Born: La Garde (Hautes-Alpes) France, August 26, 1805.
Took the habit: N. -D. du Laus, August 2, 1821.
Vows: Aix, November 4, 1823 (No. 15).
Priestly ordination: Marseille, May 31, 1828.
Episcopal ordination: Bytown (Ottawa), July 30, 1848.
Died: Ottawa, Canada, February 8, 1874.
Bruno Guigues, who sometimes has Eugène added to his Christian name, began his studies in Gap and continued in the minor seminary of Forcalquier. He entered the Oblate novitiate at Notre-Dame du Laus, Hautes-Alpes, on August 2, 1821. Because he was too young he only made his religious profession in Aix-en-Provence on November 4, 1823 and he remained in Aix for his theological studies.
While still a deacon, he was appointed professor of philosophy (1827-1828) and bursar (1827-1829) in the major seminary of Marseille. On May 31, 1828, Bishop Charles Fortuné de Mazenod of Marseilles ordained him priest. Shortly afterwards he was appointed novice master at Saint-Just, near Marseille, but he had to withdraw from that position for health reasons and he then spent some years in Notre-Dame du Laus and in Aix. In 1834 Father Guigues became the first superior and pastor of Notre-Dame de l’Osier, Isère, and he raised that ancient place of pilgrimage from the state of material and spiritual ruin in which he found it. At the same time he devoted his efforts to preaching retreats in the dioceses of Grenoble and Valence and he was a collaborator of the regional Catholic newspaper.
Superior of the Oblates in Canada
In 1844, after ten years of devoted service, during which time he gained the confidence of the French bishops, he was appointed “visitor” or extraordinary superior in Canada where the Oblates had been working since 1841. He arrived in Longueuil on August 18, 1844 and, without delay, started to work on the organization of the Congregation. During his stay in Longueuil he sent missionaries to relieve secular priests. That is how the Amerindians of Saguenay and Témiscamingue were visited by them. Then, in 1845, Fathers Alexandre Antonin Taché and Pierre Aubert set out for the Red River mission. Father Guigues also tried to send priests to Oregon. In 1847, Father Paul Ricard, together with three priests and a Brother left France for that mission. Besides, the Oblates were ministering in some houses in the United States. While directing the activities of the missionaries, Father Guigues was also Superior of the new community of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
Bishop of Bytown
The bishops of Canada, led by Bishop Bourget, did not take long to recognize the qualities of the Oblate Superior and obtained his appointment as Bishop of Bytown (Ottawa) on July 9, 1847. Not being well versed in the English language, he withdrew to the parish of Saint-Colomban in the diocese of Montreal (today in the diocese of Saint-Jérôme) to learn this language, which was indispensable in his new apostolate. He was then ordained bishop in the cathedral of Bytown on July 30, 1848, by Bishop Rémi Gaulin of Kingston.
The new bishop continued to guide the Congregation of the Oblates with the title of “extraordinary visitor” until 1851 when Father Jacques Santoni succeeded him and later became Provincial from 1856 to 1864, when Father Henri Tabaret took his place. That responsibility did not prevent him from caring seriously for the affairs of his vast diocese with a population of thirty-five to forty thousand souls of which a large proportion were Protestant. When he arrived he found an unfinished cathedral, three stone churches and about fifteen wooden chapels. Seven diocesan priests and seven Oblates constituted the clergy of the diocese. He immediately got down to work and, at his death, there were 67 churches, 48 chapels and number of schools. He then had 53 diocesan priests and 37 Oblates. In 1871 the population had grown to 182, 171 of whom 96,548 were Catholics.
The bishop took particular interest in the Indians and the working camps. He even tried to have a Vicariate apostolic established for the Indians in James Bay and Labrador but this plan was not carried out until the XX century. Bishop Guigues also dedicated his efforts to the work of colonization and, for this purpose, on September 3, 1849 he founded a society for colonization of which he himself was president. This society was to provide useful information to newly arrived colonizers and to have the government make roads and clear the land. He wrote numerous letters to the different authorities. He wanted the clergy to take an interest in this work, but he considered it to be “essentially for the laity” and that its management would be best left in the hands lay people. For the success of this work he considered it best to direct the colonizers from Quebec to the Gatineau area and the region situated between Rigaud and Bytown. “It will be better to begin that way”, he said, “because the Canadians become frightened when they are alone. It is best that they should have company.” As for the Irish colonizers, he encouraged them to settle between Ottawa and Lake Huron.
Education for young people was one of his primary concerns. In September 1848 he opened a college and a major seminary in Bytown. In 1856 he built a new college in stone on the site of what is today the University of Ottawa. Father Joseph Tabaret was appointed superior. The direction of the college was entrusted to the Oblates who retained it until 1965. His seminary did supply some priests but to answer all the needs he had to do some recruiting in his native diocese.
Bishop Guigues was perspicacious. He immediately perceived the special bilingual character of his diocese and he facilitated it in ministry and teaching. He was also very active in providing Catholic schools and he fought long and hard to obtain justice for Catholics and for French Canadians. He offered a free course in the college in Ottawa “to complete studies and obtain the necessary qualifications for teaching”. He presided several meetings of citizens, encouraging them to support and defend Catholic and French schools. He maintained a relationship with the bishops of Ontario, especially Bishop Armand de Charbonnel, and also with Richard William Scott, a member of the legislative Assembly, in order to obtain a law in favour of separate schools, which he did in 1863. In his letters to Egerton Ryerson, superintendent of education for Western Canada, he condemned mixed schools (common schools), which he considered to be the greatest threat to peace in families and for the future of the whole country. He also helped the schools of Ottawa by providing them with loans from the Episcopal treasury. He supported the Grey Nuns, then established in Ottawa and their superior, Élisabeth Bruyère, and he brought the Brothers of the Christian Schools and the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame to Ottawa. These latter established a boarding school.
Bishop Guigues was a friend of the poor and the abandoned. He supported the setting up of a refuge for the elderly and he invited the Good Shepherd Sisters from Buffalo to come and open a house for the protection of young girls. He also gave his support to the French Canadian Institute of Ottawa, the Union of Saint Joseph (later to become the Union of Canada), the Institute for young Irish Catholics, the literary Circle for Catholic Youth and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The Bishop of Ottawa was deeply concerned about the interests of the Canadian church and he attended regularly the provincial councils of Quebec. In 1870 he attended the Vatican Council in Rome where he had the title of Roman Count conferred upon him. Several of the Oblate general chapters in France had the honour of his presence. He was strongly attached to the universal Church and this led him to propose a plan for the support of the Zoaves when the Papal States were invaded in 1867. Beginning in 1860 he suggested that each bishop should support one or more Zoaves.
A kind and amenable person, Bishop Guigues possessed a rare energy and he had the ability to surmount obstacles to achieve his purpose. He was a very simple man and, until the end of his life, he continued to fulfil the tasks of pastor or assistant priest. He was faithful to the confessional in his cathedral and he often preached and visited the sick. Each year he did the round of his diocese and these visits became real retreats during which the bishop was available to all.
Gaston Carrière, o.m.i.