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WHITE, THOMAS (1830-88) – Volume XI (1881-1890)

d. 21 April 1888 at Ottawa, Ont.


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

PROULX, JEAN-BAPTISTE (he signed some works with the pseudonym Joannes Iovhanné), Roman Catholic priest, professor, editor, university administrator, and author; b. 7 Jan. 1846 in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Lower Canada, son of Jean-Baptiste Proulx, dit Clément, and Adéline Lauzon; d. 1 March 1904 in the Ottawa General Hospital and was buried 5 March in Saint-Lin, Que.

Following classical and theological studies in Lower Canada at the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse (1857–65) and a short stay in Charlottetown in 1868 because of illness, Jean-Baptiste Proulx was ordained to the priesthood in Montreal on 25 July 1869 by Bishop Ignace Bourget*. In the academic year 1869–70 he was teacher of the sixth year (Rhetoric) at the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse and then from 1870 to 1874 a missionary in Manitoba. On returning to the province of Quebec, he served successively as chaplain to the Marianite Sisters of Holy Cross in Saint-Laurent, on Montreal Island (1876–77); professor of literature (1877–84) and prefect of studies (1883–85) at the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse; chaplain at the Asile Sainte-Darie, the women’s prison in Montreal (1884–86); and curé for the parish of Saint-Raphaël-Archange on Île Bizard (1886–88) and then for Saint-Lin (1888–1904). When in 1889 he was appointed vice-rector of the Montreal branch of the Université Laval, with the title of doctor of letters, he turned over his parish duties to two other priests. After he resigned as vice-rector in 1895, he would retire to Saint-Lin. He was appointed honorary canon of the cathedral in Montreal in 1878 and, reportedly, a privy chamberlain to Pope Leo XIII.

During the summer of 1881, Proulx spent 30 days travelling with Bishop Joseph-Thomas Duhamel of Ottawa on a pastoral visit to the upper Ottawa valley, and he gave an account of his journey in correspondence to the vicar general, Joseph-Onésime Routhier (brother of Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier*). His letters described the daily work of the missionaries and the customs of the aboriginal peoples, and they display a curiosity about nature as well as a fondness for anecdotes. In 1884 he made a similar trip, accompanying Bishop Narcisse-Zéphirin Lorrain, the vicar apostolic of Pontiac, on a 64-day journey in what is now northern Ontario, from Mattawa to Hudson Bay, mostly by canoe. In 24 letters addressed to Dosithée Leduc, curé of Chapeau, Que., he described this experience in the same vein as he had the first one. He made his third long journey in 1885 as secretary to parish priest François-Xavier-Antoine Labelle*. They travelled to England, Belgium, Italy, and France; their purpose was to recruit colonists and make Canada better known to the French. In Paris he published a pamphlet entitled Le Canada, le curé Labelle et la colonisation (1885), outlining settlement plans. A few months later he brought out another, Le guide du colon français au Canada.

Proulx’s involvement in the educational profession led him to use his talents as a playwright in creating four plays with different moods and styles. The first – his earliest published work – was Édouard le Confesseur, roi d’Angleterre (Montréal, 1880). It appeared under the nom de plume Joannes Iovhanné, which he would also use for his columns in the Annales térésiennes (Sainte-Thérèse). This five-act tragedy extolled the sacred values of homeland and religious faith, presenting the exemplary reign of St Edward the Confessor for students of classical colleges. L’hôte à Valiquet ou le fricot sinistre (Montréal, 1881) retells a folk legend narrated by Joseph-Charles Taché* in “Forestiers et voyageurs; étude des mœurs,” first published at Quebec in 1863 in Les Soirées canadiennes; its aim was to encourage temperance among young people. The third play, Le mal du Jour de l’an (Montréal, 1882), was an unpretentious comedy, also composed for the students at the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse, as its subtitle, Scènes de la vie écolière, suggests. The fourth play, Les pionniers du lac Nominingue (Montréal, 1883), leaves no doubt about the author’s intentions, as the subtitle explicitly announces: Les avantages de la colonisation. In its pages are once more to be found religious missionary zeal and nationalistic fervour, as well as praise for the countryside, which is generous and kind, unlike the city, which is unwholesome and corrupting. Abbé Proulx’s apostolate was clearly becoming didactic and educational in character.

It was as a student at the Petit Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse that Proulx had first displayed his literary talents. He had been elected president for 1864–65 of the Académie Saint-Charles, whose “active members,” according to historian Émile Dubois, “are the students from the senior classes who have done well in literature.” By 1880 Proulx was writing and producing his plays at the college, and then publishing them in the Annales térésiennes, to which he occasionally contributed. When he became editor of the magazine in 1882, he made space in it here and there for poems, “cantatas” (at least seven), a three-part “operetta” entitled “Dierum Laetissima,” an acrostic, three groups of “monarchist” distichs, sermons, and translations of hymns, as well as his “monthly” (but somewhat irregular) columns. The 1880s were years of intense and productive literary endeavour. Towards, the end of this period he brought out an edifying and moralistic adventure novel, L’enfant perdu et retrouvé ou Pierre Cholet (Mile-End [Montréal], 1887), and had three stories published in the Montreal newspaper La Minerve on 9 Sept. 1886, 7 May, and 9 Sept. 1887. An account of his first visit to Rome had already appeared in it in instalments beginning 21 Feb. 1885.

After the Petit Séminaire burned down on 5 Oct. 1881, Proulx became, according to Abbé Dubois, the moving spirit behind the campaign organized to raise money for its rebuilding. The college’s historian praised the enthusiasm and energy of the “fiery priest,” who unhesitatingly used both door-to-door soliciting and preaching to get the necessary funds. Along with the college authorities, he supervised the work of reconstruction and on the day the building was consecrated he carried the cross at the head of the solemn procession.

When he was appointed vice-rector at the Montreal campus of the Université Laval in 1889, Proulx devoted almost all his energy to the “university question” [see Édouard-Charles Fabre*; Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau*], a cause that had been assigned to him. This highly controversial issue brought him many trials and tribulations, in both religious and political circles, since it involved obtaining the branch’s administrative and financial autonomy. After two visits to Rome, in 1890 and 1892, much bargaining, and repeated delays both at Quebec and in Rome, on 11 Feb. 1892 he finally received approval from the Holy See for his bill to incorporate a board of trustees. The assembly passed the legislation in June. In reply to L’Électeur (Québec), which had expressed delight at what it claimed was his failure, Proulx wrote Enfin! ou cinquième rapport sur sa gestion universitaire . . . (Montréal, 1892) to defend himself for having championed the independence of the Montreal campus. Believing his mission accomplished, he submitted his resignation to Archbishop Édouard-Charles Fabre of Montreal. Fabre rejected it and ordered him to carry through the construction of the new university building on Rue Saint-Denis. When it was finished, he retired to his parish of Saint-Lin in 1895.

Relying on Abbé Proulx’s talents as a negotiator, the diocesan authorities gave him the delicate mission of discussing with Bishop Michael Tierney of Hartford, Conn., the refusal by the parishioners of Danielson (Killingly) to pay for their pews because of the appointment of a Frenchman, the Reverend M.-Clovis-F. Soquet, as curé. On the strength of the bishop’s promise, they were demanding that a French Canadian curé be appointed or that the parish be divided, with a French Canadian curé to lead them. Bishop Tierney, objecting, barred the claim so long as the “rebels” refused to submit. Proulx came back empty-handed.

In the autumn of 1896 Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier* asked Proulx and Gustave-Adolphe Drolet, a former Papal Zouave, to go to the Vatican and defend the settlement of the Manitoba school question that he was negotiating with Thomas Greenway’s government. Laurier, just recently elected, feared the reaction of Quebec’s Catholic bishops to an agreement, for as leader of the opposition he had delayed the passage of remedial legislation that would have had Manitoba restore the dual system of public schools; he had argued that an inquiry into the school question should be held first and that all means of conciliation must clearly have been exhausted. Proulx, armed with his own work, Documents pour servir à l’intelligence de la question des écoles du Manitoba . . . (Rome, 1896), denounced the clerics for interfering in the 1896 election [see Louis-François Laflèche*]. He stressed that the settlement was approved by the public in general, and asked for an apostolic delegate to come and assess the situation. Although the Catholic hierarchy of Quebec sent its own representatives to counter the actions of Laurier’s two emissaries, Rome in the end took up Proulx’s suggestion and dispatched Monsignor Rafael Merry del Val as an apostolic delegate.

Worn out by his many tasks, in his last account of his travels, Dans la ville éternelle . . . (Montréal, 1897), Proulx described himself as “five feet six inches tall, heavy-set, fat, curly graying hair, bags under the eyes, a long nose, getting old.” Like his other biographers, Abbé Élie-Joseph-Arthur Auclair praised this tireless worker, calling him a “clear-minded and generous-hearted priest . . . one of those whom history cannot disregard forever or for long. He worked too hard – he consumed his life therein and died still relatively young as a result – at what he believed to be the welfare and progress of his race, for his name persistently to be forgotten. At first, this [oblivion] might have been explained to some extent by the need for mollification, but in the long run it would be unjust and even cruel.”

Gilles Dorion

The Jean-Baptiste Proulx papers at the Arch. de l’Univ. de Montréal are described in État sommaire du fouds Jean-Baptiste-Proulx (P 3), Lucie Beauchemin et Sylvie Brazeau, compil. (Montréal, 1977). This publication also mentions other collections held in the archives that shed light on Proulx’s career: D 35 (secrétariat général); P 25 (Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice de Montréal); and P 30 (coll. de doc. imprimés relatifs à la question universitaire Laval – Montréal, 1825–1921). In addition, the État sommaire briefly outlines another collection of Proulx papers (which unfortunately is scattered within the Fonds Séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville at ANQ-M, P-107) and contains a summary bibliography of his writings, taking note of Yolande Chartier, Essai de bio-bibliographie sur monsieur l’abbé Jean-Baptiste Proulx (Sherbrooke, Qué., 1952). Listings of Proulx’s publications also appear in “Ouvrages publiés par l’abbé Jean-Baptiste Proulx,” P.-G. Roy, compil., BRH, 24 (1918): 79–82, and CIHM Reg.

AC, Joliette, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Lin (Laurentides), 5 mars 1904. ANQ-M, CE1-11, 7 janv. 1846. Allaire, Dictionnaire, 1: 452. É.-J.[-A.] Auclair, Le curé Labelle, sa vie et son œuvre . . . (Montréal, 1930). Jean Béraud, 350 ans de théâtre au Canada français (Ottawa, 1958), 52. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). Paul Crunican, Priests and politicians: Manitoba schools and the election of 1896 (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1974). “Les disparus: Mgr Jean-Baptiste Proulx,” BRH, 36 (1930): 446. DOLQ, vol.1. Émile Dubois, Le petit séminaire de Sainte-Thérèse; “1825–1925” (Montréal, 1925); Souvenirs térésiens (Québec, 1927). Gabriel Dussault, Le curé Labelle; messianisme, utopie et colonisation au Québec, 1850–1900 (Montréal, 1983), 150–53. H. B. Neatby, Laurier and Liberal Quebec; a study in political management, ed. R. T. G. Clippingdale (Toronto, 1973). Roberto Perin, Rome in Canada: the Vatican and Canadian affairs in the late Victorian age (Toronto, 1990). Rumilly, Hist. de Montréal, vols.3–5. Wallace, Macmillan dict.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gilles Dorion, “PROULX, JEAN-BAPTISTE (1846-1904),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/proulx_jean_baptiste_1846_1904_13E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/proulx_jean_baptiste_1846_1904_13E.html
Author of Article:   Gilles Dorion
Title of Article:   PROULX, JEAN-BAPTISTE (1846-1904)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   April 21, 2024