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Religious Life

In the young Madawaska colony, as in all of French Canada at the time, religion was important. Joseph Daigle and other pioneers would not be content to simply seek protection from a cross, erected upon their arrival on the soil of their new homeland. Almost immediately, they took the necessary steps to obtain the services of a priest. In 1786, the pastor of Isle Verte became responsible for Madawaska. Because he had to serve several missions spread over a vast territory, the priest could only visit the region about three weeks a year usually in the month of June. A lowly “bark hut” served as a meeting place or chapel for a few years. It was in this small chapel, erected on the north shore of St. John River, that the missionaries Adrien Leclerc (1786-1790) and J.-L. Paquet (1791-1794) would gather the Madawaska pioneers and the Maliseets of the region for Eucharistic celebrations, baptisms, marriages and burials. One can just imagine the atmosphere reigning during these springtime gatherings after the isolation of the long winter.

Nevertheless, the short annual visit of a missionary did not satisfy the population, nor did the small birch bark chapel. The inhabitants wanted a resident priest and church. However, correspondence between the missionaries and the Bishop of Quebec indicates that they believed the milieu was too poor to incur the costs necessary for organized parish life. Despite this, the construction of a church was instigated (by the settlers) in 1791 without the authorization of the bishop who wrote to Father Paquet: “We need to make the inhabitants of Madawaska understand that they should not undertake the construction of a chapel, without having first obtained permission from the Bishop of the diocese.”

The tenacity and determination of the people of Madawaska eventually succeeded and the Upper St. John River Valley was elevated to a religious parish named Saint-Basile-de-Madawaska. Baptisms, marriages and burials would now be registered in the records of the Saint Basile presbytery. Between 1792 and 1794, a modest church containing 24 benches was built under the supervision of parish administrators Alexandre Ayotte, Jacques Cyr and Alexandre Albert. In 1803, it was in this church that Bishop Denault, for the first time in Madawaska, administered the sacrament of Confirmation to 186 people aged 12 to 75 years. From 1804, (excluding the years 1806-1808), the Madawaska region has had a resident priest.

G. Desjardins
Université de Moncton campus d'Edmundston Société Historique du Madawaska Ville d'Edmundston Patrimoine Canadien