RÉCHER, JEAN-FÉLIX, parish priest, author of a diary of events at Quebec from 1757 to 1760; b. 1724, probably in the diocese of Rouen, France; d. 16 March 1768 in Quebec.
Jean-Félix Récher was already a priest when he landed at Quebec in the summer of 1747. He had been sent by the Missions Étrangères in Paris to become one of the directors of the seminary of Quebec. According to his superiors he was a man of sound mind, diligent, and conscientious about his duties. Two years later, on 1 Oct. 1749, the directors of the seminary of Quebec chose him to become parish priest of Notre-Dame de Québec, a signal honour for a priest 25 years of age. The parish had been without a priest since the death of Abbé Charles Plante in 1744. The presentation and appointment of a candidate for it depended upon the seminary by virtue of the union between it and Bishop Laval*. Until then no one had questioned this procedure, but Récher’s arrival on the scene set off a quarrel in which the parish priest of Quebec, the bishop, the directors of the seminary, and the canons of the chapter would be involved for a score of years.
Once the presentation had been made by the seminary, everything seemed to be for the best: Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil], as bishop of Quebec, appointed Récher parish priest of Notre-Dame, adding, however, that he could not take into consideration the presentation that had been made, “suspecting some error in the union of the parish with the seminary.” On 4 November, the day after the appointment, the priest took formal possession of the parish, though protesting against the bishop’s remark. Two days later Abbé Récher asked the chapter to receive him as an honorary canon, putting forward the custom observed up until that time. This favour was granted him, but after some hesitation, which disappeared after it was discovered in the archives that the parish priest François Dupré* had been accorded the same honour in 1687. Everything seemed to be calm again, but scarcely a month and a half later the affair revived in an unexpected manner: the canon René-Jean Allenou de Lavillangevin, who had been chosen by the bishop and the chapter to examine the archives and put its papers in order, discovered the bull by Pope Clement X, dated 1 Oct. 1674, which set up the bishopric and chapter of Quebec. Among other things it stated that the church of Quebec would become the cathedral church, that the chapter would have the broadest powers over the temporal matters of the church and was to have charge of the ministry of the parish. Armed with this document and regretting their past ignorance, the canons undertook to claim their rights. They had not taken into account the energetic parish priest, who had no intention of surrendering so easily. Discussions, reports, lawsuits, incidents deliberately provoked: the parish priest, like the good Norman he was, overlooked nothing in asserting his rights. He had been appointed parish priest of Quebec without opposition from anyone, and he intended to remain parish priest.
The affair was taken before the Conseil Supérieur, which sentenced the canons to pay a fine and costs in 1750, at the same time maintaining the parish priest in possession of his office. The bishops and canons, as was to be expected, had recourse to the king, but before judgement was rendered a great deal of water was to flow down the St Lawrence. In the meantime both sides stood their ground, presenting the spectacle of a series of exchanges in which, to say the least, charity was not always present. Anything was a pretext for winning. When a seminarist died in 1753, the chapter claimed that it had the right to offer him a funeral, because the young man had rendered service to the canons. Naturally the parish priest objected to the canons’ interference, as he did at every opportunity, firmly convinced that he was in the right. The matter was in fact settled only after his death.
Meanwhile war had been declared, and the civil and ecclesiastical authorities had many other things to do than to question the legitimacy of Father Récher’s election. The war did not prevent him from exercising his ministry steadily. Well before the British siege of Quebec began in the summer of 1759, he had started a diary relating day by day the events he had seen or heard of. This diary, first published by Henri Têtu in 1903 in the Bulletin des recherches historiques, is one of the most valuable extant documents of the period. In it came to light a mass of hitherto unknown details, not so much about the course of military operations as about the everyday life of the inhabitants of Quebec, victims of restrictions caused by the hostilities and of a war that could be called total. A reader of the priest’s manuscript relives the anguish and sufferings of a population which was on the verge of disaster, but which would not face up to it. When the bombardment of the town began on 12 July, the inhabitants were seized with terror; the women “formed platoons to tell their beads.” Then there were fires, deaths, desertions, summary executions, massacres, which the priest recounts without any commentary. One feels more and more weariness in his account as the end of the siege draws near. The battle of the Plains of Abraham is told, under date of 13 September, in three disappointingly curt lines: “The British land a little below the Foulon at 3 hours past midnight, take M. de Vergor [Louis Du Pont* Duchambon] prisoner, and at half past ten rout our army.” After that the diary, which continues until the autumn of 1760, is so laconic that it loses its interest.
At the beginning of the siege the parish priest had had to take refuge outside the walls, close by; later he sought shelter in the home of the tanner Joachim Primault, near the Hôpital Général. When Quebec fell he returned to the seminary. But on 8 Nov. 1759, after being robbed and wounded by a British soldier, he took refuge in the Ursuline convent. He remained there until 24 Dec. 1764, holding services in the sisters’ chapel. He then returned to live at the seminary.
In 1767 the churchwardens of the parish of Quebec decided to rebuild the cathedral. Taking advantage of the fact that the episcopal seat was vacant and believing, wrongly, that Abbé Jean-Olivier Briand* would come back from London with only the title of vicar apostolic, Récher, as parish priest, had become accustomed to running everything in the parish church himself. Since Bishop Pontbriand’s death in 1760 he had stated in public several times that he did not want a titular bishop to be appointed, that a bishop in partibus would suffice, and that he intended to maintain his church as a parish. As long as the parish priest lived, Briand was patient, contenting himself with offering to finance the rebuilding of a cathedral church. After Récher’s death he proceeded to deal with the churchwardens and the British and Roman authorities so that Notre-Dame would become his cathedral church, and he finally won out in 1774. In the bishop’s memoirs the parish priest appears as the main enemy, who never missed an opportunity to oppose his superior. The latter had, however, written a month after M. Récher’s death: “The parish priest’s death has grieved me greatly. Despite the vexations he caused me, I liked and esteemed him. He was a worthy worker.” Which goes to show that certain quarrels among ecclesiastics under the ancien régime must not be taken too seriously.
AAQ, 22 A, Copies de lettres expédiées, 10 mars 1774; 10 B, Registre des déliberations, 183, 191v, 196, 207v, 208, 262; 11 B, Correspondance, VI, 13; X, 31, 40. Gosselin, L’Église du Canada jusqu’à la conquête, III, passim. Henri Têtu, Notices biographiques: les évêques de Québec (Québec, 1889); “M. Jean-Félix Récher, curé de Québec, et son journal, 1757–1760,” BRH, IX (1903), 97–122, 129–47, 161–74, 289–307, 321–46, 353–73.