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The eleven months spent in the monastery
of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, were among the greatest favours God has granted
me. What I had read of the monastic orders, and what my honest, though deluded
imagination, had painted of the holiness, purity, and happiness of the monastic
life, could not be blotted out of my mind, except by a kind of miraculous interposition.
No testimony whatever could have convinced me that the monastic institutions
were not one of the most blessed of the Gospel. Their existence, in the bosom
of the Church of Rome, was, for me, an infallible token of her divine institution,
and miraculous preservation; and their absence among Protestants, one of the
strongest proofs that these heretics were entirely separated from Christ. Without
religious orders the Protestant denominations were to me, as dead and decayed
branches cut from the true vine, which are doomed to perish.
But, just as the eyes of Thomas were opened, and his intelligence was convinced of the divinity of Christ, only after he had seen the wounds in his hands and side, so I could never have believed that the monastic institutions were of heathen and diabolical origin, if my God had not forced me to see with my own eyes, and to touch with my fingers, their unspeakable corruptions.
Though I remained, for some time longer, a sincere Catholic priest, I dare say that God Himself had just broken the strongest tie of my affections and respect for that Church.
It is true that several pillars remained, on which my robust faith in the holiness and apostolicity of the Church rested for a few years longer, but I must here confess to the glory of God, that the most solid of these pillars had for ever crumbled to pieces, when in the monastery of Longueuil.
Long before my leaving the Oblates, many influential priests of the district of Montreal had told me that my only chance of success, if I wanted to continue my crusade against the demon of drunkenness, was to work alone. "Those monks are pretty good speakers on temperance," they unanimously said, "but they are nothing else than a band of comedians. After delivering their eloquent tirades against the use of intoxicating drinks, to the people, the first thing they do is to ask for a bottle of wine, which soon disappears! What fruit can we expect from the preaching of men who do not believe a word of what they say, and who are the first, among themselves, to turn their own arguments into ridicule? It is very different with you; you believe what you say; you are consistent with yourself; your hearers feel it; your profound, scientific, and Christian convictions pass into them with an irresistible power. God visibly blesses your work with a marvelous success! Come to us," said the curates, "not as sent by the superior of the Oblates, but as sent, by God Himself, to regenerate Canada. Present yourself as a French
Canadian priest; a child of the people. That people will hear you with more pleasure, and follow your advice with more perseverance. Let them know and feel that Canadian blood runs in your veins; that a Canadian heart beats in your breast; continue to be, in the future, what you have been in the past. Let the sentiments of the true patriot be united with those of a Catholic priest; and when you address the people of Canada, the citadels of Satan will crumble everywhere before you in the district of Montreal, as they have done in that of Quebec."
At the head of the French Canadian curates, who thus spoke, was my venerable personal friend and benefactor, the Rev. Mr. Brassard, curate of Longueuil. He had not only been one of my most devoted friends and teachers, when I was studying in the college at Nicolet, but had helped me, with his own money, to go through the last four years of my studies, when I was too poor to meet my collegiate expenses. No one had thought more highly than he of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, when they first settled in Canada. But their monastery was too near his parsonage for their own benefit. His sharp eyes, high intelligence, and integrity of character, soon detected that there was more false varnish than pure gold, on their glittering escutcheon. Several love scrapes between some of the Oblates and the pretty young ladies of his parish, and the long hours of night spent by Father Allard with the nuns, established in his village, under the pretext of teaching them grammar and arithmetic, had filled him with disgust. But what had absolutely destroyed his confidence, was the discovery of a long-suspected iniquity, which at first seemed incredible to him. Father Guigues, the superior, after his nomination, but before his installation to the Bishopric of Ottawa, had been closely watched, and at last discovered when opening the letters of Mr. Brassard, which, many times, had passed from the post office, through his hands. That criminal action had come very near to being brought before the legal courts by Mr. Brassard; this was avoided only by Father Guigues acknowledging his guilt, asking pardon in the most humiliating way, before me and several other witnesses.
Long before I left the Oblates, Mr. Brassard had said to me: "The Oblates are not the men you think them to be. I have been sorely disappointed in them, and your disappointment will be no less than mine, when your eyes are opened. I know that you will not remain long in their midst. I offer you, in advance, the hospitality of my parsonage, when your conscience calls you out of their monastery!"
I availed myself of this kind invitation on the evening of the 1st of November, 1847.
The next week was spent in preparing the memoir which I intended to present to my Lord Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, as an explanation of my leaving the Oblates. I knew that he was disappointed and displeased with the step I had taken.
The curate of Chambly, Rev. Mr. Mignault, having gone to the bishop, to express his joy that I had left the monks, in order to serve again in the church, in the ranks of the secular clergy, had been very badly received. The bishop had answered him: "Mr. Chiniquy may leave the Oblates if he likes; but he will be disappointed if he expects to work in my diocese. I do not want his services."
This did not surprise me. I knew that those monks had been imported by him, from France, and that they were pets of his. When I entered their monastery, just eleven months before, he was just starting for Rome, and expressed to me the pleasure he felt that I was to join them. My reasons, however, were so good, and the memoir I was preparing was so full of undoubted facts and unanswerable arguments, that I was pretty sure, not only to appease the wrath of my bishop, but to gain his esteem more firmly than before. I was not disappointed in my expectation.
A few days later I called upon his lordship, and was received very coldly. He said: "I cannot conceal from you my surprise and pain at the rasp step you have taken. What a shame, for all your friends to see your want of consistency and perseverance! Had you remained among those good monks, your moral strength, could have been increased more than tenfold. But you have stultified yourself in the eyes of the people, as well as in mine; you have lost the confidence of your best friends, by leaving, without good reasons, the company of such holy men. Some bad rumours are already afloat against you, which give us to understand that you are an unmanageable man, a selfish priest, whom the superiors have been forced to turn out as a black sheep, whose presence could not be any longer tolerated inside the peaceful walls of that holy monastery."
Those words were uttered with an expression of bad feeling which told me that I had not heard the tenth part of what he had in his heart. However, as I came into his presence prepared to hear all kinds of bad reports, angry reproaches, and humiliating insinuations, I remained perfectly calm. I had, in advance, resolved to hear all his unfriendly, insulting remarks, just as if they were addressed to another person, a perfect stranger to me. The last three days had been spent in prayers to obtain that favour. My God had evidently head me; for the storm passed over me without exciting the least unpleasant feelings in my soul.
I answered: "My lord, allow me to tell you that, in taking the solemn step of leaving the monastery of Longueuil, I was not afraid of what the world would say, or think of me. My only desire is to save my soul, and give the rest of my life to my country and my God, in a more efficacious way than I have yet done. The rumours which seem to trouble your lordship about my supposed expulsion from the Oblates do not affect me in the least, for they are without the least foundation. From the first to the last day of my stay in that monastery, all the inmates, from the superior to the last one, have overwhelmed me with the most sincere marks of kindness, and even of respect. If you had seen the tears which were shed by the brothers, when I bade them adieu, you would have understood that I never had more devoted and sincere friends than the members of that religious community. Please read this important document, and you will see that I have kept my good name during my stay in that monastery." I handed him the following testimonial letter which the superior had given me when I left:
"I, the undersigned, Superior of the Noviciate of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Longueuil, do certify that the conduct of Mr. Chiniquy, when in our monastery, has been worthy of the sacred character which he possesses, and after this year of solitude, he does not less deserve the confidence of his brethren in the holy ministry than before. We wish, moreover, to give our testimony of his preserving zeal in the cause of temperance. We think that nothing was more of a nature to give a character of stability to that admirable reform, and to secure its perfect success, than the profound reflections and studies of Mr. Chiniquy, when in the solitude of Longueuil, on the importance of that work.
"T. F. Allard,
"Superior of the Noviciate O.M.I."
It was really most pleasant for me
to see that every line of that document read by the bishop was blotting out
some of the stern and unfriendly lines which were on his face, when speaking
to me. Nothing was more amiable than his manners, when he handed it back to
me, saying: "I thank God to see that you are still as worthy of my esteem
and confidence, as when you entered that monastery. But would you be kind enough
to give me the real reasons why you have so abruptly separated from the Oblates?"
"Yes, my lord, I will give them to you; but your lordship knows that there are things of such a delicate nature, that the lips of man shiver and rebel when required to utter them. Such are some of the deplorable things which I have to mention to your lordship. I have put those reasons in these pages, which I respectfully request your lordship to read," and I handed him the Memoir, about thirty pages long, which I had prepared. The bishop read, very carefully five or six pages, and said: "Are you positive as to the exactness of what you write here?"
"Yes, my lord! They are as true and real as I am here."
The bishop turned pale and remained a few minutes silent, biting his lips, and after a deep sigh, said: "Is it your intention to reveal those sad mysteries to the world, or can we hope that you will keep that secret?"
"My lord," I answered, "if your lordship and the Oblates deal with me, as I hope they will do, as with an honourable Catholic priest; if I am kept in the position which an honest priest has a right to fill in the church, I consider myself bound, in conscience and honour, to keep those things secret. But, if from any abuse, persecutions emanating from the Oblates, or any other party, I am obliged to give to the world the true reasons of my leaving that monastic order, your lordship understands that, in self-defense, I will be forced to make these revelations!"
"But the Oblates cannot say a word, or do anything wrong against you," promptly answered the bishop, "after the honourable testimony they have given you."
"It is true, my lord, that I have no reason to fear anything from the Oblates!" I answered; "but those religious men are not the only ones who might force me to defend myself. You know another who has my future destinies in his hands. You know that my future course will be shaped by h is own toward me."
With an amiable smile the bishop answered:
"I understand you. But I pledge myself that you have nothing to fear from that quarter. Though I frankly tell you that I would have preferred seeing you work as a member of that monastic institution, it may be that it is more according to the will of God, that you should go among the people, as sent by God, rather than by a superior, who might be your inferior in the eyes of many, in that glorious temperance, of which you are evidently the blessed apostle in Canada. I am glad to tell you that I have spoken of you to his holiness, and he requested me to give you a precious medal, which bears his most perfect features, with a splendid crucifix. His holiness has graciously attached three hundred days' for indulgences to every one who will take the pledge of temperance in kissing the feet of that crucifix. Wait a moment," added the bishop, "I will go and get them and present them to you."
When the bishop returned, holding in his hands those two infallible tokens of the kind sentiments of the Pope towards me, I fell on my knees to receive them and press them both to my lips with the utmost respect. My feelings of joy and gratitude in that happy hour cannot be expressed. I remained mute, for some time, with surprise and admiration, when holding those precious things which were coming to me, as I then sincerely believed, from the very successor of Peter, and the true Vicar of Christ Himself. When handing me those sacred gifts, the bishop addressed me the kindest words which a bishop can utter to his priest, or a father to his beloved son. He granted me the power to preach and hear confessions all over his diocese, and he dismissed me only after having put his hand on my head and asked God to pour upon me His most abundant benedictions everywhere I should go to work in the holy cause of temperance in Canada.