REYNARD, ALEXIS, missionary lay brother of the congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate; b. in Castillon, diocese of Nîmes, France, 28 Sept. 1828, son of Alexis-Joseph Reynard and Victoire Dugas; d. at House River, a tributary of the Athabasca, about 20 July 1875.
Alexis Reynard had an elementary schooling and worked as a vine dresser on the family farm. He made his vows with the Oblate congregation on 9 May 1852, and was appointed in 1853 to the missions of Athabasca. The 1850s were a period of expansion of Oblate missions in the North-West, culminating in the establishment of Saint-Cœur-de-Marie at Fort Good Hope near the Arctic circle on the lower Mackenzie River.
Brother Alexis served under Mgr Vital-Justin Grandin*, Mgr Henri Faraud*, and Mgr Isidore Clut*. He became a skilled carpenter, stoneworker, voyageur, and gardener. All the buildings at La Nativité mission, Lake Athabasca (today Fort Chipewyan) and at Providence mission (on the present-day Mackenzie Highway near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories) were built by him. His performance of these duties permitted the priests to devote themselves to their spiritual duties. Along with his great strength and vigour, he “had the gentleness and guilelessness of a child.”
From the time he joined the order, Brother Alexis hoped to be ordained a priest. He frequently approached his superiors, at first without success. Then he received permission to study Latin under Father Grandin at La Nativité. But on the advice of his superiors, he finally withdrew his request for ordination. It was concluded in 1861 that his very goodness would make it impossible for him to direct a mission. This was a bitter disappointment to Brother Alexis.
During the last decade of his life Brother Alexis was in poor health, yet he continued with his usual arduous duties and in 1868–69 assisted in constructing the buildings at Providence for the Grey Nuns. From 1870 to 1874 he served at Notre-Dame-des-Victoires mission at Lac la Biche.
In 1875 another group of Grey Nuns left Saint Boniface to serve in their northern establishments, and Brother Alexis was sent from La Nativité to prepare transportation and accompany them north from Lac la Biche. His companions on the way south were two Métis families and an orphan, Geneviève Duquette, whom the Grey Nuns were sending to Lac la Biche. The guide was an Iroquois Métis, Louis Lafrance, a servant of La Nativité. Although professing to be a good Catholic he had an uncontrollable and vengeful temper. Even Brother Alexis had reprimanded him.
The party left La Nativité on 1 June and after a difficult trip reached Grand Rapids on the Athabasca about 18 June. Here the Métis families refused to go farther until the river subsided. But Brother Alexis was determined. He would have left the orphan with the Métis, but Lafrance insisted that he would guide them both to the mission, about 100 miles south. In August, at the House River, a short distance above Grand Rapids, the remains of Brother Alexis were discovered by a party from the Lac la Biche mission. There was unmistakable evidence that Lafrance had murdered the brother, dismembered the body, and eaten it. Lafrance had then proceeded with the orphan to the Peace River, where she suffered the same fate. Retribution followed. One night a camp of Beaver Indians shot a marauder – Lafrance.
Thus ended Brother Alexis’ long and arduous career in the service of the missions of the North West. His remains were buried at Lac la Biche, but were later removed to be with those of other martyrs at the Oblate mission in St Albert, Alberta.
[P.-J.-B.] Duchaussois, Apôtres inconnus (Paris, 1924), 220–27. Morice, Hist. de l’Église catholique, II, 54, 193, 379–82. A. Philippot, Une page d’histoire des missions arctiques: le frère Alexis Reynard O.M.I (1828–1875), premier “apôtre inconnu” du Grand Nord canadien (Lablachère, France, 1931).