Rivière-du-Loup, July 23, 1823.
Took the habit: Longueuil, October 5, 1844.
Priestly ordination: Saint-Boniface, October 12, 1835.
Vows: Saint-Boniface, October 13, 1845 (N. 146).
Episcopal ordination: Viviers, France, November 23, 1851.
Died: Saint-Boniface, June 22, 1894.
Alexandre Taché was born in Fraserville, Rivière-du-Loup, on July 23, 1823, the third child of Charles Taché, an army officer and later a merchant, and Louise Henriette de Labroquerie. Both families were related to illustrious names: Louis Jolliet who discovered the Mississippi, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de la Vérendrye who explored the Canadian West, and Saint Marie Marguerite Dufrost de Lajemmerais d’Youville who founded the Sisters of Charity of Montreal
Alexandre was only three years old when his father died on January 12, 1826. Madame Taché then left Rivière-du-Loup and went to live with her parents in Boucherville. When they died in 1832, she and her brother, Joseph Antonin, and his children left the house in the village and went to live in the country, in the Sabrevois (de la Broquerie) manor. In September 1823, Alexandre entered the minor seminary in Saint-Hyacinthe. His teachers describe him as “lively boy, somewhat teasing, fond of arguing, basically very good, kindhearted and attentive, distinguished among his companions for his respect, his affection and his appreciation of his teachers.” When he had completed his classical studies he entered the major seminary in Montreal on September 1, 1841. On his way to the cathedral on December 3, the feast of Saint Francis Xavier, he saw the first six Oblates who had arrived in the city the day before. Later when he wrote about this event, he said his eyes fixed themselves with particular attention on their persons and on their Oblate crosses. “There are glances which have a marked influence on one’s whole existence. The look which I laid upon Fathers Honorat and Telmon contributed in no small measure to the whole direction of my life.”
He had hardly finished his theology when Bishop Ignace Bourget appointed him regent in Chambly College (1842-1843) and then, in January 1844, professor of mathematics in the seminary of Saint-Hyacinthe. On October 5, 1844, Alexandre began his novitiate in Longueuil. The novice master, Father Jean-François Allard, gave a very favourable judgement about him. He wrote to Bishop de Mazenod: “Brother A. Taché, from one of the most distinguished families in the country, everywhere enjoys a reputation for his talents: good memory, right minded, sound judgement, unusually sharp intellect, facility in speaking. All of these qualities are enhanced by his wisdom, an excellent education, and a refined politeness, which makes him stand out in all kinds of society. Besides, he is humble and prudent and his utterances are always to the point.”
Missionary in Red River
In the beginning of 1845, Bishop Joseph Norbert Provencher, Vicar Apostolic of Hudson Bay and James Bay, asked Father Bruno Guigues to send him some Oblates. Father Guigues hesitated at first. On May 24, Bishop de Mazenod gave him orders to accept and to send two missionaries to Red River. He chose “Pierre Aubert and, with him, one of the Canadians who will be destined for the natives.” Brother Alexandre presented himself immediately as his companion. His intention in doing so, he said, was to obtain a cure for his mother who at that time was seriously ill. The two missionaries and two Grey Nuns left on June 25, aboard a boat belonging to the Hudson Bay Company and they arrived in Saint-Boniface on August 25 after sixty-two days travel. Taken aback at seeing the young novice, Bishop Provencher is supposed to have said: “We need men and they are sending me children.”
The Vicariate Apostolic was a vast territory with 3,600 whites, 12,000 Métis, living mainly along the Red River, and 60,000 Amerindians who lived on hunting and fishing in the Northwest. It was among these last-mentioned that Brother Taché was destined to begin his work. Bishop Provencher ordained him deacon on August 31 and priest on October 12. He was aged just twenty-two years. On the following day, Father Taché took vows. Writing to Father Aubert on February 21, 1846, Bishop de Mazenod said: “It is a beautiful thing to take vows on the battlefield, face to face with the enemy whom you have come from afar to fight.” On December 23, 1846, he wrote to Bishop Bourget: “I have received news from Red River. Father Aubert and Father Taché have written to me, the latter a very charming letter. He made his profession and said his first Mass on October 13. They are both happy in their position. They are going to establish a mission at 300 leagues from Saint-Boniface, in Île-à-la-Crosse.”
Father Taché spent part of the winter in Saint-Boniface and the rest in Baie-Saint-Paul where he studied the rudiments of the Saulteaux language. On July 8, 1846, he left in the company of the diocesan priest, Father Laflèche, to found a mission at Île-à-la-Crosse. They spent the winter in the Hudson Bay Company station and studied Cree. Then Father Laflèche worked among the Indians near the trading post and Father Taché, throughout the summers of 1847, 1848, 1849 and 1850, made long journeys to Lake Caribou and Lake Athabaska. On March 25, 1847, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Guigues: “I sigh to think of such a young priest, having just left novitiate and being separated by such a great distance from our confreres.”
Bishop at 27 years
In 1847, Rome raised the Vicariate Apostolic to the dignity of diocese: the diocese of the Northwest or Saint-Boniface. Bishop Provencher was looking for a successor. Father Laflèche refused the offer because he suffered from rheumatism. Bishop Provencher then suggested Father Taché. He requested the bishops of Canada to submit his plan to the Holy See. Unknown to him, on June 24, 1850, Rome appointed the young priest titular bishop of Arath and coadjutor to Bishop Provencher. He heard that news in January 1851. Bishop de Mazenod declared that he had not been consulted. Nevertheless, writing to Bishop Bourget on April 16, 1850, he confessed that he had been told beforehand of the plans of Bishop Provencher with regard to Father Taché, but at that point he was thinking of abandoning these missions in order to send the men “to labour in more fertile soil. There are” he said, “some small tribes, much too far from one another, where the presence of the missionary occasions only a murmur and very few, infinitely few, conversions… As far as Red River is concerned, I feel discouraged. There is no more painful or more difficult mission and it seems to me to be insignificant.”
In December 1850, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Taché telling him that he must accept to be bishop but that he must come to be ordained by the Bishop of Marseilles. “You shall take advantage of these circumstances” he wrote again on January 19, 1851, “to get to know your brothers whom you do not know and to make a pilgrimage to the tombs of the holy Apostles.”
Bishop Taché arrived in Saint-Boniface on July 4, 1851 and set out for Marseilles and, on November 23 he was ordained bishop in Viviers by Bishop de Mazenod assisted by Bishop Guibert, o.m.i., and Bishop Prince, coadjutor of Montreal. He chose as his Episcopal motto: Pinguescent speciosa deserti. On the following day Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Father Faraud telling him that he had appointed Bishop Taché as vicar of missions and he added: “My heart is so full of joy, so dilated in happiness, that it must reach out to you. What a worthy subject you have sent us to represent your mission! Everybody is enchanted with him and I, the aged patriarch of our numerous family, I love him as if I had always lived with him.”
After his Episcopal ordination, Bishop Taché went to Rome, had two audiences with Pius IX and returned to Saint-Boniface in June 1852, after stopping in Marseilles and London. He continued as coadjutor until 1853, living in Île-à-la-Crosse and from there he continued to visit the Amerindian missions. Bishop Provencher died on June 3, 1853. Bishop Taché became bishop of Saint-Boniface but remained in the north for another year and visited a number of missions along the Saskatchewan River. He arrived in Saint-Boniface in September 1854 and took possession of his diocese officially on November 5. The town, at that time, had no more than 2,000 inhabitants. The clergy in the diocese were four diocesan priests and ten Oblates of whom 2 were Brothers. He introduced the Brothers of the Christian Schools to take over the school founded by his predecessor. The Grey Nuns had already opened a school for girls and a home for orphans and old people. He also established parishes near the town. At the beginning, his relations with the Oblates were somewhat difficult. Father Bermond, treasurer for the vicariate, received the new missionaries on arrival and warned them against the bishop whom he criticized continually. On June 2, 1855, Bishop de Mazenod wrote to Bishop Guigues stating that he considered Father Bermond to be “incurable” and that he wanted to withdraw him from that mission in spite of his many years experience. Then he added: “I have indoctrinated the most recent missionaries whom I have sent to the Red River so that they are proof against the insinuations which this man dares to make to them from the moment of their arrival… Do you think it would be a good idea to recall this Father Bermond whom I consider to be a real stumbling block? His conduct with regard to the excellent bishop is, to my mind, unworthy. I consider all his warnings to be calumny. Bishop Taché has been admirable in wisdom, moderation, generosity. I find that his behaviour is heroic.”
The Bishop’s interest and action to promote the development of the country, the Church and his diocese
Bishop Taché was intensely active in many spheres. Here we can mention only a few of them.
The country. The British Act of North America that created the Canadian Confederation was signed in 1867 and included the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. In 1870, Manitoba and the North-West Territories were annexed to the Confederation. Bishop Taché was afraid of that legislation which would attract many immigrants, mainly Protestants and English speaking, whereas until then, Catholics were about equal in number to Protestants. Article 133 of the Act recognized two official languages, English and French. The question of education was left to each Province. Bishop Taché obtained a separate school administration for Catholics and Protestants as in the Province of Quebec.
In 1869, the surveyors arrived in the region and, without consulting the people, changed the layout of the territories. Louis Riel installed a provisional government in December and led the Métis in rebellion. The Canadian government recalled Bishop Taché urgently from Rome where he was attending the Vatican Council. The bishop arrived in May 1970 and played an important role as peacemaker. He counteracted the activities of the Americans who were inviting the Métis of the colony to join the United States and obtained from the Canadian government an amnesty for the inhabitants of Red River who would accept to lay down their arms and accept to remain loyal to the British crown.
During the following years, he encouraged a colonization society and tried to promote a Catholic and French-speaking migration so as to maintain the cultural balance. To promote a knowledge of the country he had already published in 1869, his Esquisse sur le Nord-Ouest de l’Amérique (An Outline of the North-West of America). He did not receive much attention in the province of Quebec where many French-Canadians were emigrating in the direction of New England, which was closer to them and where the climate was less cold.
After 1880, the Protestant and English-speaking population greatly outnumbered that of the Catholics. In 1890, Thomas Greenway, in spite of his promises, had two laws passed restructuring the department of education and abolishing the system of Catholic teaching and Protestant teaching. The bishop and his friends tried in vain to obtain from the federal government that they would refuse to recognise the new school system. The new non-confessional schools were in fact a continuation of the old Protestant and English-speaking school sand were now obligatory for everybody. Bishop Taché wrote important newspaper articles against these laws and he aroused public opinion but nothing changed. He died in 1894 without being able to realize his plan of a country with a just balance between Protestants and Catholics and between the two languages. Jean Hamelin wrote in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography that Bishop Taché “defended the idea of a harmonious political synthesis of the two traditions at the origin of present-day Canada. He lost.”
The Church in Western Canada. Bishop Taché was aware that his diocese was much too big. In 1857 he made a second visit to Europe. He stopped in Marseilles to discuss with Bishop de Mazenod the choice of a coadjutor who would live in Edmonton, in the west of the diocese. They agreed to put forward the name of Father Vital Justin Grandin who was appointed by the Pope on December 11, 1857. In April-May 1862 he obtained the creation in the North of the Vicariate Apostolic of Athabaska-Mackenzie, which was entrusted to Bishop Henri Faraud, o.m.i. On September 22, 1871, Saint-Boniface was raised to the dignity of archdiocese with the suffragan diocese of Saint-Albert, created on the same day, and the Apostolic Vicariates of Athabaska-Mackenzie and British Colombia. In July 1889, Bishop Taché presided the provincial council of Saint-Boniface during which it was proposed that the Vicariate Apostolic of British Colombia should be erected as a diocese and that the diocese of Saint-Albert should be divided.
The diocese of Saint-Boniface. After the divisions of 1863 and 1871, he undertook a methodical plan for the evangelization of Amerindians in his diocese by establishing missions in Saint-Laurent, Fort-Alexandre, and Qu’Appelle. He reorganized the whites and the Métis. The number of parishes was 15 in 1870 and had reached 40 at his death. Each parish had a Catholic school entrusted mainly to Sisters. In 1898 the diocese had 34 diocesan priests, 32 Oblate priests and 14 Brothers, as well as some Jesuits and some Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception.
Relations with the Oblates
Bishop Taché always remained on good terms with the Oblates. He succeeded in taking part in only two General Chapters, that of 1861 and of 1867, but he maintained a regular correspondence with the authorities of the Congregation. Some hundreds of his letters have been preserved. They are addressed to about fifteen Oblates, especially Father Fabre, superior general, Father Sardou, treasurer general, and Father Antoine, Provincial of Eastern Canada and Bishop Faraud. He continued to be vicar of missions from 1851 to 1887.
The suffering caused by the failure of his struggle for justice in the schools became more acute. After 1890 illness slowly undermined his strength. He died on June 22, 1894 and is buried in the cathedral of Saint-Boniface.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
G. A.: Archives: 25 dossiers, including
particularly (in manu or copies) his correspondence with Rome and, his
mother and with the Oblates.
Archives of Archbishop’s House, Saint-Boniface: correspondence and various papers (originals and microfilms).
Benoît, Dom Paul, Vie de Mgr Taché, Montreal 1904, 2 Vol.
Latour, Conrad, o.m.i., “Mgr A. Taché”, in Œuvre des Tracts, Montreal 1923, 16 pages and in Missions OMI, 59 (1925), pp. 315-129.
Frémont, Donatien, Mgr Taché et la naissance du Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1930, 47 pages.
Carrière, Gaston, o.m.i., “Mgr A. Taché”, in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Toronto University/Les Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec, Vol. XII.
Many other works and articles are mentioned in these two dictionaries. There are also many pages about him in Missions OMI; see Tables analytiques.