First Roman Catholic Priests in Ile-a-la-Crosse.

Religious History Of St. John Baptiste
Parish Ile-a-la-Crosse - 150 Years

Three Crosses. Three Crosses.
The First Missionary Priests on the Island.

September 10, 1846, Two young priests went ashore at the remote Hudson Bay Post, Father Alexandre-Antonin Tache (23 years old) Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, accompanied by a diocesan priest, Father Louis-Francoise LaFleche (28 years old). They were the first black robes who started on their journey in July, but did not reach Ile a la Crosse before September. Travelling on the Hudson Bay boat from Red River to Ile a la Crosse proved to be the most arduous trip ever. They were sent by Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher, encouraged by the results of Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault's attempted evangelization ministry in 1845, when he had already performed as many as 500 baptisms. They came with the firm intention of founding a mission in Ile a la Crosse. However, they were too late to begin the construction of a mission house and were very ill-prepared for winter. They were offered housing for the winter by Chief Factor Roderick Mackenzie at the Hudson's Bay Company Post. During their first experience of the long winter months, they learned the Cree and Dene languages, taught by a blind elderly Metis who spoke both languages. They were forgiven their juvenile youthfulness which the Natives identified as inexperience.

Spring, 1847, Father Lafleche built a log cabin 36 x 24 feet on the spot where the North West Company had built a fur-trading post: this was the first mission station; it would serve as a combination chapel - residence for the priests and later for a Brother Oblate. It was called the mission of St. John the Baptist, the oldest and the main mission of the northwest established by Bishop Provencher, next in size to the mission of Lac Ste-Anne. Father Lafleche had to leave the mission in June of 1849, because of an acquired premature physical handicap in an arm and leg as a result of rheumatism.

Three Oblate missionary priests, who exercised their apostolic zeal in Ile a la Crosse before 1910, later became bishops, and also one diocesan priest:

Alexandre Tache (of St. Boniface)
Henri Faraud (of Athabaska)
Vital-Justin Grandin (co-adjutor of St. Boniface and then Bishop of St. Albert)
Louis-François Lafleche (as Bishop of Three Rivers, Quebec).
July, 1849, Brother Louis Dube, OMI, came and was indeed a support to the missionaries by assuming the chores of cooking and maintenance of the existing buildings and later supervision at the boy's boarding house.

July, 1850, Father Tache, as a priest, left for Europe, and in 1851 he returned as a bishop, replacing Bishop Provencher who had passed away. On June 7th, he was consecrated bishop at Viviers, by Bishop Eugene De Mazenod. Bishop Taché left the mission church in the care of Fathers Tissot and Maisonneuve. In 1852, he spent the winter at the mission and again in 1855 - 56, using it as his quasi-residence, although he left the mission, Sept. 26, 1854 for St. Boniface.

In 1853, new arrivals were welcomed: Fathers Vegreville and Brother Alexis Reynard.

July 16, 1855, Father Vital Grandin and Brother Patrice Bowes arrived (Brother died April 29, 1872). The news of Father Grandin's nomination as bishop came from Rome on December 10, 1857. He was consecrated bishop, by Eugene De Mazenod in France, November 30, 1859. He was the co-adjutor bishop of St. Boniface; therefore, as a missionary priest he left Ile a la Crosse, but kept it as his home until he became the resident bishop of St. Albert in the fall of 1868, at which time, he left the mission of Ile a la Crosse. For the people of the mission, he was the organizer; he accomplished every possible task from school teacher to cook, to wood cutter, to masonry, to carpentry; he was tailor, nurse and fisherman. He organized the orphanage. He himself adopted a five year old orphan boy and took care of him in all elementary basic human needs as a mother would have done. He looked after him as if he were his own, and this he did for two years in spite of his being a bishop. In fact, many young children were brought to the orphanage when very ill. Here they received care for the remainder of their short lives.

In 1861, Fathers Moulin and Gaste and Brother Perreard were at the mission.

In 1865, Father Caer and Bishop Grandin.

June 1872, Fathers Legeard (who later died, June 1, 1879) and Legoff arrived.

In 1874, Father Doucet.

In 1875, Father Chappeliere replaced Father Moulin.

In 1879, Father Rapet replaced Father Legeard. Father Jouan's death, September 14, 1897, was a great loss for the mission since he spoke both Cree and Dene.

June 22, 1894, The founder of the mission of Ile a la Crosse, Bishop Tache, passed away. At the news of his death, some of the Dene elders of Ile a la Crosse who had not seen him for some thirty years, wept like children. They remembered him as a good pastor, a builder, a singer, a cook, a farmer, and a great writer, but above all, as a formidable missionary! He was the one who had elevated and transformed them from paganism to Christianity. He became, as it were, related to them through their land and their waters: sharing their way of life, using the canoe, the snowshoe, and the dog sleigh; sharing their poverty, their sufferings, their dreams and their stories. He was especially close to the very numerous Metis having lived and suffered with them through the rebellions of 1870 and 1885.

Tache left an indelible mark on their social, political and religious history. His memoirs about the Dene nation are a precious legacy. His writings are exceptionally important for their prudent objectivity, simplicity, and precision.

June 16, 1899, Father Simonin arrived.
May 26, 1901, Father Rapet returned.

June 4, 1891, The territory of Ile a la Crosse fell into the boundaries of the newly created Apostolic Vicariate of Saskatchewan under the jurisdiction of Bishop Albert Pascal.

December 19, 1907, The vicariate of Saskatchewan became the Diocese of Prince Albert, which included Ile a la Crosse in its territory. Bishop Pascal referred to it as "the pearl" of his vicariate.

March 4, 1910, Ile a la Crosse was included in the territorial limits of the newly created Apostolic Vicariate of Keewatin under the jurisdiction of its new bishop-vicar-apostolic, Ovide Charlebois, OMI, who was consecrated bishop, November 30, 1910. He took possession of his episcopal see, March 8, 1911. His first visit to Ile a la Crosse was on June 10, 1911. He gave more stability to the mission of St. John the Baptist.

Bishop Charlebois mastered the Cree language. He had developed a very great sense of devotion to his duties and obligations as a missionary and spared nothing at the cost of great sufferings, contradictions, and set backs. He was a real pioneer, considered a saint, and an arduous worker to save souls. In spite of a great repugnance, he had to make of himself a "beggar" for his missions; this he did till his death on November 20, 1933.

June 29, 1933, Bishop Charlebois' nephew was named his coadjutor, Bishop Martin Lajeunesse, OMI, succeeded his uncle on November 20, 1933. He administered the vicariate of Keewatin until he retired on February 21, 1954, because of age and illness. He died, July 10,1961.

March 11, 1955, Bishop Paul Dumouchel, OMI was chosen to succeed Bishop Lajeunesse. He was consecrated bishop, May 24, 1955, in St. Boniface since the vicariate of Keewatin was part of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of St. Boniface. When the Apostolic Vicariate of Keewatin became an archdiocese, July 22, 1967, he was named Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas. After 31 years of faithful service, he retired on November 19, 1986, because of age and serious illness.

April 1986, Bishop Peter A. Sutton, OMI, at the time Bishop of Labrador City-Schefferville Diocese, was named coadjutor of Archbishop Dumouchel, and succeeded him as Metropolitan Archbishop, November 19, 1986.

He has proved himself a true pastor to his people, thus his concerns and responses to their needs are varied. Perhaps his greatest emphasis is to empower the people themselves. He is the key promoter of Adult Faith Formation. This summer, 1996, he will initiate a summer camp for the formation of "Lay Presiders", for Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest. He has brought together representatives of the archdiocese for annual diocesan days in order that collaborative ministry may evolve.

Today, especially, the national economic situation has become bleak. Parish pastoral councils and finance committees are presently challenged to take a good hard look at the financial outlay for their parish and are asked to respond accordingly from their own resources. More and more pastoral workers/assistants have been mandated as the number of clergy declines.

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