Biography

Bishop Ovide Charlebois was born in Oka in Québec, Canada, on February 17, 1862. He was educated at the College de L’Assomption (Quebec) and Ottawa College. Joining the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1883, he was ordained to the Priesthood on July 17, 1887. He was sent to the missions of Western Canada where he dedicated his entire remaining years to the Apostolate within the natives present in those parts.

For sixteen years, Fr. Charlebois lived alone at the mission of St. Joseph at Fort Cumberland in northern Saskatchewan in the Diocese of Saint Albert, working amongst the people of the First Nation. In 1900, he was given administrative responsibility for the surrounding missions, including one at The Pas, Manitoba and most of the lower Saskatchewan River. In 1903, he went to the Industrial School at Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, where he put the financially-troubled facility on a firmer economic basis.

Named Vicar Apostolic of Keewatin, Manitoba, Ovide Charlebois received his Episcopal Consecration with the Titular See of Berenice on November 30, 1910. He was installed on the following March 7, 1911n and resided in The Pas where he remained for the rest of his life.

After a relatively stable life of some twenty years, Bishop Charlebois found himself, at forty-eight, obliged to travel by canoe or dog-sled for his pastoral visits. We find in his journal a page which gives us a little idea of the difficulties encountered during his first pastoral tour, in 1911. He wrote: “I covered 2000 miles (3200 km) by canoe and 50 miles (80 km) on foot through the forest. I slept on the ground 60 times, under the protection of the small tent in which I celebrated Mass so often. I visited 14 missions, totaling 4500 Catholics. Six of these missions had never been visited by a bishop. I confirmed 1100 Amerindians whose fine dispositions greatly edified me.” He made similar voyages tens of times.

Bishop Charlebois also managed to organize the first Missions of the Roman Catholic Church to Hudson’s Bay. There is a special story about that work. Apart from his missionary activity, Bishop Charlebois was the instigator of the process which led to the proclamation of St. Theresa of Lisieux (1873-1897) as Patron Saint of the Missions by Pope Pius XI on December 14, 1927. Between 1912 and 1916 the Oblate, Hudson Bay mission did not have any success. The mission was about to be closed. On July 2, 1917, Fr. Arsène Turquetil O.M.I. (1876-1955) had the joy of baptizing the first Inuits in the region of Hudson Bay through the intercession of St. Theresa of Lisieux. It was, for the Oblate missions of the Far North, no longer a question of closing this mission. St. Theresa had saved it. Bishop Charlebois was so impressed that he sent a request to Rome, signed by 226 missionary bishops from all over the world, asking for the grace to declare Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus patroness of all the missions in the world. In 1927, Pope Pius XI responded favorably to this request.

The bishop labored at the difficult task of organizing his vast vicariate with patience and courage, until he died at The Pas, aged 71, on 20 November 1933, of a chill sustained while travelling by dog team to a community south of the town. He was buried in a small Roman Catholic cemetery of The Pas overlooking the Saskatchewan River. His remains were transferred to the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in 1955.