TRUTEAU, ALEXIS-FRÉDÉRIC, secular priest, canon, vicar general, superior of a religious community, and administrator of the diocese of Montreal; b. 11 June 1808 at Montreal, L.C., son of Toussaint Truteau, a contractor, and Marie-Louise Papineau; d. 28 Dec. 1872 at Montreal, Que.
Alexis-Frédéric Truteau made his first communion on 25 May 1818, and was confirmed in June 1819 by Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, first Catholic bishop of Boston. He received a classical education at the college of Montreal, and, after completing his studies, took the clerical habit and became a teacher in the same institution. During his years of teaching he studied theology and received the various orders, finally being ordained priest on 18 Sept. 1830 by Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue*.
On 25 September of the same year he was appointed curate at Boucherville (Chambly County). He was summoned by Bishop Lartigue to the bishop’s palace at Montreal on 27 Sept. 1831 to direct the young ecclesiastics who, for want of a seminary, were studying theology there. Being in close communion of ideas and doctrine with his hierarchical superior, he imbued his disciples with ultramontane principles. Later Abbé Truteau held the office of procurator, then in 1836 that of secretary to the bishop in place of Abbé Ignace Bourget*.
When Bishop Bourget, who succeeded Bishop Lartigue in 1840, established the chapter of his bishopric, he chose Abbé Truteau as one of the first canons. The latter were installed on 21 Jan. 1841 by Bishop Charles-Auguste-Marie-Joseph de Forbin-Janson*, who had been invited, on completing the great retreat he had just preached at Montreal, to preside over the ceremony, which was entirely new for this city. On 21 Dec. 1847, with the death of the vicar general Hyacinthe Hudon, Canon Truteau was chosen to succeed him; he was to hold this office for a quarter of a century.
In 1867, on the occasion of the anniversary of St Peter’s death, he was delegated by his bishop to travel to Rome with Bishop Joseph Desautels*, the parish priest of Varennes (Verchères County), and Canon Étienne-Hippolyte Hicks. The purpose of his voyage was to work, together with his colleagues, towards the settlement of the difficulties that existed at the time between the Sulpicians and the diocesan bishop, over the breaking up of Notre-Dame parish.
In addition to his duties at the bishop’s palace at Montreal, Truteau was entrusted with the direction of several religious communities, among others the Institut de la Providence, which he guided as confessor or superior for 21 years. His subordinates liked to call him “the worthy Father Truteau.”
But vicar general Truteau deserves to go down in history especially for the important part he played in the Guibord affair (Joseph Guibord*, dit Archambault) as administrator of the diocese of Montreal in the absence of Bishop Bourget, who on 19 Jan. 1869 had left for Rome to attend the Vatican council. On 18 Nov. 1869 Truteau wrote to the Sulpician Benjamin-Victor Rousselot, parish priest of Notre-Dame, to tell him that, having received the day before “a letter from the bishop of Montreal” instructing him to “refuse absolution, even at the point of death, to those who belong to the Institut Canadien and are not willing to cease to be members of it” [see Gonzalve Doutre], he could not “allow ecclesiastical burial to those of its members who died without having withdrawn from it”; he added: “You tell me that M. Guibord was a member of the Institut and that he died without having left it; therefore it is impossible for me to grant him ecclesiastical burial.”
Guibord’s widow, Henriette Brown, brought a legal action against the parish priest and the first churchwarden of Notre-Dame for having opposed the burial of her husband’s remains in the part of the cemetery reserved for Catholics, and Truteau, as administrator, was called to give evidence before Judge Charles-Elzéar Mondelet. In his testimony on 10 and 11 Jan. 1870, he stated that “ecclesiastical burial,” “being under the sole jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical authority,” had had “to be refused” Guibord, “because the minor excommunication to which he had been subjected made him a public sinner,” he having incurred this penalty “because he was a member of the Institut Canadien,” “which was, as it still is, under the censure of the Church.”
Three days later the administrator gave his hierarchical superior an account of his actions and his state of mind on that occasion: “At the court of inquiry before which I was summoned, I began by protesting that in such a matter, since it was a question of an ecclesiastical burial and not of a simple burial, I recognized as my superiors, entitled to require me to account for my conduct, only my Bishop and the Holy Father. Notwithstanding, Judge Mondelet forced me to speak, although my protest was recorded. In the end I was not sorry to answer, in order to make better known the institute’s behaviour and its existence in a state of excommunication.”
In the same letter vicar general Truteau made some forecasts about the outcome of this lawsuit: “If the affair is pleaded before Judge Mondelet, the Institute is likely to win the first time. But then the case will be appealed again, and all the odds will be against it.” He did not live long enough to discover that if he had been accurate in the first part of his prediction, he had not anticipated the decision of the English Privy Council, which on 21 Nov. 1874 was to confirm Mondelet’s judgement.
All testimonies agree that Alexis-Frédéric Truteau was an exemplary priest, zealous and sympathetic towards the suffering of others; but it must be admitted that, blindly submissive as he was to the instructions of a passionately ultramontane bishop, he lacked the suppleness and openness of mind that would have given a quite different turn to an “Affair” in which the initial refusal to bury a Catholic in a Catholic cemetery appeared to an impartial observer, Robert-Alexis Lefaivre, the French consul at Quebec, “of a severity unheard of in our century.”
ACAM, 420.005. Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères (Paris), Correspondance politique des consuls, Angleterre, 50, f.33. La Minerve (Montréal), 12 janv., 13 janv. 1870. L’Institut de la Providence; histoire des Filles de la Charité Servantes des Pauvres dites sœurs de la Providence (2v., Montréal, 1925–28). [Ignace Bourget], Mémoire pour servir à l’histoire du chapitre de la cathédrale S. Jacques de Montréal (Montréal, 1882), 141–57.