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Bishop Vital - Justin Grandin

Portrait of Bishop Grandin, courtesy of the Glenbow Museum, Art Gallery, Library and Archives

Vital - Justin Grandin was born in Saint-Pierre-la-Coeur (France) on 8 February 1829, to father Jean and mother Marie Veillard. Grandin was a sickly child, whose poor health and speech impediment was present for the duration of his life. Those handicaps, however, did not prevent him from answering a spiritual calling. After completing his education at the Oblates of Mary Immaculate-run Grand Séminaire, Grandin was ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church on 23 April 1854. A month later he was sent overseas as a missionary to the Canadian northwest.

While always working under the authority of Bishop Taché of St. Boniface, Grandin spent time in Fort Chipewyan, at La Nativité mission, then on to Île-à-la-Crosse. It was here, in December of 1857, that he was named coadjutor bishop of St. Boniface, which meant that he would assist Taché in the administration of this massive parish that encompassed most of the northwest. At Taché's request the parish was divided in 1869, creating the vicariate of Saskatchewan. Subsequently, in September of 1871, the diocese of St. Albert was created, and it was here that Grandin, as bishop, would spend the remainder of his life.

A tireless advocate for the advancement of local First Nations and Métis peoples, Grandin was generally more accepting of native culture and tradition than many of his colleagues. As a testament to his nature Grandin, although adamantly opposed to the ideologies of Louis Riel, remained sympathetic to the Métis and aboriginal people during the Northwest Rebellion, believing that their treatment by Ottawa had created the conditions of poverty and suffering that had led to the uprise. Grandin also attempted to mentor indigenous peoples into the clergy, an action that many of his colleagues were unsupportive of. Although his various efforts in this cause proved largely unsuccessful, in 1890 he did ordain Édouard Cunnigham, the northwest's first Métis priest.

Bishop Grandin's Residence markerDespite his poor health, Grandin was renowned for his devotion to his faith and skills as an administrator. Under his direction the St. Albert diocese was expanded, and new posts, such as Brocket, Cluny and Our Lady of Peace were added. He also oversaw the construction of new schools, hospitals, orphanages and even a seminary. Grandin allowed female religious orders and secular clergy to help administer many of these institutions. He also worked diligently to meet the needs of Catholics in the growing communities of Edmonton and Calgary, through the construction of new churches. Moreover, Grandin also sought to increase the influence of Roman Catholics in the region by working with individuals such as Abbé Jean-Baptiste Morin in encouraging the growth of Francophone settlement. Grandin's efforts here included overseas recruitment drives.

Bishop Grandin's residenceAlthough deteriorating health was becoming more burdensome, Bishop Grandin continued to administer the St. Albert diocese into his final years, although somewhat reluctantly. In the late 1800s, he submitted his resignation, only to meet with Rome's refusal (although they did appoint Émile-Joseph Legal as coadjutor in 1897). Vital-Justin Grandin continued to serve as bishop of St. Albert until his death on 3 June 1902. In 1966 the Roman Catholic Church had him venerated.

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