TREMBLAY, HENRI-JEAN, priest, missionary, procurator of the seminary of Quebec in Paris, director of the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris; b. 1664, probably at Lagny (Lagny-sur-Marne), France; d. in Paris, 9 July 1740, and not in 1741 or 1747, as certain authors have maintained.
Henri-Jean Tremblay entered the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris in 1686 and received the subdiaconate there the following year. His superiors were planning to send him to the missions in the Orient, but Bishop Laval*, who also had his eye on him, succeeded at the last moment in getting him for his seminary in Quebec and had him leave immediately for Canada. In a letter dated 9 June 1687 the prelate informed the officials of the seminary that M. Tremblay was the only recruit they would receive that year. But this candidate was a choice one, who possessed “charm and submissiveness, good judgement, a firm and generous mind.” “He is wise and prudent,” continued the founder of the seminary, “capable, as far as I can judge, of observing secrecy and someone in whom you may have confidence”; in short “the best-tempered mind of all the persons who have come forward in more than two years.” The directors were therefore urged to “take care to train and lead M. Tremblay in the ways of virtue not as a simple missionary to be in charge of a parish,” but with a view to admitting him “into the body of the seminary,” of which, without the shadow of a doubt, he would soon become one of the firmest supports. Bishop Laval recommended, however, that the new arrival be spared until he “becomes accustomed to the atmosphere of the country and catches the spirit of the seminary.” When his apprenticeship was completed, he could then be put at the head of the Petit Séminaire, which it was “of the greatest importance to maintain in a spirit of grace.”
Whether Abbé Tremblay was put in charge of the pupils shortly after his arrival is not known; in any event it is certain his superiors were not long in discovering that he possessed all the qualities of an excellent businessman. When Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*] had conferred the diaconate upon him on 30 Nov. 1688 and the priesthood on 18 December, the superior, Henri de Bernières*, and his colleagues did not hesitate an instant in appointing their young confrère a director and bursar of the seminary. The bishop of Quebec, however, had also noticed his talents. After trying to attach Tremblay to himself, he called upon him to serve the parish of Saint-Pierre, on Île d’Orléans. Henri-Jean Tremblay took up this unexpected act of obedience willingly and went to his post at the beginning of November 1689. He stayed there three years. But it was his last post in Canada. In 1692 Bishop Laval and the directors decided to make him procurator of the seminary and chapter of Quebec in Paris, an office which had remained vacant since the death of Jean Dudouyt* in 1688. As Bishop Saint-Vallier had not raised any objections, the procurator sailed for France in the autumn.
Tremblay had not accepted his appointment without some apprehension, and during the early years of his administration he was often tempted, he said, to “discard this meanness which taking care of temporal matters brings with it and which weakens so greatly one’s fervour for God’s business.” On several occasions he begged to be replaced and to be allowed to devote himself to some humble mission in Canada or Acadia. But the procurator did his job so competently and with such exemplary zeal, that the founder and the officials of the seminary of Quebec took good care not to transfer him. Besides, the directors of the Missions Étrangères in Paris would not have allowed a collaborator who had become indispensable to them to leave. After electing him a director in 1694, they put him in 1697 in charge of the office of procurator of the seminary itself and of all the missions in Asia. In 1736 his colleagues chose him, despite his age and infirmities, to be assistant superior and renewed his term of office in 1739.
Although Tremblay was closely attached to his fellow religious in Paris, the seminary of Quebec nevertheless remained his preference. “I beg of you,” he wrote to M. de Bernières in 1694, “to consider me still as one of the members of the seminary, filled with the desire to be useful to it and to serve the entire mission in Canada.” Not only the founder of the seminary of Quebec and its directors, but also the other members of the community, parish priests and missionaries in Louisiana and Acadia, seminarists and even pupils, profited greatly from the complete availability of the devoted procurator [see François Charon* de La Barre]. Each autumn he received voluminous mail from Canada which he endeavoured to answer with the greatest attention. Tremblay forgot no one, and his vigilance extended to the smallest detail. He discharged bills of exchange to the best of his ability, paid bills, saw personally in Paris, or through his agents in Caen and Châteauroux, to the purchase of supplies and other goods of all sorts that he had been asked for and then looked after their delivery to La Rochelle. The procurator did not limit himself to this role as intermediary: he was also capable of giving advice or opinions to everybody or again of commenting upon the latest news with a pertinency that demonstrated the sureness of his judgement and his knowledge of men and events [see Goulven Calvarin*; Albert Davion*; François Dupré*]. When he felt obliged to do so in the interest of correspondents, even if they were Bishop Laval and the officials of the seminary, Tremblay did not fail to increase, invariably with respect and charity, his remonstrances and admonitions [see Nicolas Foucault*].
The procurator of the seminary was a conscientious administrator, and he had made a practice of foreseeing the future prudently and of taking appropriate measures in all matters to assure the preservation of the work of the seminary in Quebec. His fellow ecclesiastics in Quebec seemed to him, on the contrary, to be carrying out their undertakings without any forethought, and to be spending their income as if it were inexhaustible [see Jean-Baptiste Gaultier* de Varennes]. How many times he blamed them for admitting too many pupils without charge, or again for “always having the trowel in their hands at the seminary, at La Canardière, Saint-Michel, and Île Jésus”! To his great disappointment Tremblay was not successful in convincing the directors to change their conduct [see Jean-François Buisson* de Saint-Cosme (1660–1712)]. When the directors had written him one day that their accounts were difficult to make up, he retorted sharply: “Do you know mine?” That was in 1707, and the list of those who were taxing the procurator’s devotion and ability had grown considerably longer in the preceding years. In case the superiors had forgotten, Tremblay undertook to remind them. He had to run the affairs of the seminary in Paris, of the seminary and chapter in Quebec, of the benefices, abbeys, and priories in Normandy, Touraine, and Berry which were attached to them, of all the missions, those in the east as well as the west, and finally of the Hôtel-Dieu and the Hôpital Général of Quebec. And even then he spared his correspondents the enumeration of private accounts which he could not avoid looking after, such as those of Bishop Laval and his family, for example, or those of friends and acquaintances in Paris and in the provinces. Every year more than 70,000 livres thus passed through his hands. “If all that,” concluded the procurator, “seems to you easier to keep in order than the receipts and expenditures for a year of the seminary and chapter of Quebec, then I am quite lost!”
Despite the little effect that his vehement objurgations had, Tremblay never let himself become disheartened. “I am not easily discouraged,” he wrote to Bishop Laval, “and although I speak strongly to Your Excellency and to our gentlemen, I do not give up in despair.” He was indeed convinced that the seminary of Quebec was truly God’s work, as he wrote to Abbé Louis Ango* Des Maizerets in 1696. “Every day I see new proof,” he added, and “that is what sustains me in the difficulties and vexations my position entails.” The confidence which the superiors of the seminary showed in him contributed in no small measure to comfort him. Bishop Laval in particular held him in high esteem and had no secrets from him. For his part the procurator held “our former dear prelate” in great veneration. Although he disapproved of the founder’s fondness, to his mind exaggerated, for fine stone buildings, Tremblay did not often dare reprimand him directly. He preferred to leave that to his confrères: “He is so kind,” he wrote to M. Des Maizerets, “that he will always listen to reason when it is presented to him gently.” Tremblay moreover fought with the utmost energy all those who threatened to divert the seminary of Quebec from its vocation. Bishop Saint-Vallier, who intended to reduce the institution founded by his predecessor to the sole role of training young clerics, was to encounter in the procurator an indomitable opponent. So did the Jesuits when in 1698 they opposed the presence of priests of the seminary of Quebec in the Mississippi country [see Jean-François Buisson* de Saint-Cosme (1667–1706)]. Henri-Jean Tremblay defended with no less fervour the thesis sustained by the Société des Missions Étrangères against the Society of Jesus in the affair of the “Chinese Rites.” On this subject, several of his letters constitute unequivocal evidence of the acts of violence, at least verbal, which this deplorable quarrel provoked in ecclesiastical circles in the 18th century.
The crushing task which Tremblay assumed could not fail, however, to undermine his health. Already during his stay in Canada he had suffered a hernia, an accident that was frequent at the time and which was attributed to the use of snowshoes. In 1706 other infirmities came on top of this first one. “You will learn,” he told his confidant, Abbé Charles de Glandelet*, “of the affliction which God has sent me by giving me the gout at 42 years of age. . . . This year I have become a man full of inflammations and infirmities.” His condition continued to grow worse. In 1712 it was necessary to give him an assistant as procurator of the missions: François de Montigny, a former missionary in the Mississippi country and in China. Some years later his sight began to grow weak. With a cataract in his left eye and having become almost blind in 1728, Henri-Jean Tremblay reluctantly handed over the administration of his affairs to M. de Montigny. A successful operation in 1732 gave him back the use of his eyes, to the great joy of his associates and of his fellow ecclesiastics in Quebec. But he had never been able to get over his gout. It was this malady which brought on his death on 9 July 1740.
In announcing his death to Quebec the directors of the seminary in Paris stressed that with Abbé Henri-Jean Tremblay disappeared “the oldest member of our whole body and even of all the missionaries in Canada.” For its part the seminary of Quebec lost in its former procurator the last survivor of the period of its founders and indisputably one of its most remarkable benefactors.
[The principal manuscript sources are Abbé Henri-Jean Tremblay’s letters, which are preserved at the ASQ. In addition to a certain number of reports and statements of accounts, there are in it about a hundred letters, sometimes 100 pages or so in length. One may also consult at the ASQ the correspondence between the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris on the one hand and Bishop Laval and the directors of the seminary of Quebec on the other. See also: AAQ, 12 A, Registres d’insinuations A, passim, and ANQ, Copies d’archives d’autres dépôts, Paroisses, Saint-Pierre, île d’Orléans. n.b.]
Provost, Le séminaire de Québec: documents et biographies, 202, 429. Adrien Launay, Mémorial de la Société des Missions étrangères (2v., Paris, 1912–16), II, 609.