Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > JANUARY 2016 - The struggle around Curé Antoine Labelle

JANUARY 2016 - The struggle around Curé Antoine Labelle

Source : ACAM
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On the night from the 3 to 4 of January 1891, the renowned Curé Labelle passed away in Quebec City. Although his name is typically associated with the Laurentian region, we often forget that Antoine Labelle was first a priest of the diocese of Montreal. Thus, many archival documents preserved in our fonds testify to his commitment at the service of both the Church and the State.

Antoine Labelle was ordained to the priesthood in 1856 in his native parish of Sainte-Rose. After having served as parish assistant and pastor in various parishes of the diocese, Bishop Bourget appointed him in 1868 as pastor of Saint-Jérôme's parish. It is while serving as pastor of Saint-Jérôme that he became known as the "Apostle of colonization". Father Labelle crisscrossed tirelessly the Laurentians establishing new townships and parishes and encouraging families to settle in this area. He remained pastor (curé) of Saint-Jérôme until his death in 1891 while holding the position of assistant commissioner in the Department of Agriculture and Colonization. Although he was formally known as Monsignor Labelle by 1889, he is remembered as "le Curé Labelle" in Quebec's collective memory and in the province's toponymy.

The last years of Antoine Labelle's life were troubled by a covert struggle between Quebec's Premier Honoré Mercier and Montreal's Archbishop Édouard-Charles Fabre. While Quebec's Premier sought to honor his assistant commissioner for his years of service by securing for him an honorific title, the Archbishop refused to have the government dictate his actions. Several archival documents testify to these differences surrounding the well-known Curé Labelle.

The two archival materials that we present today were regarded as confidential and testify to these covert struggles. In the first of these letters, the Premier writes to the Archbishop in Rome, asking him to obtain from the Pope "an important title" for the Curé Labelle. If Honoré Mercier wanted to honor his assistant commissioner, he certainly hoped that this reward would reflect positively on his Government who would then count in his ranks a monsignore. Honoré Mercier also wished to personally reveal this promotion.

Archbishop Fabre's response to Quebec's Premier was not tender. "En devenant évêque, j'ai pris la résolution de ne jamais solliciter d'aucun ministre du gouvernement aucune faveur pour qui que ce soit [...] Je vous demande Monsieur le Premier, de vouloir bien en user de même à mon égard. S'il est gênant pour un ministre de refuser la demande d'un évêque soyez convaincu qu'il l'est beaucoup plus pour un évêque quand il s'agit d'un de ses prêtres." Archbishop Fabre concluded his letter to the Premier by suggesting that he simply abandons his project.

In spite of this answer, Honoré Mercier eventually obtained directly from Rome in July 1889 the title of Prothonotary Apostolic ad instar for Curé Labelle. With this honor, the pastor of Saint-Jérôme was granted the title of Monsignor. However, as a result of much pressure from Archbishop Fabre, Monsignor Labelle was eventually led to resign his Government position. On December 26, 1890, Monsignor Labelle submitted his resignation to Honoré Mercier. He died the following week, at age 57, after an important surgery. It was 125 years ago.

On the agenda:

Throughout the year 2016, different events will commemorate the 125th anniversary of Curé Labelle's death. For more information, we suggest you consult the Société d'histoire de la Rive-Nord's website:


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