Augustin Magloire Blanchet, the brother of Norbert Blanchet, was born on the 22 of August, 1797 at Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, Montmagny County, Lower Canada. After his studies at the major seminary in Quebec, Bishop J. O. Plessis ordained him to the priesthood on June 3, 1821. He served as assistant priest and as pastor in Îles-de-la-Madeleine, on Cape Breton Island and in a few parishes in the southern part of Montreal. Appointed bishop of Walla Walla (State of Washington) on July 28, 1846, he was consecrated bishop in Montreal on September 27, 1846. In 1850, he transferred the see of Walla Walla to Nesqually (today Seattle). In order to raise money and find missionaries, from 1852 to 1856, he made a long trip to Mexico, South America and Europe. He offered his resignation in July of 1879. At the time, his diocese numbered 12,000 Catholics, 16 priests and about 70 churches and missions. He died at St. Joseph’s hospital in Fort Vancouver on February 25, 1887. His remains were laid to rest in a mausoleum in the Holyrood cemetery.
On the occasion of his elevation to the episcopacy in 1846, he asked Bishop Guigues for some Oblates and Bishop Guigues passed the request on to Bishop de Mazenod. Bishop de Mazenod immediately sent Father Pascal Ricard, the scholastics Eugène Casimir Chirouse, Georges Blanchet, Jean Charles Pandosy and the lay brother Célestin Verney. Upon their arrival in New York on April 2, 1847, the missionaries experienced their first disappointment. Bishop Magloire who was supposed to meet them was not at the meeting place. Alone they made the trip from New York to Saint Louis in the state of Missouri where they met the bishop on April 16. The bishop, however, seemed to be upset with their arrival and received them more “more than coldly.” In a February 12, 1848 letter Bishop de Mazenod confided this to Bishop Bourget who answered him on April 10: “Bishop Magloire Blanchet gives the appearance of being cold and even icy… but when they will have lived with him, they will be in a better position to judge the goodness of his heart.”
Little by little, more serious difficulties reared their heads. Bishop Magloire and his brother Norbert were known for their outstanding apostolic spirit, but they were men who were jealous of their authority and wanted to personally control everything: financial administration and control of both the diocesan and the religious clergy. The Jesuits who were working in Oregon before the advent of the bishops left Oregon and went on to California in 1850. Father Accolti, their superior, wrote: “The bishop of Walla Walla maintains his authority with inflexible tenacity […] Hardly had he arrived in the country when he informed himself of the names of our priests who were in charge of the various missions and, without delay, he wrote each one of them an individual letter of installation as missionary-pastor of the place, limiting the jurisdiction of each one to his specific mission and not beyond, all of this under the caveat: until such powers have been revoked […] In addition to this, the possessions of the mission are decidedly diocesan possessions and belong to the bishop, the houses, the churches are subject to the same right. The bishop reserves the right to demand an accounting of the use made of the funds received from the Propagation of the Faith. It belongs to the bishop to decide whether a mission is well situated in this or that place […] I have done extensive reading of the history of our old missions in the different parts of the world, but I have never seen the likes of this.”
Bishop Magloire treated the Oblates in the same way. He complained to bishop De Mazenod who counselled his Oblates to practice patience. He did, however, ask Cardinal Fransoni, the Prefect of the Propaganda, to appoint Father Ricard Bishop of Nesqually where the Oblates had a mission. In 1850, it was the bishop of Walla Walla who was transferred to Nesqually. Bishop de Mazenod subsequently announced to the Propaganda that he would send his sons to another diocese. It was no longer possible to tolerate the “arrogance” of Bishop Magloire, he wrote on December 8, 1851. Cardinal Fransoni begged the Founder not to carry out this plan because the Oblates had remained practically the only co-workers of the bishop. The Oblates remained in the diocese of Nesqually until 1858. They then left to go to the diocese of Bishop Demers on Vancouver Island subsequent to the destruction of their missions among the Yakimas and the Cayuses during the Indian-American war.
In 1855, Bishop Magloire Blanchet made a trip to Europe and stopped off in Marseilles. Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Bishop Barnabò on December 18, 1855: “Your Excellency will perhaps laugh upon hearing that Bishop Blanchet received hospitality in my house. I assure you that I treated him as I was inspired by charity, as a brother. I myself took him in my carriage and tried to be as amiable as possible, as if nothing had happened. In all truth and in order to be just, I have to admit that I was happy with him. He was very reserved when talking about current affairs and the disputes that have arisen between him and the missionaries. Bishop Blanchet revealed himself to be quite different from what his letters indicated […] It is quite certain that, if we want things to be done for the glory of God, everyone will have to do their own part and that it be possible to say that the bishops are the fathers of the missionaries and not their adversaries. I have the impression that the bishop of Nesqually has understood that.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. V, no. 49, p.103-104)
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
G.A.: Correspondence of Bishop De Mazenod
in Oblate Writings I,
Vol. 1, 2 and 5.
Le Jeune, Louis, o.m.i., Dictionnaire général du Canada, Vol. 1, Ottawa, 1931, p. 190.
Leblanc, Jean, Dictionnaire biographique des évêques catholiques du Canada, Ottawa, 2002, p. 314-315 with sources and bibliography.
Voisine, Nive, “Augustin Magloire Blanchet”, in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. XI, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 1982, with sources and bibliography.