SOULERIN, JEAN-MATHIEU, priest, Basilian, superior of St Michael’s College in Toronto, and superior general of the Basilian fathers; b. 6 June 1807 at Ailhon (department of Ardèche, France), son of Mathieu Soulerin and Marie Pigeyre; d. 17 Oct. 1879 in Annonay, France.
Jean-Mathieu Soulerin studied at the college of Annonay and entered the Basilian order in 1830. After his ordination on 20 Dec. 1834, he taught at the college of Feyzin, near Lyons, until 1842, when he became director of studies at the college of Annonay. He also studied in Paris in 1836 and 1837, and later had the benefit of summer travel in Italy, Belgium, and England.
On 15 Sept. 1852, shortly after his arrival in Canada, Soulerin and four other Basilians, two priests and two not yet ordained, opened St Mary’s Lesser Seminary in Toronto at the request of Bishop Armand de Charbonnel*. In the same year, the Christian Brothers had founded another school, St Michael’s College, for students at the secondary level. The bishop merged the two schools in 1853 and named Soulerin the superior of the new college.
The opportunity to attend an educational institution presided over by members of their own faith was welcomed by Roman Catholics. Almost 50 students were attending the college in its second year but a lack of funds and the bishop’s dislike of having the community engaged almost exclusively in teaching hampered efforts to expand beyond the bishop’s palace where it was located. However, in 1856 Soulerin succeeded in establishing the new St Michael’s College on property donated in part by John Elmsley* near the University of Toronto, the site it still occupies. That same year, Soulerin’s foresight led him to open St Basil’s Novitiate to prepare Canadians for membership in the Basilian community.
Father Soulerin was of less than average height, shy in disposition, and strong of will. His administrative abilities were soon recognized; he was a shrewd adviser, practical in business matters, sensitive to changing conditions, and gifted in appraising men and their actions. In Toronto, he served as vicar general under Charbonnel and his successor, John Joseph Lynch*, and twice, during the absence of the former, he was administrator of the diocese, once for a period of about two years. Soulerin also assisted in the work of the diocese by caring for a parish in Weston after 1852 and by building St Basil’s Church in Toronto in 1856. His appreciation of needs outside Toronto led him to send a Basilian priest to Assumption College at Windsor in 1857, and in 1863 he took over St Mary’s parish and its missions in Owen Sound. He was consulted by the bishop of Hamilton, John Farrell, and the bishop of Ottawa, J.-B. Guigues, and in 1857 the bishop of London, Adolphe Pinsonnault*, appointed him a vicar general. After his return to France he held this same office in his native diocese of Viviers.
Father Soulerin was elected fourth superior general of the Basilian fathers for life on 19 Jan. 1865 and returned to France in June of that year. During his years as the head of the community the work of the Basilians reached a peak in France and their order grew rapidly in America.
[Jean-Mathieu Soulerin described the prospects of the Roman Catholic Church in Ontario in “Missions du Canada,” Annales de la propagation de la foi (Lyon), XXVIII (avril 1856), 308–19. He also published Constitutions de la congrégation de Saint-Basile (Lyon, 1878). Father Soulerin’s letters are in the archives of the Congregation of Priests of St Basil in Toronto and in Annonay, France. In Toronto, the archives are located at the residence of the superior general and Soulerin’s letters are placed in chronological order under the institutions he was concerned with. In Annonay, the archives are located at the. Institution secondaire du Sacré-Cœur and there are letters of Soulerin in four collections: C, Documents de la période 1839–1859 (Tourvieille); D, Documents Actorie (1859–64); E, Documents de la période 1865–1879 (Soulerin); S, Rapports avec le Canada r.j.s.]
R. J. Scollard, Dictionary of Basilian biography, lives of members of the Congregation of Priests of Saint Basil from its beginnings in 1822 to 1968 (Toronto, 1969), 148–50. Adrien Chomel, Le collège d’Annonay, 1800–1880, mémoires et souvenirs (Annonay, 1902), 184, 483–504, 511, 516–17. Charles Roume, Origines et formation de la communauté des prêtres de Saint-Basile, contribution à l’histoire religieuse du Vivarais (Privas, 1965), 239, 245, 273, 313, 329–40, 347, 387–88. Francis Boland, “Father Soulerin, C.S.B., founder and administrator,” CCHA Report, 1956, 13–27. L. K. Shook, “The coming of the Basilians to Assumption College, early expansion of St Michael’s College,” CCHA Report, 1951, 59–73; “St Michael’s College, the formative years, 1850–1853,” CCHA Report, 1950, 37–52.