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Alberta's Francophone Heritage
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Francophone Edukit

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The Missionary Oblates of Mary
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The Missionary
Oblates of Mary

The Grey Nuns

The Sisters of
Assumption

Mission Communities

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 Page 1 | 2

Priests, sisters and children at Lacombe home

The religious community of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate was founded in France by Eugène Mazenod in 1816, with the goal of evangelizing the poor. To do so, it was necessary to proselytize in the language of the country, beginning with provençal, spoken in the regions of Marseille and Lyon, and as the little community spread further afield, the different dialects of France were employed. 

The Oblates soon took on missions abroad, in places as diverse as Sri Lanka, Texas, Southern Africa and Canada.1 At the request of Bishop Bourget of the diocese of Montreal, in 1838, Bishop Mazenod sent several missionaries to Canada to work in various regions of Quebec.2 When Bishop Provencher began seeking aid for his vast territory which spanned from Hudson Bay to the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, two young missionaries Alexandre-Antonin Taché and Father Pierre Aubert were sent to him. The former was to spend his long career in the Northwest, and Aubert, who was named parish priest of the St. Boniface parish, visited the Oregon missions and then returned to Montreal in 1859.3 Two nuns accompanied the Oblates to Saint-Boniface. Usually known as the Grey Nuns, these were women from the religious community of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal and came to establish a convent in St. Boniface, where they taught school and tended to the sick and the poor. From these humble beginnings, religious orders continued to proliferate, with ever more members joining the effort of Christianizing the Aboriginal peoples, as well as offering educational services and social services all over the Canadian Northwest, subsidised mainly by the Lyon based organization of the Propagation of the Faith, and in part by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).


The Métis, Father Lacombe, and the first French Oblates.

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Statue of Father LacombeThe initial progress was made more to the North than to the West. At the time, life on the Plains was most precarious due to the incessant conflicts between the various tribes, but in the Boreal forest, where there were abundant furs (particularly in the Athabasca drainage) there was much interest in having the missionaries visit. It is true that missionaries had been sent to Oregon to tend to the families of about 20 French-Canadian voyageurs, and visits had also been made to Fort Edmonton, Lac St. Anne, Cold Lake and Lac La Biche. After these visits, a permanent mission was established at Lac St. Anne, where approximately 200 Métis people lived. The Métis were also glad to have missionaries in the Red River, Qu’Appele and Lake Winnipeg regions, where the two groups often accompanied each other on buffalo hunts. At the same time, the Northwest missions, particularly those of the Athabasca, Peace and Mackenzie basins, which the Oblate missionaries called the Vicariat of the Athabasca-Mackenzie, developed particularly rapidly, most certainly because of the powerful influence of the old French-Canadian voyageurs and their Chipewyan, Dené, Cree, or Métis children.

In 1846, Father Taché established a permanent mission at Île-à-la-Crosse, on the path of the famous Portage-la-Loche, where the HBC has a trading post. In 1850, Father Henri Faraud establishes Nativity Mission, near Fort Chipewyan on the west shore of Lake Athabasca. Their initiative is almost quashed at the outset as the 1848 revolution in France considerably reduces the revenue of the charitable organization of the Propagation of the Faith in Lyon, the principal benefactors of the Oblates in Canada. The Superior of the Order in Canada attempted to recall his missionaries from the far reaches of the Northwest Territory, but by the time his message reached the young priests, they were making significant progress and begged to be allowed to stay, pleading for their missions. Upon reconsideration, it turned out that the funding situation was not as bad as was initially thought, and the missionaries were allowed to stay.

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