Montier-en-Der (Haute-Marne), November 6, 1796.
Ordination to the priesthood in Rouen, May 31, 1828.
Taking of the habit in Longueuil, August 1, 1842.
Oblation in Longueuil, August 2, 1843 (No. 107).
Died at Montreal, November 21, 1865.
Jean-Claude Léonard Baveux was born in Montier-en-Der, the son of Marie Catherine Lefranc and Jean-Claude Baveux, a farmer, on November 6, 1796 (15 Brumaire, year five). While still young, he lost his father and mother and was raised by an uncle. Upon finishing his primary school education, he worked on the farm. In 1815, when Napoleon returned from the Island of Elba, Léonard was coned into the army for a few months. He then followed the major of his detachment to Monistrol. Following a mission preached by Father André Coindre, he felt the stirrings in him of a missionary vocation. He followed Latin courses taught by an assistant priest and then continued his studies at the minor seminary of Monistrol and at the major seminary of Puy. He joined the Sulpicians at the beginning of 1828 and was ordained to the priesthood at Rouen on May 31 of the same year.
He was immediately sent to Canada and stayed for some time at the Collège de Montreal. He then worked at the Iroquois Indian reserve of Oka (Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes) from 1829 to1834 and in the parish of Notre-Dame of Montreal from 1834 to 1840. In 1840-1841, he worked as secretary and assistant to Bishop Charles de Forbin-Janson, the bishop of Nancy, while the bishop was on a preaching tour in Canada.
the Oblates in 1843
Shortly after Bishop Forbin-Janson left Canada, the Oblates arrived in Canada on December 2, 1841. Abbé Léonard knew them and asked to join them in order to preach parish missions as he had done in 1826-1827 as a simple cleric with Father Coindre and then with the Bishop of Nancy in 1840-1841.
He began his novitiate August 1, 1842 at Longueuil where he made his oblation on August 2, 1843. In July of 1842, as a postulant, he already took part in the mission of Varennes and then in several others during the course of his novitiate. As of July 11, 1842 already, Father Honorat informed the Founder of this priest joining the Oblates. He wrote, he is “a proficient missionary [….] with a health that is proof to all demands, excellent in character and with an enthusiasm that leaves nothing to be desired.”
It was due to his friendship with Mr. Berthelet that this gentleman gave the Oblates his house in Longueuil where Father Léonard lived until 1846. During those years, he took part in many retreats and parish missions preached by the Oblates. Everywhere, by means of his preaching, his leading of the singing and his conducting of the ceremonies, he was able to spread zest and life.
tour in Europe (1846-1848)
Father Honorat and Father Guigues after 1844 were the first superiors of the Oblates in Canada. They were incessantly hounding Bishop de Mazenod to send them priests and brothers. Bishop de Mazenod was not in a position to send them the missionaries they requested because the needs were equally great in the communities and the works in France and England. Father Léonard was not unaware of this situation and, it seems that he himself was the one who suggested that he go on a recruiting tour in France and Belgium. With Father Guigues permission, he made the European tour from the end of December 1846 to March of 1848. During this time, he visited the majority of the seminaries in France and Belgium. From 1841 to 1847 there were 115 takings of the habit at the novitiate of Notre-Dame de l’Osier and a similar number in 1847 and 1848. Father Léonard’s preaching tour was a success. More than 100 seminarians entered the novitiate and about fifty made vows. Before 1847, the majority of the vocations came from dioceses in the Midi of France. After this date, vocations began to arrive from all of France and Belgium.
Initially perplexed at the success of this recruitment tour conducted by accomplished recruiters, Bishop de Mazenod soon stood in awe at the number of those who entered the novitiate. “Dear Father Léonard, what a man you are! You break open all doors and take each place by storm. Nothing can resist you…” wrote the Founder on April 2 of 1847. During the summer of 1847, the Oblates opened a second novitiate in Nancy because the novitiate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier was full. The Founder then began to speak of the “nightmare” and the “despair” of Father Tempier who is now out of money to supply the needs of the novices and the scholastic brothers. In October of 1847, at the insistence of Fathers Tempier and Vincens, the Founder asked Father Léonard to suspend his tour. But, in November, he learned that a recruiter every bit as able as Father Léonard was on the point beginning a tour of the dioceses. Immediately, he wrote to Father Léonard on November 8, “With new facts comes new advice.” It would be useless to follow in the wake of another recruiter. “It is important then to precede him. So grease your boots my dear Father Léonard; or rather, take your crucifix in hand and march off to the conquest of those persons whom Providence marks out for us.” (Oblate Writings, vol. 10, no. 954, p.191)
Father Léonard stopped his tour in March of 1848 because he wanted to attend the consecration of Father Guigues who had been appointed bishop of Bytown, because Father Tempier had no more money and also because of the fall out from the revolution of February 1848.
Upon his return to Canada, Father Léonard received his obedience for Saint-Pierre-Apôtre in Montreal. For a long time already, Bishop Bourget had wanted to see the Oblates make an establishment in his episcopal city. Mr. Pierre Beaudry, a rich citizen, made him the gift of some land in the Quebec suburb, a new section of the city with a burgeoning population. The bishop granted this property to the Oblates and Father Léonard was the one who was put in charge of the Oblate foundation as a mission of the only parish of the city of Montreal. The Oblates were given the title of priests in charge. In 1849, Father Baudrand was appointed superior of the community, but Father Léonard remained the one in charge of pastoral ministry until 1864. In 1851-1853, a neo-gothic church was under construction, which, in a September 1, 1852 letter to Bishop Guigues, Father Léonard described as “the most beautiful in Canada.” In 1854-1856, a huge rectory was built.
In 1850, Father Léonard was elected as delegate of the province to the General Chapter, which was held in Marseilles from August 26 to August 31. In 1851, he was appointed fourth consultor of the province.
In 1863, Father Léonard began suffering from the first signs of the sickness that would soon carry him off, namely, dropsy. At the beginning of 1864, the provincial appointed him director of the residence Sault-Saint-Louis (Kahnawake) where there were fewer people and the pastoral work was much less demanding.
He held this title until his death, which took place on November 21, 1865 at Montreal’s main hospital where he had been admitted at the end of July. His body was laid out for public viewing for two days in the lower chapel of Saint-Pierre-Apôtre church and on November 23, Bishop Guigues celebrated his funeral Mass surrounded by many priests and a large crowd of the faithful who had dubbed Father Léonard, “the Priest of the Suburb.” He was 69 years old. His body now rests in the Oblate cemetery at Richelieu.
Sources and Bibliography
G.A.: Oblation formula, August 2, 1843;
three letters to Bishop de Mazenod and two to Father Fabre; eleven letters from
the Founder to Father Léonard whose name appears as well in a few letters of
some twenty Oblates who were contemporaries of the Founder.
Fabre, Joseph, o.m.i., “Lettre circulaire n. 28”, December 9, 1865, in Notices nécrologiques, Vol. I, Paris, 1884, p. 217-240 (Father Fabre published some excerpts from letters by Frs. Pierre Aubert and C. D. Bournigalle).
Lepage, Fernand, o.m.i., “Aux origines de la Province belge, le père Jean-Claude Léonard en Belgique”, in Missions OMI, 1954, p. 294-306.
Verkin, Henri, o.m.i., “La tournée de propagande du père Léonard”, in Études oblates, 26 (1967), p. 55-88.
Carrière, Gaston, o.m.i., “Baveux, J. C. Léonard”, in Dictionnaire biographique des O.M.I. au Canada, Vol. I, Ottawa, 1976, p. 52-53.