PARENT, LOUIS-FRANÇOIS, Roman Catholic priest; b. 4 March 1778 at Quebec, son of Charles Parent and Charlotte-Cécile Rouillard; d. 1 June 1850 in Repentigny, Lower Canada.
The son of a baker in Upper Town Quebec, Louis-François Parent studied at the Petit Séminaire de Québec from 1789 to 1798. He then taught there while pursuing theology at the Grand Séminaire. He was not as gifted as his fellow-student Joseph Signay, the future archbishop of Quebec. Parent was ordained on 19 Dec. 1801, and gained his early pastoral experience as curate in the parishes of Notre-Dame-de-Liesse at Rivière-Ouelle (1801–2), Saint-Joseph in the Beauce (1802–3), Immaculée-Conception at Trois-Rivières (1803–5), and Sainte-Famille at Boucherville (1805–6). Afterwards he was sent to Acadia, where he ministered for three years to the missions of Richibouctou (Richibucto-Village), Bouctouche (Buctouche), and Gédaïc (Grande-Digue) in New Brunswick. His pastoral decisions there gave evidence of considerable discernment. He seems, however, to have suffered from being the only priest amongst a docile and faithful people scattered along the coast. He expressed the desire to be recalled. Consequently, in the autumn of 1809 Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis* of Quebec named him curé of the parish of Saint-Henri-de-Mascouche (at Mascouche).
Parent at this time began to lend money at the legal interest rate of six per cent repayable in the form of life annuities. But his conduct in the end displeased the majority of his parishioners, who in the summer of 1831 presented a petition to obtain his resignation. The archbishop of Quebec, Bernard-Claude Panet*, probably convinced that the parishioners’ allegations were valid, asked Parent to resign, but prohibited him from collecting during his retirement the one-third of the annual tithes from his former parish to which he would normally have been entitled. His savings, said the archbishop, ensured him a decent livelihood. Parent was slow in leaving the parish. Panet had to threaten a public inquiry into his conduct, even though he was not anxious to hold one. Parent clung to his parish charge, and in November the archbishop was forced to strip him of his priestly powers.
In September 1832, probably through his former classmate Bishop Signay, Parent secured the post of curé in the parish of Purification-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie at Repentigny. Three years later Signay conferred the title of archpriest upon him. But Parent’s relations with his parishioners once more deteriorated. On 19 Sept. 1837 some 50 of them humbly addressed a petition to Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue of Montreal denouncing his priest’s conduct on 14 counts. They accused him of simony, repeated lapses from his pastoral duties, and discrimination against certain parishioners. Parent told Lartigue that the document came from a coterie motivated by political aims, but he could find only one witness, the chief cantor, to refute the accusations.
Lartigue had more pressing worries in the autumn of 1837, and wanted to hush the matter up. But he was aware of Parent’s stinginess and knew that this failing made him unbearable. The next spring he invited him either to leave his post and retire or to undergo a public inquiry into the complaints against him. Parent rejected both solutions. He even considered that he owned his parish charge. Archbishop Signay succeeded in getting a promise from him to retire voluntarily to Trois-Rivières the next year, but Parent failed to do so. In the summer of 1839 Parent provoked a fresh outcry among his parishioners when he manœuvred a minority of his churchwardens into letting work proceed on the building of a new church tower and on repairs to the windows, which were considered ill-timed.
Spiritual and religious life in Repentigny, while evincing no exceptional fervour, does not seem to have suffered much from these tensions: 80 per cent of the people took Easter communion in 1838 and 88 per cent in 1841. But complaints concerning Parent’s avarice and unavailability continued to reach the new bishop of Montreal, Ignace Bourget*, who called upon him to resign in April 1845. Once more Parent promised to do so the following year. Faced with this delaying tactic, Bourget came to investigate, and on 5 September he relieved Parent of his parish charge. During the time he had been in office, the thrifty old priest had let the buildings in his care deteriorate completely, and he had contrived to obtain wood and material by schemes that his neighbour and successor, François Labelle, considered dubious.
Parent’s death, which occurred at Repentigny on 1 June 1850, gave rise to a noted controversy. In his will he left a net estate of nearly £20,000, and he named Archbishop Signay his residuary legatee. The Séminaire de Nicolet was to receive a perpetual annuity of £198. Parent left nothing to the diocese of Montreal, although he had been in charge of two quite lucrative parishes in it. The episcopal corporation of Quebec inherited about £11,000, which brought a yearly income of £591. The Montreal clergy consequently began to grumble about the unfairness shown by the old man, who had hung on to his money to the very end and who now was enabling the diocese of Quebec to pay off the crushing debt incurred in putting up the new episcopal palace.
Many of Parent’s relatives were patently disappointed at having been ignored. Young Quebec architect Joseph-Pierre-Michel Lecourt, the priest’s nephew, even sent a petition to various important figures in London to get the episcopal corporation’s legal right to receive estates revoked. This action, which was designed to bring pressure upon the archbishop of Quebec, created a certain stir in the newspapers in the spring of 1852. The Montreal Witness and the Toronto Globe supported Lecourt, claiming there had been undue pressure from the Catholic archbishop. In their comments on the matter other papers in Quebec and Montreal concluded that the terms of Parent’s will ought to be respected.
Parent was thus unhappily famous after his death. For more than three decades he had used his savings and income to make money. He was probably one of the richest Catholic parish priests in the 19th century, but he was also one of the least edifying.
AAQ, 12 A, L: f.160; 210 A, XIV: 463; 40 CA, I: 21–25; 303 CD, I: 105; 516 CD, I: 22; 311 CN, V; 26 CP, VII: 73; Sér.E, III. ACAM, 350.102, 841-5; 355.104, 837-4, -5, -7, 839-1, -6, 845-2, 846-2, 850-6; RLB, I: 62–63; III: 533–34; IV: 30, 57. ANQ-M, CE5-16, 5 juin 1850. ANQ-Q, CE1-1, 5 mars 1778. Mélanges religieux, 2 avril 1852. Allaire, Dictionnaire, vol.1. Caron, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Panet,” ANQ Rapport, 1935–36: 188, 194–95, 200, 217; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Plessis,” 1932–33: 13, 32; “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Signay,” 1936–37: 329. Desrosiers, “Inv. de la corr. de Mgr Lartigue,” ANQ Rapport, 1942–43: 118; 1945–46: 59, 76. P.-G. Roy, Fils de Québec, 2: 189–91. Douville, Hist. du collège-séminaire de Nicolet. Henri Têtu, Histoire du palais épiscopal de Québec (Québec, 1896), 177–79.