1. The College of Bytown
  2. In their own building
  3. Personnel
  4. Organization and community life
  5. Spreading outside
  6. The Édifice Deschâtelets

Saint Joseph’s Scholasticate in Ottawa was the first Oblate scholasticate in the American continent. At the beginning it went through a long period of relative instability from 1843 to 1845. The question of recruiting was raised among the Oblates from the time they arrived in Canada on December 2, 1841. On that day Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal placed his personal secretary, Father Damase Dandurand at their disposal to initiate them into the ways of the country. On the 24th of that same month the young man asked to be received into the Congregation. (see Carrière, Gaston, o.m.i., Dictionnaire biographique…, I, p. 248). It was to be two years later before the first scholastics entered.

Ottawa, Saint Joseph’s Scholasticate (AD)

In fact, in October 1843, when Father Adrien Telmon returned from the general chapter, he brought with him two scholastics: Nicolas Laverlochère and Auguste-Albert Brunet. It was to be in Longueuil, the only house of the Congregation in the country at that time, that they would complete their studies under the direction of Father Jean-François Allard (see Les Fêtes du scolasticat, p.12).

The College of Bytown
Bishop Bruno Guigues, superior of the Oblates and newly appointed to the see of Bytown, initiated his major seminary in the bishop’s residence and brought the Oblate scholastics to join the seminarians (1848). Some months later, Bishop Guigues opened a college and entrusted it to the Oblates. There, again, he placed his seminarians and the Oblate scholastics joined them. Together with the seminarians and under the direction of the Oblates they continued their studies and they also helped in the running of the college, in keeping with what was common practice at that time in colleges and minor seminaries run by the clergy.

The situation had some advantages. Apart from helping the work of the college entrusted to the Congregation, it fostered the integration of the scholastics in their milieu, provided them with an experience of ministry, and developed their personality and sense of responsibility. Nevertheless, it was abnormal and provisional. Different solutions were sought. It was thought that it might be a good idea to send the scholastics to Europe for formation. That would enhance their studies and strengthen the links uniting them with the whole Congregation. In fact one or other would eventually be sent there. For a time, one year of philosophical studies was done in Lachine. The possibility of having the scholasticate in Hull, Buffalo or in Saint-Pierre in Montreal, was also discussed. For a long time, however, it was thought better to leave it in Bytown. From that time it has borne the name Saint Joseph’s Scholasticate (see Carrière, Histoire documentaire… VII, p. 68) which was the name given to it by the then Superior General, Father Joseph Fabre (see Les Fêtes du scolasticat, p.60).

During this period there were nine moderators of scholastics, all except one whom were French, and all of whom were men of the highest calibre: Fathers Pierre Aubert, Henri Tabaret, Prosper Boisramé etc. About one hundred Oblates received their priestly formation in the Canadian scholasticate of the time (see Notes d’histoire, Richelieu, 1947, Manu).

In their own building
The time came when the number of scholastics required that a decision be made to build a house reserved for the scholasticate alone. It was decided to build it on farmland, which belonged to the college, on the edge of the city. The place was Archville, a municipality later named Ottawa-East before it became integrated into the city of Ottawa itself. We know that the Founder kept urging the Oblates to establish a foothold in Ottawa, “a city with a future” as he said with almost prophetic insight (letter to Father Jean-Baptiste Honorat, March 1, 1844). Not only did the humble village of that time become the Ottawa of today, the capital of Canada, but the whole region can be considered a “real metropolis of the Oblate world, bringing together 500 Oblates from numerous Provinces and where all the Oblate works are represented: the Commission for the Indian and Eskimo missions, six parishes, a closed retreat house, a printing press and radio station, the Catholic centre, teaching institutions and formation houses of various sorts, a juniorate, a novitiate, two scholasticates, a pastoral centre, a college, a major seminary, and, finally, the great Oblate University” (Études oblates, 1960, p. 89). It has been remarked that this geographical situation offers the young Oblate “the advantage of growing up in this milieu which is intensely international and a source of invincible faith in the Congregation and apostolic audacity which has withstood the test of time” (ibid.).

On September 1, 1885, the treasurer, Father Égide Van Laar, surrounded by a few Brothers, celebrated Mass for the first time in the new building at Archville. Three days later, the superior, Father Joseph Mangin, officially took possession. Finally, on September 8, Feast of Mary’s Nativity, twenty-eight scholastics came to live there and they were followed next day by five more arriving from the novitiate (see Les Fêtes… p. 23).

The personnel of the scholasticate, at least at the beginning, was composed mainly of Canadians but it was soon to become international; there were Americans and Europeans: French, German, Irish, Belgian, and Polish. The foreign contribution continued until 1917. It began again in the years following 1930 with the arrival of American, Belgian and African scholastics that came from the Canadian Provinces and vicariates.

Since its beginning the scholasticate has provided about 1,500 priests for the Church and for the Congregation. About one-third of these have gone to the missions. The rest ministered in the territory that is now the Province of Notre-Dame du Cap or have gone to reinforce Oblate Provinces in Western Canada. Among those past pupils we include: Cardinal Rodrigue Villeneuve, Cardinal Francis George, Bishops Augustin Dontenwill, Ovide Charlebois, Joseph Guy, Joseph Bonhomme, Martin Lajeunesse, Ubald Langlois, Henri Belleau, Louis Collignon, Marc Lacroix, Lionel Scheffer, Jules Leguerrier, John Taylor, George Dion, Henri Légaré, Albert Sanschagrin, Reynald Rouleau, Vincent Cadieux, Gilles Cazabon, Claude Champagne. We must add the name of Archbishop Adam Exner who was a member of the community as a student priest. The Congregation has also taken three past members of the community as Superiors General: Bishop Augustin Dontenwill, Fathers Léo Deschâtelets and Fernand Jetté and as members of the General Administration: Fathers Servule Dozois, Anthime Desnoyers, Stanislas Larochelle, André Guay, Laurent Roy. Francis George, Thomas Manyeli, Alexander Motanyane, not to mention numerous Provincials and vicars of missions in different parts of the Congregation.

It would be impossible to mention all those, both priests and Brothers, who shared in building this community. The author of the article in Vie Oblate Life (1986, p. 50) says: “The credit must be attributed first of all to the pioneers, mainly French, who were teachers above all and forerunners. From the time they began to be replaced by Canadians, there is one personality who stands out from their ranks and who, for two decades, was the rallying point and catalyser, the “little Father” Rodrigue Villeneuve”.

Organization and community life
The very atmosphere of St. Joseph’s Scholasticate was profoundly marked by its association with the University of Ottawa. Even after the scholasticate had been housed in a separate building, the connection remained far from broken. That is what is stated by Father Aimé Martinet, assistant general, in his act of visitation in 1881: “The university gives us certain advantages; that is why the scholasticate is not merely affiliated to the university, it is an integral part of it.” In fact, since the University received its pontifical charter in 1889 and until 1932, on the occasion of the reorganization required by the apostolic constitution Deus scientiarum Dominus the ecclesiastical faculties were practically identical with those of the scholasticate. That was a situation that naturally conditioned the running of the house. The Codex Historicus of September 8, 1891, noted: “from the studies point of view, our Brothers have to prepare for their degrees… we have been obliged to change our timetable, to have more classes.”

The time came when, in order to facilitate the development of the ecclesiastical faculties, a part of the scholasticate land was ceded for the building of the ecclesiastical seminary and, later, for the Sedes Sapientiae establishment which held the faculties attended by the scholastics and of which part of the professorial staff came from the scholasticate. This arrangement remained more or less the same when the ecclesiastical faculties formed the Saint Paul University, directed by the Oblates who then abandoned the rest of the university faculties to the new University of Ottawa which is no longer the responsibility of the Oblate Congregation.

To complete this intensive intellectual climate, there was an adequate pastoral formation. There were classes in missiology, courses on preaching and even, at one time, elocution lessons given by a layperson. There was plenty of collaboration in preaching, liturgy and catechism with the Holy Family parish, which was attached to the University and provided initiation for the scholastics in the ministry. For a long time the cycle of studies of the scholastic was interrupted for a regency year during which he had a first taste of ministry before resuming his studies and reflecting on his experience.

A very important element of this pastoral formation during fifty years was the Association of Saint John the Baptist. It had been begun by the scholastics themselves and the first article of the constitutions stated: “The essential aim of the Association of Saint John the Baptist is to prepare the French speaking scholastics of Saint Joseph’s Scholasticate for an effectively apostolic life by initiating them little by little, in the light of the principles of a healthy theology and a healthy philosophy, to the serious social, religious and national problems, the knowledge of which is essential, especially in our day, for the zeal of our French-Canadian clergy.”

As in all institutions of this sort, there were a number of groups and organizations in the scholasticate. The Service royal was due to the influence of the Oblates from Montmartre and its aim was to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart; the Service marial for devotion to the Blessed Virgin; the liturgical movement which catered for singing and sacred music; the missionary service which maintained contact with past pupils in the missions; the Aide intellectuelle missionnaire, which provided books for Oblates and others in the missions.

There was, of course, Oblate formation strictly speaking, as a completing factor to all of this apostolic preparation. As a special element to help in this domain we were privileged to have a relic of the heart of Bishop de Mazenod. Devotion to the Founder was expressed in many ways, of which the most notable are the Oblate archives of the scholasticate, which were to become the Deschâtelets Archives. At the present time, they are, together with the General Archives in Rome, the most extensive in the whole Congregation. It was from those archives that the periodical Études oblates (today, Vie Oblate Life) was born and has now spread throughout the Congregation.

Spreading outside
A house that was so overflowing with life could not do other than to spread its influence abroad. Soon the immediate neighbourhood of the scholasticate became the Holy Family parish, founded in 1901. That, in turn, gave birth in 1930 to the parish of Canadian Martyrs, which was served by the Oblates of Saint Peter’s Province (see Charles Bruyère, Paroisse Sainte-Famille, 1901-1981)

The process of insertion into the local milieu naturally brought men of the calibre of Father Charles Charlebois into the personnel of the scholasticate. The house had at least a certain influence in the creation of enterprises such as the French Canadian educational Association of Ontario, and the newspaper Le Droit d’Ottawa, both of them precious helps for French-speaking Catholics in Ontario (see Carrière, Dictionnaire biographique, I, pp. 184-185, Laurent Tremblay, o.m.i., Entre deux livraisons, p. 12).

It was also from the scholasticate that the enclosed retreats in the diocese of Ottawa were founded in 1911. These retreats were held in the scholasticate during the holiday period for a period of fifteen years until a new unit was built that would house them permanently (see J.-P. Archambault, s.j., Les retraites fermées, Montreal, 1915, pp. 88-89).

It was also in the scholasticate that the Sisters of the Sacred Heart were received on their arrival from France. They were co-operators in the work of the scholasticate from 1862 to 1969 when they were replaced by the Little Sisters of the Holy Family. In 1904 they opened a novitiate which was built on scholasticate land and it was from there that Sisters would set out to form what are today two Provinces of their Congregation in Canada.

We have already mentioned the reciprocal influence of the University of Ottawa on the scholasticate and of the scholasticate on our university work. In 1931, it was in the scholasticate that the first secretariat of the Revue de l’Université d’Ottawa was established. In 1929, it was from the scholasticate that the Société thomiste d’Ottawa was launched, bringing together professors from numerous formation houses in the region. Later, in 1947, Father Marcel Bélanger founded the Société canadienne d’études mariales.

The missionary spirit prevalent in the scholasticate brought about the first Semaine d’études missionnaires du Canada (mission studies week of Canada) which was held in the house in 1934. About the same time, Father Joseph-Étienne Champagne founded the Institute for missionary studies of the University of Ottawa and that in turn gave rise to a number of publications, of which two are periodicals: Antropologica and Kerygma.

Ottawa, Deschâtelets Building (AD)

The Édifice Deschâtelets
The building has had a number of successive transformations. The most recent (1967-1968) came about because the house took on a new purpose. Scholastics were less numerous. Preparation for the priesthood was being done more frequently by living in a team and, therefore, small communities were formed. The space freed in this way has become available to students, priests, religious men and women who frequent Saint Paul University, which is situated on the edge of the property.

The building was given the name of Édifice Deschâtelets in honour of Father Léo Deschâtelets, former superior of the house, who was Superior General of the Congregation for twenty-five years. At the present time the house is a hive of activity. The personnel is made up of about fifty Oblates, Fathers and Brothers, and about one hundred students who come from Canada, USA, Europe, Africa and Asia. Through them the house continues to be an international influence at the service of the Church.

Maurice Gilbert, o.m.i.