent et les provinces d’en bas, en 1811 et 1812 . . . ,” Le Foyer canadien (Québec), 3 (1865): 73–280; Journal des visites pastorales de 1815 et 1816, par Monseigneur Joseph-Octave Plessis, évêque de Québec, Henri Têtu, édit. (Québec, 1903). [R.J.] Uniacke, Uniacke’s sketches of Cape Breton and other papers relating to Cape Breton Island, ed. C. B. Fergusson (Halifax, 1958). Allaire, Dictionnaire, vol.1. Tanguay, Répertoire (1893). Richard Brown, A history of the island of Cape Breton, with some account of the discovery and settlement of Canada, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland (London, 1869). Anselme Chiasson, Chéticamp: histoire et traditions acadiennes (Moncton, N.-B., 1961). Johnston, Hist. of Catholic Church in eastern N.S., vol. 1. R. J. Morgan, “Orphan outpost.” C. W. Vernon, Cape Breton, Canada, at the beginning of the twentieth century: a treatise of natural resources and development (Toronto, 1903).