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PAINCHAUD, CHARLES-FRANÇOIS, Roman Catholic priest, missionary, and educator; b. 9 Sept. 1782 on Île aux Grues, Que., eldest son of François Painchaud, a seaman, and Angélique Drouin; d. 9 Feb. 1838 in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière), Lower Canada.

Charles-François Painchaud was still quite young when his parents went to live at Quebec, on Rue Saint-Vallier in the faubourg Saint-Roch. His father, who had some education, taught him to read. Around 1792, because his talents were noticed by Joseph-Octave Plessis*, the parish priest of Notre-Dame, Charles-François entered the Petit Séminaire de Québec. When he was 15, and half-way through his classical studies, he lost his father; Plessis then entrusted him to the care of the parish priest of L’Ange-Gardien, Jean Raimbault. Painchaud worked at his courses in the presbytery up to the final two years of the classical program (Philosophy), which he began at the Séminaire de Québec in 1799. While doing his theological studies he tutored the children of Lieutenant Governor Sir Robert Shore Milnes.

Ordained to the priesthood on 21 Sept. 1805, Painchaud became assistant priest at the Quebec cathedral for a few months, and then accepted the Baie des Chaleurs mission. One of his younger brothers, Alexis*, used to accompany him on his pastoral rounds there. Once his first three years were finished, he asked to be brought back, but in vain; he was to remain in the mission from 1806 to 1814. Using bold methods not precluding force, he led a crusade against alcoholism. For a long time his was the only ministry to the white population of the Gaspé peninsula. As parish priest at Carleton he served the faithful from Percé to Restigouche. Mission life marked him profoundly, and when he was appointed parish priest at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière in 1814 he seemed unable to adapt. After a year he asked to be moved to another region, either Montreal or Trois-Rivières, for reasons of conscience. The bishop turned a deaf ear, and Painchaud was to retain his charge until his death.

When Painchaud arrived, the parish had nearly 2,500 people. Though smaller than the parish of Rivière-Ouelle, it none the less constituted a rather heavy ministry for a curé with no assistant priest. It is difficult to give an idea of the sort of relations that Painchaud had with his parishioners, but he was probably more paternalistic than authoritarian. He was, after all, reputed to be a healer. His knowledge of folk and conventional medicine was often put to the test: people came from all over to consult him. As a result, in 1834 he advised his fellow priests in neighbouring parishes that from then on he would treat only sick people who presented a certificate attesting their inability to pay a doctor.

Painchaud’s administrative responsibilities seemed to worry him. For one thing, the churchwarden in charge did not present his accounts on the dates specified. The archbishop’s ordinances on the matter appear to have been followed in a rather desultory fashion, since on his pastoral visit in the summer of 1833 Joseph Signay demanded that the accounts for 1832 be rendered. In 1813 Plessis had decided to set uniform fees for masses and other religious services. Fabriques and the parish priests, who shared these sources of revenue, were directly affected by this reform, and Painchaud accepted the new rates policy with great reluctance. Another administrative question about the parish priest’s income and duties was raised in 1825. Painchaud was lumping together fees for low masses in order to sing high masses. He got himself out of difficulty with the archbishop by explaining that there was not enough time to celebrate all the masses and he had acted as he did only after giving his parishioners to understand that high masses sung for several intentions at once were better. Although he was apparently pleasant with his parishioners, he often vexed the episcopal authorities. For example, he wanted to compete with, if not supplant, the Société Ecclésiastique Saint-Michel, a diocesan mutual aid society that Plessis had helped found in 1799. He failed himself to get enough adherents and did not succeed in weakening it. Being used to quibbling with his superiors, Painchaud had gained a sense of how to take the initiative, riposte, and negotiate; he was thus able to overcome the archbishop’s opposition to the plan of founding a classical college that he had cherished since at least 1820.

Painchaud launched the project at a difficult point in the mid 1820s. The Séminaire de Nicolet was under construction, and this limited the possibilities of financial assistance from the clergy. A succession of bad crops, which were particularly disastrous in the Côte-du-Sud region, left local farmers largely unable to support their curé’s plan. It was hard to see how one could send a son to the college and especially meet the cost of his board when there was not enough for basic necessities. In the short term, rivalry from the neighbouring parishes was the most difficult obstacle, but it actually furnished a good opportunity to carry out the project.

Early in 1823 the assistant priest at Kamouraska, Jean-Baptiste Morin, presented a plan for a college to the archbishop. Plessis responded by enumerating the difficulties facing the undertaking. He did not oppose the plan, but expressed the view that it was necessary to collect funds, to put off execution to a later date, and to engage in discussion with the leading citizens in the surrounding localities. Things dragged on, partly because Morin did not inspire confidence and indeed was shocking people by his brazenly debauched conduct. Apart from the regions that were thinly populated or were poorly evangelized, Kamouraska may well have been one of the parishes in the east of the province where looseness of morals and indifference to religion were causing the archbishop the greatest concern. On the other hand, in the mid 1820s it had twice the population of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière. Rivière-Ouelle, which was itself entertaining vague notions of founding an institution for secondary education, was, with 3,500 inhabitants, also larger than Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, but Kamouraska nevertheless was best situated to serve Kamouraska County.

In the winter of 1826–27, with the parish priest’s cooperation, leading figures of Kamouraska again promoted the idea of a college. While seeking Archbishop Bernard-Claude Panet*’s approval, they turned to the House of Assembly of Lower Canada for tangible support. The Kamouraska plan envisaged a secular undertaking supported by the state. Painchaud’s views were more consonant with the educational philosophy of the clergy and the episcopal authorities. A letter from Panet dated 27 Jan. 1827 spurred him on: “I shall always be inclined to prefer the parish where such a building has been started, as long as no recourse to the legislature is needed.” Though aware that the episcopate seemed to prefer Painchaud’s initiative, the Kamouraska promoters refused to admit defeat. They maintained a veritable lobby at the assembly until that body decided early in 1829 to reject their request, specifically to avoid harming the college that was being built in the neighbouring parish. At Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière the contract for a three-storey building had actually been let in March 1827, and construction was well on the way to completion. The autumn of 1829 had been set for the opening.

Once the college had been built with corvées and donated materials, Painchaud’s troubles were still not over. He needed teachers. Panet, faced with the priest’s plan, had authorized it partly because he feared a secular college would be put up within a few miles of the parish, but he said repeatedly that Painchaud had assured him he did not need clerics. At Quebec it was not yet thought that in the coming years the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière would be able to offer a complete classical program rivalling those of the Séminaire de Nicolet or the Séminaire de Québec. And there was the further question of whether regents at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière would be able to pursue their theological studies from the first stages with little or no supervision. When all these considerations had been carefully weighed, it was judged that laity from the Séminaire de Québec who were nearing the end of their studies could go to teach in the new establishment. Consequently there was no need for theological students as instructors. Painchaud, however, was not short of arguments for having a priest appointed as director or theology students selected as teachers. He negotiated with the archbishop, emphasizing that his founding of the institution had made it possible, among other things, to keep a secular college from being created. In the autumn of 1829 he presented Panet with a fait accompli – the building was finished – and an ultimatum: he would be supplied with ordinands, under Panet’s authority, to serve as teachers or he would hand the college over to the archbishop. Acknowledging what human resources were available, and agreeing to be served after the older colleges, Painchaud succeeded in getting a staff of clergy. His only grounds for complaint would be the quality of the people he was given.

Painchaud was exasperated when he realized that at Quebec the clergy of the seminary and the archbishop’s staff seemed disinclined to permit his institution to offer a complete course of study. Why would schoolboys from the Côte-du-Sud not come to do their two years of Philosophy at the seminary? In the mid 1830s Painchaud, backed by the local parish priests, refused to let the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière become a branch establishment to “knock the rough edges” off young farm boys for the Séminaire de Québec. In his eyes everything seemed to be conspiring to ruin his establishment. As if that were not enough, the director himself, Alexis Mailloux*, who had come to the college in 1834 on the express condition that Painchaud be kept out of academic and disciplinary matters, apparently was adopting the views of those who wanted to restrict the course of study. In the end, Painchaud succeeded in getting a complete course of study and adequate staff. In the year of his death the college accommodated some 100 pupils, entrusted to the care of seven teachers, and was administered by three priests.

The financial history of the institution in Painchaud’s time reveals the precarious nature of a venture that endured despite an almost incredible lack of resources. Government alone could make up the operating deficits and, on occasion, deal with purchases of equipment. At the time Painchaud’s college opened, the establishments at Chambly and Saint-Hyacinthe were getting government subsidies. In 1831 he obtained an initial grant of £500. In subsequent years he regularly received several hundred pounds which, added to what he got in tithes, more or less sufficed to provide for the pupils and for the staff, who received a salary commensurate with that of assistant priests. To obtain favours from the keepers of the public purse Painchaud again showed himself an expert negotiator. When he asked Louis-Joseph Papineau* for £1,000 in 1836, he told him how important his political support was, indicating that without it the college might well be reduced to a normal school. He then spiced his request with a profession of a “liberal” faith, which he contrasted with the ideology of the “extremist ecclesiastical partisans of the English party” at Quebec. Meanwhile the archbishop’s staff was becoming worried about the fact that when the college had been turned over to its corporation some time between 1835 and 1837, Painchaud had endowed it with a domain including some seigneurial property burdened with heavy charges. At the founding of the institution, the seigneur of La Pocatière had waived the seigneurial dues normally collected on landed property alienated in mortmain. But the fief had subsequently been sold and the new owner, Amable Dionne*, was not bound to the previous remission. Payment of the seigneurial dues was to compromise the financial well-being of the college seriously for a long time after its founder’s death in 1838, and the fears of the archdiocese were thus borne out.

Meanwhile, resources that were more or less unexpected appeased the creditors. In 1837 the college was bequeathed part of the estate of Quebec merchant Augustin Wexler. Several months after Painchaud’s death parish priest Louis-Marie Cadieux also died, having disposed of his estate beforehand in favour of either the Collège de Nicolet or the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière. The latter benefited in the end, but there is every reason to think no great sum was involved. It was the death in 1839 of the parish priest of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Louis Brodeur, that put the college on its feet for a time, since his estate brought it about £2,000. This bequest made up for that from Painchaud himself, whose will put the corporation, his residuary legatee, under various obligations, adding to the burden of a corporate debt estimated in 1838 to be about £1,000. In accordance with the terms of the founder’s will, the institution had to pay his mother £25 a year for life, furnish the keep of a woman who had been a donor, distribute small sums to relatives and servants amounting in all to £40, and provide a boy who had been adopted by Painchaud with his keep and education. Although reluctant at first to recommend that the estate be accepted, Archbishop Signay thought that the college had a moral obligation to the founder and that a refusal would be considered most improper.

Those who had to deal with Charles-François Painchaud in the last ten years of his life found him particularly irascible. Of a nervous temperament, he tended to be disagreeable when encountering set-backs, and he was subject to periodic attacks of melancholy. One day, after reading Le génie du christianisme, he wrote to Chateaubriand that he had been spellbound: “I devour your works, their melancholy is killing me, all the while they delight me; it is ecstasy.” Hypersensitive, with little inclination for the discipline and bookkeeping essential to the survival of his work, Painchaud was finally kept away from the institution by the austere Alexis Mailloux and others like him. A man of dreams and creative imagination, Painchaud had been propelled into action in unfavourable economic times. He was to die worn out by conflicts, feeling he had reaped ingratitude for his pains as provider, a role he had retained to the end by using what he received in tithes to keep the boarders.

Serge Gagnon

AAQ, 210 A. ANQ-Q, CE2-1, 7 nov. 1782; CE2-7, 14 févr. 1838. Arch. de l’évêché de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière, Qué.), Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière; Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière; Fonds Painchaud; Reg. de copies de lettres et autres doc. reçus ou envoyés. ASN, AP-G, L.-É. Bois, S, XI. Charles Bacon, Éloge de messire C.-F. Painchaud, fondateur du collège de Sainte-Anne (La Pocatière, 1863). Barthe, Souvenirs dun demi-siècle, 96–101. N.-E. Dionne, Vie de C.-F. Painchaud (Québec, 1894). Gérard Ouellet, Histoire de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, 1672–1972 (La Pocatière, 1973). Horace Têtu, Souvenirs inédits sur labbé Painchaud, ancien curé de Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (Québec, 1894).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Serge Gagnon, “PAINCHAUD, CHARLES-FRANÇOIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 25, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/painchaud_charles_francois_7E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/painchaud_charles_francois_7E.html
Author of Article:   Serge Gagnon
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   February 25, 2024