Born in Aigentré (Mayenne), April 30, 1841
Taking of the habit in N.-D. de l’Osier, November 25, 1851
Oblation in Marseille, December 8, 1852 (No.336)
Ordination to the priesthood in Marseilles, June 25, 1854
Died in Mission City, British Columbia, March 9, 1912.
Léon Fouquet was Jean Fouquet’s sixth son. After two of the children and his first wife Perrine Tribondeau died, Jean married Renée Louise Talluau who gave birth to Léon and another son and daughter. Both of Léon’s parents were uneducated and came from peasant origins, factors which no doubt had a bearing on his later empathy for the poor.
Thanks to financial assistance, the future missionary was given a good education by a private tutor, the Royal College of Laval, the minor seminary of Précigné, and at the major seminary of Marseilles. Following ordination he was assigned to teach theology at Ajaccio major seminary, Corsica, and Montolivet scholasticate, near Marseilles, a role he dutifully exercised for the next five years although he was sorely disappointed that his boyhood ambition to go to the missions had been thwarted. However, these years in the classroom were to have a lasting impact on Fouquet’s subsequent missionary career. Eventually, Fouquet was granted his wish and assigned to the Vicariate of Oregon, arriving in the colony of Vancouver Island on the 12th of December, 1859. There, and in other parts of British Columbia as well as Alberta, he would labour for fifty-three years, one of the abler, if somewhat unique, Oblate missionaries in the region at that time.
Fouquet’s first missionary appointment was to Esquimalt on Vancouver Island where he acquired rudiments of native languages and culture and undertook extensive journeys. There too, he began ministering to coastal Indians, and to the Island’s sailors and settlers.
Following this initiation, the Oblate’s next seven years were spent at New Westminster and in the surrounding area, a remarkably active phase of his career. Highlights of this period include the founding of new missions (New Westminster, Mission, and North Vancouver), the shouldering of important administrative duties, journeying thousands of miles to explore new territory, organizing massive gatherings of native peoples, and meeting the onerous demands of ministering in a hectic gold-rush society. At the end of the period, moreover, Fouquet’s relations with Oblate Bishop Louis D’Herbomez had grown badly strained, due partly to Fouquet’s combativeness and insistence on juridical principles. By this time too, the Oblate*s health was beginning to suffer from the rugged conditions of ministry. In 1867, Fouquet was transferred to St. Michael’s mission at Fort Rupert and Harbledown Island where Oblates had been working with little success for four years. The new missionary’s efforts were equally fruitless in overcoming native customs, in halting the spread of alcohol, or in offsetting the influence of Protestant missionaries. Finally, despite Fouquet’s objections, the mission was abandoned in 1874, and Fouquet was given his obedience for the Kootenays, where he would minister for the next thirteen years.
Prior to his arrival, the Kootenay mission, which Fouquet named St. Eugene’s, had been served by Jesuits travelling from Montana and Idaho. They had baptized most of the Indians but erected no permanent church buildings. Fouquet, therefore, had to devote a great deal of time and energy to establishing the mission, a task requiring enormous physical labour and spiritual stamina, and much travel. Marring his efforts were a constant shortage of funds, chronic illnesses, conflict with companions and superiors, opposition from local dignitaries, and the Indians1 strong-mindedness and mobility. At St. Eugene’s, Fouquet built up a farm and mill, strove to launch a school, maintained a good rapport with the Indians, and played a part in the settlement of the Amerindian land question. At the end of his term, however, his health was broken and he was advised to take several months’ rest.
Sent to New Westminster to recuperate, Fouquet taught theology to scholastics (as he had at Fort Rupert) and did some ministry for the next year. But foreseeing that Oblate Bishop Paul Durieu would soon replace Bishop Louis D’Herbomez who was dying, he then requested to be moved from the Vicariate of British Columbia, citing as his reason irreconcilable differences with Durieu. Father Joseph Fabre, then Superior General, acquiesced, assigning Fouquet to the Vicariate of St. Albert in the fall of 1888.
Fouquet stayed there for eleven years, working in St. Albert, Edmonton and Calgary as energetically as his health would permit. Then, following Bishop Durieu’s death in 1899, Bishop Augustin Dontenwill recalled Fouquet to British Columbia. Returning to St. Mary’s Mission on the Fraser, which he had founded, the Oblate there lived out his final years in semi-retirement until his death in 1912.
Though he was a complex and often troublesome person, Fouquet was an excellent missionary. Deeply devoted to the Oblate Congregation and to the Indian peoples, his labours are a credit to the Church he served.
Thomas A. Lascelles, o.m.i.