Mon Journal Fr. Leon Doucet, OMI

This book published by the Alberta Historical Society in 2018 is a fascinating read. It tells the first hand story of what it was like to live among the Metis, Cree and Blackfoot peoples in late 19th century Alberta. Fr. Leon Doucet was just one of the hundreds of Oblates of Mary Immaculate who left family and home to minister to First Nations in Western Canada, starting at Red River in 1843. With few exceptions their work is not well known as the Oblates do not blow their own horn. Hence this is a remarkable story. Disclosure, I am an Oblate Associate – a lay member of the Lacombe Canada Province. I became aware of this book when previous Superior Fr. Ken Forster, OMI sent us short excerpts for reflection. Being a lover of history, I could hardly wait to get my hands on it.

Click on the image above for a clearer view if needed
The book helps destroy the myth that Christian missionaries were agents of cultural change and the First Nations people were passive recipients. There was a cooperative relationship between the Oblates and the Metis, Cree and Blackfoot as well as with the Piagen, Blood and Sarcee. Fr. Doucet and his colleagues were admired by First Nations people for their steadfastness of purpose. Even when they did not show much interest in the newcomers’ religion, they showed respect and would often permit their children to be baptized. For his part, Fr. Doucet provided comfort and caring for the sick, dying and their families. He would journey for hours in deep snow and cold to offer baptism and administer last rights. There was a particularly close relationship between the great Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot and the Oblates. In the early 1880s when the Canadian Pacific railroad was being constructed across Blackfoot land, the Oblates were instrumental in working with Crowfoot to get the Blackfeet to accept reservation lands in compensation. In 1885 during the North West rebellion, the Oblates were instrumental in helping convince the Blackfeet not to join with the Metis and Cree in violent battles with Canadian forces. These negotiations were led by the legendary Fr. Albert Lacombe, OMI. Fr. Doucet was personally present at Crowfoot’s death and baptized the chief with his permission before he died. Chiefs of First Nations peoples benefited from this cooperation as it helped them to maintain social order in their tribes and gave them increased status because of their relationship with Oblate missionaries. Hence there was mutual cooperation. Nevertheless, there was often not much interest shown on the part of the natives in Christian religion (nor of the Oblates in theirs).  The Blackfeet continued their annual Sun Dance or Okan which Fr. Doucet describes in detail. A Metis mission had been established at St. Albert (near Edmonton) in 1861 by Fr. Albert Lacombe, OMI. It was there that Fr. Doucet was ordained in 1870. He then practiced la mission ambulante – he would go where the plains indians were rather than set up a chapel somewhere and hope that they would come. He describes many harrowing trips on foot or horse where they would lose their way in snow and only by the grace of God, find there way out. Later he was sent to Blackfoot Crossing and also helped out at the Oblates St Joseph Industrial School near High River. Typically Fr. Doucet would baptize children, hold catachesis classes, offer Mass for converts and administer last rights. Fr Doucet reports that there were 3144 Oblate baptisms of Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan and Sarcee from March 1865 to October 1890.
I liked this book because it is written in a matter of fact personal voice e.g., we went there, the weather was cold, then we did…my horse ran away, etc. There are many names of people and a short biography of each is provided at the back. There is a good index. Fr. Leon does not much judge, condemn or show any jealousy or anger in his writings. There is the odd bit of humour about competition with Protestant missionaries. He sometimes praises others but usually just reports the facts. A fabulous read for those who enjoy minutiae but also the broader lines of western Canadian history. I would read it again for sure – 4.5 out of 5 stars. (Apparently Part 2 and 3 may be coming in future.) Note. I will place this book in the Oblate Reading Room at Martha House at the Galilee Centre in Arnprior, Ontario If any one wants to borrow it locally, please drop me a line.

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4 responses to “Mon Journal Fr. Leon Doucet, OMI

  1. I only discovered yesterday, that Fr Doucet’s journals had been published in 2018 and I will endeavour to obtain a copy. (I live in England) I am already very familiar with his time in the Canadian North West because of my lengthy research into the life of Fr Constantine Scollen. It will be very interesting to read Fr Doucet’s record of the events because Fr. Scollen’s manuscript for “Thirty Years among the Indians of the North West” along with journals and personal papers, went missing following the death in Ohio of the keeper, Fr. Seibenfercher, in 1911. Fr Scollen wrote a series of 42 letters to the Buffalo Bulletin Wyoming newspaper, during his time as parish priest there, up to 1893. These can be viewed online at Wyoming Digitised newspapers.

    Fr Scollen taught the Cree and Blackfoot languages to Fr Doucet. In1873, he established the mission to the Blackfoot and Fr Doucet joined him in late 1874. They then worked together among the Blackfoot until 1881 when
    Fr Scollen retired from the mission, physically and mentally exhausted. Because they worked so closely together, for so long, my Wikipedia page on
    Fr Scollen may be of interest to Fr Doucet scholars.

    My research began because in the late 1990s my late good friend, Hugh Scollen, was attempting to trace his great great uncle’s book. Over many years I gathered my information into a book. which I decided to self-publish as a gift for Hugh and his family. Hugh died in 2018. Although the book is not for sale, I placed a copy of “Father Con” with the reference section of the Glenbow Museum who along with Albertans Hugh Dempsey and Raymond Huel were enormously helpful. I also placed a copy of a book including the Buffalo Bulletin letters and part of Fr Scollen’s work on the Arapho language. which has been with the Smithsonian since 1893. Unfortunately, most of that work is misplaced somewhere in their dusty vaults. I understand from
    Fr Harry Winter OMI, that Fr Scollen was the only Oblate to have his work accepted by the Smithsonian.

    Ian Fletcher

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    • Wow, thanks for this information Ian. I believe Fr Scollen is mentioned in Doucet’s book. There is a short biography of him at the back excerpted from Raymond Huel https://www.questia.com/read/1G1-272362714/constantine-scollen-the-forgotten-missionary

      I am sure you know all this. I would be very interested to learn more about Fr. Scollen. Journeyed thru Wyoming a few years back and loved it. Will take a look at the digitized papers you mention. Good luck with your research and thanks for your comment.

      Dave

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      • ian fletcher

        Hello Dave
        There is actually a short cut available. Ian Wilson, another Ian and also English, and a part of the very large Scollen family, heard from another member of the Scollens that I had traced the Bulletin letters. I had been on the hunt for them for some years but it was only when the American newspapers were digitised that I was able to find them. Ian “stole my thunder” somewhat and actually did what I had intended to do and he published the letters in Fr Scollens name. They are in the form of an ebook under Fr Con’s original intended title.They only represent about half of his intended book but are a real insight into life on the praries, amongst the First Nations peoples. I believe that the book is available on Amazon, very cheaply. Ian wanted to make it free but wasn’t allowed by Amazon.
        Best wishes to you
        Ian Fletcher

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      • I checked the index and Fr Scollen is mentioned in Fr Doucet’s memoir many times. He praises Fr Scollen for having the interests of the Indians at heart and for interceding at much personal risk to save the life of a policeman at Hobbema, during the rebellion. Will check out Ian’s book. T.hanks

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