Original title:  Description Thomas Maguire Date c.1854 Source This image is available from the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec under the reference number P560,S2,D1,P841

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MAGUIRE, THOMAS, Roman Catholic priest, vicar general, author, and educator; b. 9 May 1776 in Philadelphia, son of John Maguire and Margaret Swite; d. 17 July 1854 at Quebec.

Thomas Maguire was the son of an Irish Catholic who had emigrated first to Philadelphia and then in 1776 as a loyalist to Halifax, where he became commissary general. In 1788, possibly already destined for a sacerdotal career in the Maritime missions, Thomas was sent to the Petit Séminaire de Québec. A professor reported in 1791 that he was “very deserving of praise, gifted with a penetrating mind,” zealous, and diligent. In 1794 he was prefect of the Congrégation de la Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie-Immaculée, the highest student position in that fraternity. He seems to have entered the Grand Séminaire in 1795, and two years later he was appointed secretary of the diocese of Quebec, an important administrative post usually given to an ecclesiastic of potential so as to familiarize him with the diocese and its operation. He was ordained priest on 11 Oct. 1799 and about that time was named senior curate at the cathedral of Notre-Dame, Quebec, by Bishop Pierre Denaut*. There he would learn administration from the parish priest, Joseph-Octave Plessis*, recently named coadjutor bishop. Maguire became so essential to Plessis that Denaut left him at Notre-Dame for six years. In October 1805 he was sent to Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (at Berthier-sur-Mer), a small parish of some 350 communicants.

In February 1806 Denaut appointed Maguire to Saint-Michel, a prosperous agricultural parish about 20 miles downriver from Quebec, and to the subsidiary charge of Beaumont which he held until 1814; the total number of their communicants was triple that at Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption. A few months after his arrival the church of Saint-Michel was gutted by fire but, building from the old walls, Maguire had his congregation worshipping in a new structure by August 1807. However, the building and decoration of the church, with paintings by Louis Dulongpré* and William Berczy* and European canvases from a collection sent to Quebec by Philippe-Jean-Louis Desjardins*, were not terminated until at least 1814. Despite the extraordinary expenses of rebuilding, Maguire finished every year from 1806 to 1817 with a surplus in the parish treasury. He was no less diligent in his pastoral duties, visiting his parishioners at least once a year, preaching regularly, and ferreting promising boys, such as Augustin-Norbert Morin*, out of his catechism classes for the priesthood. His parish was in general quiet, and he its undisputed master. In 1818 Edmund Burke*, newly appointed vicar apostolic of Nova Scotia, requested Maguire as his coadjutor; bulls were issued in October 1819, but he refused them.

Maguire was interested in education and felt that its development by the clergy would increase clerical vocations. In May 1821 Plessis named him to a committee at Quebec headed by Joseph-François Perrault* to draft the constitution of the Quebec Education Society. In 1822 he and several other priests launched the Société pour Encourager l’Éducation Ecclésiastique to finance the education of clerical candidates from poor families. He was probably the author of a memorandum, written about 1822, attributing to a faulty education the intellectual mediocrity, lack of urbanity, and rough-hewn language of most clergy as well as the loss “of that importance which assured our number, and above all that sovereign influence which we were able to turn not only to the good of religion but also to the temporal advantage of our flock, cruelly oppressed from all sides.” A more secular curriculum would attract the professional and wealthy classes who were already drifting to non-denominational or even Protestant schools.

Throughout the 1820s Maguire engaged in polemical work. He supported Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue* in his struggle with the Sulpicians in the Montreal district. From about 1814 to 1824 he promoted the idea of a clerical newspaper but failed to rouse the interest of the clergy. In 1827 he replied anonymously in the Quebec Gazette to William Smith*’s History of Canada . . . (issued in 1826), which he saw as a continuation of “concerted and constant efforts of prejudice and malevolence to denigrate the Canadians, depress their institutions, and cast a pall over their religion.” His anger with Smith was equalled only by his dismay that leaders of the Canadian party, such as Denis-Benjamin Viger* and Louis-Joseph Papineau*, did not make common cause with him on the basis of “the close connection that exists between our civil and religious institutions.”

Maguire’s educational and polemical activities were restricted by his incessant duties as parish priest of Saint-Michel. In September 1827 Plessis’s successor, Archbishop Bernard-Claude Panet*, appointed him principal of the Collège de Saint-Hyacinthe, begun in 1809 by Antoine Girouard*. Maguire sought to raise the college’s standards, encourage the theological studies of its regents, and improve its library. However, a number of disagreements with Lartigue, the college’s superior, over administrative and philosophical questions prompted Lartigue to suggest to Panet in July 1828 that Maguire be removed as principal and made editor of an ecclesiastical newspaper. “His way would be to study and write,” Lartigue felt, “which he could do advantageously if he were directed by someone who would moderate his hotheadedness and impetuous reasoning.”

Panet ignored this suggestion, but in June 1829, on Lartigue’s insistence, he sent Maguire and Pierre-Antoine Tabeau* on a mission to London and Rome. Their most important objectives were to stop a proposed transfer of the estates of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal to the colonial government in exchange for a pension for the Sulpicians [see Jean-Henry-Auguste Roux*], to seek authorization for letters patent for the Collège de Saint-Hyacinthe, to negotiate a procedure for nominating the coadjutor bishops at Quebec and Montreal, and to obtain London’s agreement to the creation of the diocese of Montreal. They failed in London, and in Rome their only success was to get suspended, but not revoked, an authorization previously accorded by Propaganda to the Sulpicians enabling them to transfer their estates.

In early 1830, on the return trip through Paris, Maguire published Recueil de notes diverses sur le gouvernement d’une paroisse, l’administration des sacremens to guide young priests through “the interminable labyrinth of our often contradictory customs . . . which trip us up at every step.” The work was timely, for the liberal bourgeoisie in many parishes had begun an aggressive campaign to undermine the influence of the parish priest, particularly in the administration of the fabrique. Maguire’s manual made the clergy aware of their rights. His attempts to consult with the bishops in Lower Canada while compiling the work had produced disappointing results and even some hostility on Lartigue’s part over Maguire’s treatment of certain topics, and the publication of the work in Paris without episcopal authorization from Quebec probably intensified ill feeling between the two men. Nevertheless, Maguire’s book ultimately became the accepted manual of Roman Catholic parish administration in Lower Canada.

Maguire and Tabeau arrived back in Lower Canada in July 1830, and Maguire returned to Saint-Hyacinthe. He immediately drafted a program to restore the disastrous finances of the institution. By June 1831, according to a professor, Joseph-Sabin Raymond*, Maguire had “all the business of the house in hand” and was “placing things on a very good footing.” However, his relations with Lartigue had deteriorated further, while those with the college’s regents, for the most part theology students, had become increasingly strained. Maguire found them too immature and too poorly grounded in theology to be effective teachers but too busy teaching to progress as theology students. With enrolment at the college declining inexorably and rumours of impending student boycotts and revolts filling the air, Lartigue dismissed Maguire in August 1831. The principal believed himself a victim of those who opposed his reforms and was humiliated. “I leave heart-broken with pain, and God knows what will be the result of it; life is crushing me.”

Maguire spurned Lartigue’s face-saving offer of an honourable position in Montreal and accepted a temporary posting as professor of philosophy at the Séminaire de Québec. In April 1832 he was transferred to the chaplaincy of the Ursulines of Quebec, succeeding Jean-Denis Daulé Meanwhile, he collaborated with Joseph Signay*, Panet’s coadjutor bishop, in the drafting of a diocesan ritual and of the clergy’s reply to a bill introduced into the House of Assembly by the Canadian party aimed at reducing clerical influence in the fabriques. In July 1833 he published Le clergé canadien vengé par ses ennemis, an attack on a book entitled Tableau statistique et politique des deux Canadas (Paris, 1833) by French littérateur Isidore-Frédéric-Thomas Lebrun. Seeing in the work an attempt by Canadian liberals to introduce into Lower Canada, through Lebrun, French “irreligious liberalism and with it revolutionary fanaticism,” Maguire warned against confiding the destiny of the colony to liberal politicians.

Lartigue was anxious to find a prestigious position for Maguire, preferably outside Lower Canada, and he had tried in 1830 to have him appointed coadjutor with the bishop of Kingston, Alexander McDonell*. He had warned Panet in September 1831 that Maguire’s dismissal in apparent disgrace had produced complaints from many “who rightly esteem him.” Panet and then his successor Signay refused Lartigue’s suggestion that Maguire be sent back to Rome to defend the bishops’ positions against Saint-Sulpice, which was energetically represented by Jean-Baptiste Thavenet*. In 1833 rumours that Rome intended to replace Signay’s choice as coadjutor, Pierre-Flavien Turgeon*, with Jean-Baptiste Saint-Germain*, a priest allied with the Sulpicians, induced Signay to reconsider. On 16 Sept. 1833 Signay appointed Maguire his vicar general and procurator at the Vatican to obtain bulls for Turgeon, as coadjutor archbishop of Quebec, and to solve other problems.

Maguire arrived in Rome on 5 Dec. 1833. By day he pored over accounts with Thavenet, who was the financial representative in Europe for the Lower Canadian religious communities and with whom he had been authorized by several of them to arrive at a final audit. The two disagreed frequently because of the frightful state of the accounts and they finally came to an impasse in May 1834. Still Maguire had seen enough to estimate that during Thavenet’s agency the communities had collectively lost between 150,000 and 160,000 francs in the bankruptcies of two large European financial houses. By night, often using information gleaned during the day from an unwary Thavenet, Maguire prepared his cases on other matters for the cardinals of Propaganda. Thavenet had immense influence with them but Maguire found an important exception: the prefect of Propaganda, Angelo Mai. Maguire lost almost all his cases in the formal deliberations of the cardinals but, by presenting vigorous memoranda to the pope through Mai who defended them, he succeeded in getting Propaganda’s adverse decisions changed. Turgeon’s bulls were issued and Maguire obtained a further suspension of Saint-Sulpice’s authorization to alienate its estates. In addition, he negotiated a formula for determining future coadjutors at Quebec that blocked Saint-Sulpice’s efforts to secure a determining voice. Finally, over Thavenet’s opposition, he obtained bulls for Tabeau as auxiliary bishop and successor to Lartigue. Maguire failed only to persuade Rome to negotiate with London the creation of the diocese of Montreal. In his free moments Maguire went sightseeing, conducted research in the history and cartography of the French in North America for Georges-Barthélemi Faribault*, and acted as agent for Bishop McDonell.

Lartigue agitated to have Maguire remain permanently in Rome to oppose Thavenet, but Maguire insisted on returning, convinced that the task was done. In December 1834 he departed, leaving behind memoranda on the machinations of Thavenet and the Sulpicians. Maguire arrived in Montreal on 29 May 1835. He refused offers by Lartigue to become administrative assistant and vicar general at Montreal after Tabeau’s untimely death but accepted Signay’s invitations to become his vicar general and return as chaplain to the Ursulines. He had formed a strong mutual attachment with the nuns and their young charges. From Rome in 1834 he had assured “my children of the boarding-school” that, although the schoolgirls there appeared to him friendly and good, “I would not truck one of mine for a half dozen of them.”

As chaplain, and in close collaboration with the superior, Marie-Louise McLoughlin*, named de Saint-Henri, Maguire addressed himself to the financial morass in which the Ursulines found themselves as a result of poor administration. He put the community’s tangled financial and land records into such order as would enable the nuns to collect unpaid rents and other charges accruing from their properties. He launched a number of lawsuits and urged the community to seek the assembly’s assistance in pressing the government to pay for the site of the citadel, which he claimed had been Ursuline property and was worth £111,000. In the 1840s and early 1850s he saw to the construction of buildings to bring in rental revenues. Under his astute and aggressive management, the Ursulines realized from 1837 to 1853 a total profit of £40,000. In about the same period they were able to add three wings to the convent.

Maguire also considerably enriched the spiritual life of the community. Having been struck by miracles he had witnessed in 1834 at the tomb of Sainte-Philomène in Naples, the following year he had constructed the chapel of Sainte-Philomène, in which thenceforth the Ursulines worshipped during winter. After a minute study of the documents, he relaxed their fasting practices in order to remove any danger to their health but fought a long and acerbic theological debate with the hierarchy to tighten observance of the cloister.

The Ursulines ran the premier female educational institution in the colony but, for reasons which included lack of both French textbooks and sisters capable of teaching in English, it had diminished in popularity with parents. Among the measures taken to restore the school’s prestige was the establishment of the “Règlement des élèves du pensionnat des Dames Ursulines de Québec,” drawn up by Maguire on Turgeon’s orders and in consultation with Mother Saint-Henri and the teaching sisters. It codified existing practice and introduced ideas collected during visits to Ursuline convents at Lyons and Naples and to the major schools of Rome and Paris. Teaching at the convent was to be based on a number of fundamental principles: classes containing students of equal strength, encouragement of comprehension rather than rote learning, short lessons to maintain interest, unlimited patience with dull students, maintenance of discipline through promotion of goodness rather than scolding for misdemeanours, and interdiction of corporal punishment. His curriculum determined for decades the nature of education dispensed by the Ursulines to the girls of Quebec and reflected current views on the social role of women. When teaching arithmetic, instructors should “put aside all that can nourish a purely speculative curiosity” for “questions of real utility, of daily practice.” On the other hand, the teaching of music “lends glory to the institution.” Also taught were chemistry, physics, and natural history, all on a “purely elementary” level; composition, versification, and oral reading; English and French; needlework, calligraphy, drawing, and painting. Lessons in civility constituted “an essential part of careful education, especially of female persons.”

History was a subject of predilection for Maguire, who corresponded frequently with Jacques Viger on historical matters, acquired an invaluable collection of Ursuline manuscripts in Paris, and authored a fine manuscript history of the physical evolution of the Quebec convent. His curriculum called for non-controversial church history in regular classes, attended by Protestant as well as Catholic girls, but he insisted on points of controversy in the catechism classes he himself taught in order to counter what he perceived as a Protestant offensive in the colony. Secular history courses placed “in the first rank the history of our Canada,” and included readings from the Abrégé de l’histoire du Canada . . . (4 vol., Quebec, 1832–36) by Joseph-François Perrault.

In the midst of his activities as chaplain, Maguire continued his polemical work. In 1838 he published Doctrine de l’Église catholique d’Irlande et de celle du Canada, sur la révolte, a collection of documents theologically justifying Lartigue’s condemnation of armed rebellion in Lower Canada. Three years later appeared the Manuel des difficultés les plus communes de la langue française, destined for use in grammar schools. In it Maguire pleaded for the alignment of the French language in Lower Canada with that in France but his vigorous denunciation of numerous Canadianisms drew a strong rebuttal in the Quebec Gazette, probably from Jérôme Demers, superior of the Séminaire de Québec, who defended the idea of a correct Canadian French.

Although severely arthritic, Maguire enjoyed good health into the 1840s. In 1845, however, he described himself as “burdened with infirmities,” and in March 1852 he asked two Ursulines to “pray hard for your old friend” when influenza nearly carried him off. In December 1853 he bequeathed almost his entire estate to Saint Louis University’s mission to the Indians, in which he seems to have become interested only the year before. On 17 July 1854 he died of an inflammation of the lungs, complicated by cholera. Turgeon buried him the following day under the sanctuary of the Ursulines’ chapel.

Thomas Maguire was a study in contradictions, a man capable of extremes of enthusiasm and self-discipline, agitated, passionate, yet tempered with a compassionate heart and a gift for cold analysis. However vehemently he had embraced the cause of the Canadian church and people, Lartigue wished to see him out of Lower Canada and the nationalist Viger considered him a foreigner; the cardinals in Rome, on the other hand, viewed him as a bothersome Canadian. An obituary described him as an active, virtuous, accomplished cleric for whom study served to demonstrate that learning and the ecclesiastical life were not incompatible. Achieving recognition for the social necessity of clerical education had indeed been Maguire’s main object in life. His significance is broader, however, and would include his role in preparing the triumph of episcopal authority over Saint-Sulpice and his expression of social and political views increasingly distinct from those of the liberal Canadian bourgeoisie and the Protestant colonial government. In all these areas Maguire showed himself to be one of several protégés of Plessis, including Jean-Baptiste Kelly, Charles-François Painchaud*, and Jean Raimbault*, who were architects of the more assertive church that, under Bishop Ignace Bourget*, would fill the void left by liberal nationalists after the débâcle of 1837–38.

James H. Lambert

[The author wishes to thank Christiane Demers for assistance in writing this biography.  j.h.l.]

Thomas Maguire is the author of “Observations d’un catholique sur l’Histoire du Canada par l’honorable William Smith,” published in La Gazette de Québec, 11 janv. 1827; Recueil de notes diverses sur le gouvernement d’une paroisse, l’administration des sacremens, etc., adressées à un jeune curé de campagne, par un ancien curé du diocèse de Québec (Paris, 1830); Le clergé canadien vengé par ses ennemis ou Observations sur un ouvrage récent, intitulé “Tableau statistique et politique des deux Canadas” (Québec, 1833); and Manuel des difficultés les plus communes de la langue française, adapté au jeune âge, et suivi d’un recueil de locutions vicieuses (Québec, 1841). He compiled Doctrine de l’Église catholique d’Irlande et de celle du Canada, sur la révolte; recueil de pièces constatant l’uniformité de cette doctrine dans les deux pays, et sa conformité avec celle de l’Église universelle (Québec, 1838).

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Cite This Article

James H. Lambert, “MAGUIRE, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 25, 2024, https://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/maguire_thomas_8E.html.

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Permalink:   https://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/maguire_thomas_8E.html
Author of Article:   James H. Lambert
Title of Article:   MAGUIRE, THOMAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   July 25, 2024