Father Lacombe, the Black-Robe Voyageur

An excellent book about a very talented Canadian missionary Fr. Albert Lacombe, OMI. It was first published in 1911 by Katherine Hughes Canadian journalist and author. She was approached by Fr. Lacombe to help him write his memoirs after 60+ years of ministering to the Cree, Métis and Blackfeet First Nations people in Alberta. I highly enjoyed reading about his first hand encounters with these peoples during years of tumultuous change and development in north western and all Canada.
Father Lacombe and the Blackfeet, C. W. Jefferys, 1934
Born in Saint-Sulpice, Lower Canada in 1827 it was soon evident that he had a strong interest in religion. After ordination as a secular priest he was sent to Pembina, ND in 1849 where he accompanied the Métis on the plains during there semi-annual buffalo hunts. After a short return to the east he was sent to Lac Ste Anne (Alta) where he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) religious order. Working with Bishop Alexander Taché of Red River (Man), they selected a new site for a mission near Fort Edmonton where the Cree and Blackfeet came to trade and named it St. Albert. Pere Lacombe established this mission successfully for the Metis who were Roman Catholics being the descendents from french, english and native parents.

In 1865 at his request, Taché permitted him to establish an itinerant ministry to the Cree and Blackfoot. He established Saint-Paul-des-Cris on the North Saskatchewan River. From there he went on to camp with the Blackfeet who were the mortal enemies of the Cree and the fiercest of all the Plains Indians. The Cree were somewhat receptive to Pere Lacombe’s Christian teachings and some agreed to be baptized into the faith. Not so the Blackfeet. Along with their allies, the Piegan and Blood tribes, they had a culture that did not permit a warrior to humble himself. Nevertheless Pere Lacombe gained their respect and became great friends with their Chief Crowfoot.

He developed a famous catechesis ladder with pictures that showed the path to heaven and the path to hell. He would use this to instruct native youth while helping to develop Cree and Blackfoot language dictionaries as well as nursing them when sick. He was assisted in this by the interpreter and controversial “lay priest” Jean L’Heureux. At one point Lacombe was caught in a battle between the Cree and Blackfoot. While trying to stop it he was grazed by a bullet and nursed back to health by L’Heureux.

One in the most memorable stories in the book for me was when he was travelling back to a mission in the dead of winter on foot. They had but a few days of food remaining when they came upon a small group of starving Cree. Pere Lacombe invited them to join and they continued together. He immediately gave away the last food he had to the starving natives as they continued to plod forward together. They were all near death one morning. Pere Lacombe urged everyone to walk for one more day. At the end of that day, they finally spotted a light from the encampment and staggered into safety at last. This is the supreme Christian example of giving away what you yourself need as an act of charity to help someone else. This was what Pere Lacombe was like as a man. Please watch this short CBC video for some further testimony.

In 2018 Marie and I took a Great Plains road trip and snapped this photo of Fort Whoop-Up in Lethbridge, AB. Ironically it was closed for the season. Pere Lacombe and the Methodist missionary Rev George MacDougall pleaded with Ottawa to halt the illegal whiskey trade there by Americans in the 1870s. It was destroying the Blackfeet and other tribes. In 1873 the North West Mounted Police force was established and put an end to this devastation for good.

In what I would call Part II of his life, he was called back to the Archdiocese of St. Boniface in 1874 to assist Bishop Taché in fundraising efforts for the western missions. For the next 40 years he criss-crossed Canada, parts of the U.S., Europe, journeyed to the Holy Land and became first hand friends with Prime Ministers, Governors-General, business men like William Van Horne CPR President, and international and church leaders including Popes and Emperors. He served as a peacemaker in the 1885 North West Rebellion by convincing the Blackfeet to not join in with the 2nd Métis rebellion under Louis Riel. He enabled a peace agreement with the Blackfeet to permit the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway across their reservation land. He built a colony for the Métis who were the worst of persecuted peoples even to this day. He established a home for orphans and the aged in Calgary when he was in his eighties. He was a master fundraiser and planner who never kept a penny of donations for his own use. It is reported that he would only eat one meal a day so every extra penny could go into the missions!
Pere Lacombe in 1913, photo Wikipedia
Yes he was instrumental in the founding of the Residential School system in Canada. But he admitted that there were problems. The educated youth who would return to the reservation were neither white nor Indian. He knew then that it was not an ultimate solution. I liken the role of a religious missionary in 19th century Canada to be like the cutting wheel of a vast mining machine (colonialization) that keeps pushing deeper into the coal face. Yes, he could be impatient at times and embelish. But he always had the welfare of First Nations peoples in his heart. They called him “man of good heart”. Finally slowing down a bit…, he moved to Hermitage St. Michel in Pincher Creek to write his memoirs but continued his fundraising trips unabated. It was in 1916 that he drew his last breath in Midnapore, now a suburb of Calgary. He is the archetype of Oblate missionaries in Canada, always among the people. He was successful for three reasons. First, he got along with everyone he met, easily making friends and gaining trust. Two, he was an adventurer and planner who could never sit still. Third, he was both skilled and compassionate wanting to remain a priest rather than become a bishop with admin duties. In 1932 he was named a National Historic Person of Canada. The cities of Lacombe and St. Albert, Alberta have been named in his honour. Peacemaker, priest and pioneer, Pere Lacombe makes me proud to be an Oblate Associate and a Canadian.
Photo courtesy University of Calgary
Well done Pere Lacombe and Katherine Hughes for writing this highly fascinating, accurate and factual account of a great life. 5 out of 5 stars!

Here is a short video about Father Lacombe.


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9 responses to “Father Lacombe, the Black-Robe Voyageur

  1. Thanks David – I too got to know Albert Lacombe through this book – it is one of the sources of my research paper – that I have yet to finish but I felt I came to know him well with this book as my source because it is so much “in his words”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment Eleanor. I got to know Pere Albert for the first time by reading this book. Best wishes in your continuing research on him and in your Oblate course program.


  2. Re: Fr. Albert Lacombe

    Hello again.
    The “Black Robes” were, of course, the Jesuits. My researches on Father Scollen involved the lives of other Oblates and they included, Fr. Lacombe as well as Fr. Doucet. It is some years since I completed my book, “Father Con” but I quote below, the Lacombe paragraph, without the illustrations.

    “Chapter 6
    Albert Lacombe

    Although Lacombe was undoubtedly, a good man and a dedicated priest, he seems to have expended some of his energy on self promotion. He was quite prepared to take the credit for the writings of others and sometimes, their deeds. He was also prepared to bend the facts in order to create a favourable image for himself as an heroic figure, in the public eye. In this he was very successful and his memory is now honoured, in Alberta. He became Scollen’s mentor in May 1862 and they remained firm friends until Scollen’s death, forty years later.
    He was born in Saint-Sulpice, Lower Canada, (Quebec) on 28th February 1827 to a French-Canadian farming family. He often alluded to having First Nation ancestry although modern genealogical research has shown that, in fact, there was no direct bloodline. He studied for the priesthood at the College de L’Assomption near Montreal and was ordained in June 1849. After his two years with Fr. Bellecourt, in Pembina, he returned to Quebec where he spent a year in Berthier, as a curate. His interest in working in the North West had not diminished so his bishop, Ignace Bourget, gave him permission to join Bishop Tache at Red River and he travelled there with a Hudson’s Bay voyageurs’ brigade, in 1852. “Old Glad”, William S. Gladstone, then a twenty year old “Young Glad” was one of the trip-men voyageurs on that journey. Lacombe and the Methodist missionary, Thomas Woolsey, joined the brigade on the leg from Norway House, on Lake Winnipeg, to Edmonton. This would have been particularly pleasing to Glad and his fellow trip-men because this meant that the boat would not be worked, on each Sunday during the voyage, in deference to the two clerics. Another passenger on that trip was John Rowand, who had been chief factor at Fort Edmonton for almost thirty years.
    On arrival at Fort Edmonton, Woolsley established himself at the fort and Lacombe went on to Lake St. Anne (previously called Devil’s Lake) which would be his base until St Albert was established in 1861. From 1865 until 1872 he was given the role of itinerant priest to the Cree, Metis and Blackfoot. He left the western missions in 1872, just before Scollen established the first mission to the Blackfoot, in 1873, and Lacombe did not return until August 1882, a year after Scollen had retired exhausted, and then only after great pressure had been placed on him and Archbishop Tache, for him to do so.
    In 1882, a French priest, Fr. Emile-Joseph Legal arrived at Fort Macleod to minister to the Blackfoot. At that time he only spoke French along with some little English he had picked up while travelling to Canada through the United States. Lacombe visited him and decided to begin to write a Blackfoot dictionary. At that time they were possibly unaware that Scollen, the undisputed master of Blackfoot, was already completing one. Because Legal had no knowledge of the language, they used William (John) Monroe as an interpreter. Lacombe had learned Blackfoot from his cook, Old Suzan, in the late 1860s and was proficient but by no means the master that he was in Cree. Monroe was typical of those Metis men who grew up around the Hudson’s Bay Company posts. His father was “Old” Hugh Monroe, a Company employee, who lived amongst the Blackfoot and who died at the age of ninety seven years. Young Monroe had grown up amongst several different languages and learned them by ear. He had had little formal education and was barely literate. Scollen presented Lacombe, Doucet and Legal with his completed scholarly work the following year, 1883, when Lacombe became parish priest of St. Mary’s in Calgary. The Oblates published the Blackfoot work in the names of Lacombe and Legal, in 1886, with a mention for Monroe.

    In July 1939, June Richardson Hanks interviewed Mrs Take Gun Himself then eighty six years of age. (Glenbow M-8458-51) The interview was conducted through Olive Turning Rope who acted as an interpreter. She had a very clear memory of the day in 1865 (4th December) when her Blackfoot parents’ camp was attacked by the Cree. Lacombe often told the story of how he jumped up and ran out between the camp and the attacking Cree and heroically attempted to persuade the Cree to call off the attack and leave. This brave deed has gone down in North West Canadian folklore. Unfortunately, the only true part is that Lacombe was there. The circumstances were rather different according to Mrs Take Gun Himself.
    She told Hanks that her natural father died when she was a baby. Her mother then married Old Sun (Nato’sapi), a Siksika chief. His brother was Many Swans (Agwmaxkayi). Many Swans decided to arrange a hunt because food was low and it was winter. There were lots of tents in the camp and the two brothers pitched their tipis (teepees) next to each other and Kyaioko pitched his outside their doorways. Because there was deep snow, they camped beside the woods so they could feed their horses with tree leaves as there was no grass. Old Sun and Kyaioko killed enough buffalo and returned to the camp, with the food. The other hunters remained out on the prairie. The horses were tethered next to the tipis but unknown to them, there were Cree hidden nearby.
    Quite early the next morning when the women were up and about their work, they spotted a dog which was not a camp dog and immediately raised the alarm. At that time there were two “priests” staying in Old Sun’s tipi. They were “Three Persons” (Nyokskaitapi) and “Kind Heart” (Axsoskisipapi) who of course, were L’heureux and Lacombe. She tells us that “they had a nice bed arranged by the door.” L’heureux normally lived in Old Sun’s lodge. At that time Lacombe was just beginning to learn Blackfoot so L’heureux acted as his interpreter. In Lacombe’s description of the incident, no mention is made of L’heureux’s presence.
    Mrs Take Gun Himself heard the commotion regarding the dog then suddenly the Cree opened fire. The women ran out into the snow barefoot. Her mother grabbed her and her sisters and dragged them into Kyaioko’s adjoining tipi. The gunshots sounded like clapping hands, she said. Old Sun and Kyaioko sang “Cree man I’m not at all afraid of you” then Old Sun ran out to attack the Cree and was shot through the hip. His wife dragged him back to the tipi and they cut a hole in the back to make a last stand. After more shooting a Blackfoot speaking Cree shouted ”I’ll make four shots and clean you out.” Old Sun retorted “We’ve got more Blackfoot than are here, for some are away and we will clean you out.” The Blackfoot men had almost no more ammunition and crowded into Kyaioko’s tipi. The Cree attacked and tore the tipi to shreds and stole the women’s possessions and ransacked the camp before running back to the trees. One of the Cree was shot there and some of the items were later recovered. Many Blackfoot had been killed and the retreating Cree then made a great bonfire and burnt their bodies. They also stole all the horses.
    Mrs Take Gun Himself also described lying low in the tipi while it was being peppered with gunshots and how the bullets even tore through the hanging meats. This may be how Lacombe received his reported flesh-wound. It is obvious from her very lucid recollections that Lacombe did not act in the way he later led people to believe. The Cree retreated in their own time and before the return of the Blackfoot hunters, having completed their mission.
    Paul-Emile Breton, an Oblate priest, in his book “The Big Chief of the Prairies” tells us that Lacombe claimed to have repeated an identical feat of heroism at Fort Edmonton, in the Spring of 1870. He says that “a band of Cree pursued by the warlike Blackfoot had taken refuge in the post. Outside the palisades, the prairie tribe was threatening to wipe out the entire fort.” Chief Factor Christie had sent for Lacombe in the hope that he might be able to alleviate the tense situation in the fort “where the palisades had been reinforced, the guards increased and tension was running high. Lacombe felt that he could do nothing to ease the situation while caged within the walls of the fort. Ignoring the decree that no-one could leave the post he decided to parley with the Blackfoot. Boldly, he left the protection of the palisades and walked into the darkness ‘peace, peace’ he cried ‘it is your brother, the man of good heart who calls you.” Breton then adds that a jumpy sentry nearly shoots at Lacombe somewhere out in the darkness, but his gun is knocked up, theatrically, at the last second. “Unaware of his lucky escape, the missionary continued to call out his words of peace to the enemies in the darkness. He was sure they heard him but no-one answered. Finally, when he realised that they would not parley, the priest returned to the fort. When daylight crept over the tense fort, the Blackfoot had gone. It was another victory for the fearless black robe.”
    Well, it’s a thrilling story and might make a good ‘B’ film but yet again, it bears no relation to the facts as described by three people who were present. Linda Goyette in her book, “Edmonton, in our own words” gives the statements of three eye witnesses. They were trader Harrison Young, James Gibbon, a prospector and Saynis, a child. Their versions of events vary but are consistent on the main facts. First of all, the Blackfoot never crossed the North Saskatchewan river. At the time the Spring melt and ice break up was happening. This meant that the river was in full spate being fed by the melt water of the Rocky Mountains. The water was full of broken ice and vegetation. At that point the river was at least two hundred yards wide and the fort was built on high ground several hundred feet above the river and set back from the south bank. The four thousand or so Blackfeet were no doubt, frightening but hardly threatening. They were armed with muskets (fukes) which had a range of about seventy yards at best, and then only with a good tail wind. Any shots could not cross the river never mind reach the fort on the heights. The witnesses all say that the traders had left about a hundred laden carts on the north bank. They attempted to carry their loads across the river on a scow but eventually had to abandon several of the carts because of the gun fire from the Blackfoot. The carts’ remaining contents were pillaged and destroyed. So, it is quite clear that standing outside the fort palisade presented no danger and would have been a futile exercise because of the terrific din created by the roaring river and crashing ice apart from the distance.
    In 1874, Lacombe published a Catholic Pictorial Catechism which he called the Lacombe Ladder.” and this was used throughout the Catholic world. Some non-Catholic Christian missionaries also made use of it too and Lacombe was feted in Rome, for his invention.
    The Indian Symbolic Catechism was actually invented by Fr. Francis Norbet Blanchet, a secular priest, in 1839, while a missionary amongst the native peoples of the Puget Sound area of modern day Washington State, USA. Because of the many languages of the differing groups living amongst the islands, he used an old Jesuit idea and created a “stick” with symbols explaining the Christian message. The stick was actually a free standing post about five feet tall and six inches wide with a flat face displaying the symbols. He called it the “Sahale” stick or “stick from Heaven” in the local Chinook dialect.
    Blanchet was joined in 1841 by Fr. Pierre-Jean de Smet, a Belgian Jesuit, who created a paper form of his ladder and had it published in 1843. It was widely used by all Catholic missionaries throughout North America. It was this which Lacombe tweaked to show the two roads of good and evil.
    In March 1885, Lacombe was given the credit for persuading the Blackfoot to remain out of a conflict that the wise Crowfoot had never intended to join. Also in March 1885, Lacombe was asked by Lt Governor Dewdney to use his good standing with the Metis, to defuse the situation. He did not agree to take up the invitation and his letter to Dewdney is in the Glenbow archives.(M-320-p1410) It said;

    “St. Joseph Indusrial School
    20th March 1885
    My dear and honourable friend
    I just have received your letter of the 16th inst. I have only few minutes to answer. I don’t know if I can be of any use to talk reason with the half breeds by going up. It would be a very difficult task and critical position for me in particular and for the priests generally. I may do something good if they are all off except three or four. What can I do in my position? I have no other means than my word. I am sorry that these poor savages don’t understand better. What I’ll do? I am awaiting your orders. I am very very tired. I am sorry you were not here today.
    My best respects to Mrs Dewdney. Again Sir, give her my gratitude and to you too for your common kindness. Waiting what you will say.
    I remain, honourable friend.
    A Lacombe principal”
    (Lacombe had every reason not to go. It would have been very dangerous and he in particular and the Oblates, generally, had already lost all credibility, with the Metis)
    Lacombe also attempted to claim the credit for Scollen’s efforts at Bears’ Hill, in May 1885. when Scollen had successfully prevented a Cree uprising there and took Chiefs Bobtail and Ermineskin to meet General Strange when he passed through the area on 29th April 1885, on his way to defeat Riel. Lacombe invited himself along but attempted to paint a different picture in the book “Black Robe Voyageur” which he co-wrote with Katherine Hughes, by inferring that he had played a major role in the matter when, of course, he had only turned up after the crisis was over. This is confirmed by Major General Strange in his report included in the official report to the Minister of Militia and Defence dated 15th May 1886. I say that Lacombe co-wrote the work although only Hughes’ name appears on the book. This is because in 1908, Lacombe was already eighty-one years of age. He had already written his autobiography but wanted it to be published as a biography. He sought out Ms Hughes, who was working at the Edmonton Bulletin newspaper, at that time, because she had become famous in Canadian Catholic circles following the publication of her biography (hagiography) of her uncle, Cornelius O’Brien, who had become Archbishop of Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1883, seven years after Scollen’s cousin, Archbishop Connelly had died in the post. After some reluctance she agreed and her book was published in 1911 to much acclaim.
    In his book, “The Big Chief of the Prairie” on page 99, Breton tells us that Lacombe claimed that he had gone to Ottawa to successfully plead for the release of the imprisoned Native peoples. “He returned with good news. Without waiting for food or rest, Lacombe hastened to the penitentiary. He bore glad tidings to Big Bear, Poundmaker and ten other inmates. “You are free” said the missionary. “You can return to your prairies.” Free! They were as happy as little children. The prisoners cried with pleasure, kissed each other and shook the hand of the priest. At noon, the governor of the prison invited the men to a banquet where he offered them gifts. Under the supervision of Lacombe, the men returned to their reserves.”
    This heart-warming story falls into the pattern of stories that Lacombe told about his own exploits but alas, like many of the others, it was entirely untrue. Poundmaker was indeed, released in the early Spring of 1886. However, this was done because he was in the advanced stages of TB. On his release, he and his wife with only one horse between them, mostly walked several hundred miles to the home of his adoptive father, Chief Crowfoot. He died very shortly after. Big Bear was not released until the following year, April 1887 and again on health grounds. He could not return to his reserve because it had been confiscated, as part of his punishment, and the various lodges had been scattered amongst other bands. He too died shortly after.
    Lacombe was known to the Blackfoot as ”Man with Heart” (Aahsosskitsipahpiwa) and he arranged for his heart to be preserved, after his death. For many years it was kept, on display, in a glass container in the chapel of Midnapore (Fish Creek) care home, near Calgary. It was later buried in the chapel garden.
    Another unfortunate thing, for Scollen, was that Lacombe was often given credit for his work amongst the Blackfoot. Of course, Lacombe was at least a thousand miles away for a decade and cannot be blamed for this. Scollen and Doucet were the only Oblate figures with regard to the Blackfoot, until 1881. Lacombe was only an intermittent visitor between 1865 and 1872 and on his return in 1882, only spent a short winter break with them and Fr Legal at the new mission shack on the Piegan reserve near Fort Macleod, before taking up his Calgary parish work at St. Mary’s in spring 1883. He later spent a short while at Fort Macleod before taking over Scollen’s old parish at Edmonton, St Joachim, in 1887. Fr. Doucet served the Blackfoot Confederacy peoples, faithfully, for over sixty years until his retirement in 1939 at the age of ninety two years. He died at St Albert in 1942.
    Jane Richardson Hanks interviewed Many Guns with Mary Royal as interpreter on 31st August 1938. regarding Lacombe’s influence on Crowfoot. He said that although Lacombe preached many times against inter-tribal warfare, his words had no real influence. It was the arrival of the NWMP in 1874, two years after Lacombe had left the area, which brought about peace. (Glenbow M-8458-5)
    Lacombe did try to act as an intermediary between the two main factions but with mixed results. In 1938 Crooked Meat Strings told Jane Hanks about one particular occasion when he was staying in a tipi with his father, White Hair Tied at Front, L’heureux, and the delightfully named Itsimunikis, Bad Smelling Teats. It is not clear if this person was male or female. (honestly, I am not making these names up) They went off to Edmonton to do some trading of skins and met Lacombe who brought a peace offering of tobacco from the Cree. The Blackfoot agreed to meet the Cree and played them along until they eventually fooled them into putting aside their weapons whereupon they ruthlessly massacred their unarmed and trusting guests. (Glenbow M-8458-15 Hanks fonds)
    In 1898, gold was discovered in the Yukon and the rush began to the Klondike. The would-be miners all headed up through Edmonton, the gateway to the far north. Unfortunately, their route took them through the lands of Native people who had not signed a treaty. To avert trouble, in 1899, the government sent commissioners to negotiate what would become, Treaty 8. Lacombe was invited along as an adviser in the hope that he could encourage the Native people to sign a treaty. Breton tells us that Lacombe spoke to them saying “I consented to come here because I thought it was a good thing for you to take the treaty. Were it not in your interests I would not take part in it. I have long been familiar with the government’s methods of making treaties … therefore today, I urge you to accept the words of the Big Chief who comes here in the name of the Queen.”
    Of course, this was entirely untrue. Lacombe had not had any connection with any of the previous seven treaties. It was Scollen who had been very closely involved with treaties 6 and 7. The earlier treaties were with Native people living away from the areas in which Lacombe and Scollen operated. Any knowledge he had would have been acquired from Scollen and as Lacombe did not return to the area until 1882, he would have learned from him that he was not in favour of the treaties, at that time, because of how the Native people had been misled and appallingly treated since those treaties were signed in 1876 and 1877. “

    I hope this is of interest to you. My book is only available to visitors to the Glenbow Library in Calgary which is probably closed because of Covid 19.

    best wishes
    Ian Fletcher


    • Hi Ian,

      Thanks for your detailed comment about the relationship between Frs Lacombe and Scollen. One of Fr Lacombe’s weaknesses was his seeming desire to embellish the storyline as far as his own involvement went. The Belgian priest interviewed in the CBC video seems to convey this trait about him. As well there was a kerfuffle just before Hughes went to press when Lacombe complained that much material had been deleted by the New York editors, but in the end he was apparently satisfied with the book.

      I am reminded of the importance of Irish Oblates. In 1844 two Oblates were sent to Bytown (the precursor name for Ottawa). The majority of Catholics were English speaking and only one of the two could speak English. They pleaded for help and the next year newly minted Fr. Michael Molloy originally from Cork was sent to Bytown and served the Irish Catholics there well for 45 years.

      Sadly it seems Fr Scollen was treated badly by his fellow Oblates in Alberta. There is a natural human rivalry among Oblates but I imagine French speaking Oblates in Alberta then had less respect for an Irish Oblate even if he spoke French and 4 other languages well. Too they were promoting colonization by French settlers from Quebec which would not likely have been Fr Scollen’s first priority in Calgary.

      To his credit towards the end of the Black-Robe book Fr Lacombe suggests other Oblates should write their memoirs too and mentions 6 by name including Frs. Legal and Doucet. He does not mention Scollen but by then, Fr. Scollen was sadly no longer associated with OMI.

      I would like to learn more about Fr. Scollen (having travelled through beautiful WY) and will download his book from Amazon if I can convert it to epub format. Also planning a pilgrimage to Alberta someday post Covid and will drop by the Glenbow. Thanks again Ian for setting the record straight and informing us about Fr Scollen’s many contributions.



      • Hello Dave

        Thanks you for your additional information.

        You are quite correct in your view of Fr. Scollen. He was entirely committed to the First nations peoples of both Canada and the United States. He regarded himself as a missionary and during his time in the United States he undertook numerous “missions” to parishes throughout the land, telling the people about the work of the missionaries among the native peoples. He continued this work through all of his life.

        I have included, below, the contents of his letter to Fr Lacombe which was one of the last he was able to write, himself. The reason Fr Lacombe did not include Fr. Scollen in his list of six Oblates is because he already knew that Fr Scollen had died in Ohio, in 1902.

        Most of Fr Scollen’s major work was done when he lived among the Blackfoot from 1873 until 1881 in Southern Alberta. It was Scollen who created the mission to Crowfoot and the Blackfoot and their associated tribes. He was later joined by Fr Doucet who continued his work for decades. Fr. Lacombe had left the area in 1872 and did not return until 1882. Before 1872, he had had a visiting mission among the Cree, Metis and Blackfoot. He was based at St Albert and visited the prairies mainly during the buffalo hunting periods. Between 1862 and 1872, Fr Scollen often accompanied Fr Lacombe and others on the prairie trips when he was not teaching at his school in Fort Edmonton. During these early times Scollen was only a “brother”. He was ordained in March 1873 and began the Blackfoot mission.

        The “William” mentioned in the letter is one of his half brothers. Scollen had encouraged him to emigrate to Canada.

        I hope this information is helpful to you.

        Best wishes

        “St. Elizabeth Hospital
        Dayton Ohio
        21st May 1902

        Very Reverend and dear Father Lacombe
        Your kind letter of the 15th reached me here a few days ago – You will see by the heading of this letter that I am at the hospital and have been here during the last two weeks, laid up for repairs and don’t expect to leave this place much before two weeks more. Since I saw you last I never had any sickness, but always perfect health, thanks be to God. However, last winter I got a severe bout of what they call “the grip.” I held on to me very tenaciously for a whole month. After getting rid of it I felt very well again until two weeks ago. I became violently ill. I came here and put myself under the very best medical care. The doctor told me that I had waited too long and put my life in great danger. I had an attack of Brights disease and might have succumbed at any moment. However, I am now on a fair way to recovery and hope to be back to my work, as well as ever, in two weeks more. This account will answer one of your questions, namely that concerning my health. As to the other questions, I may as well answer them here.
        First, I am canonically appointed assistant pastor of Urbana, and also have charge of two missions outside which I attend to on alternate weeks. I am in the archdiocese of Cincinnati, under Archbishop Elder. I came here four years ago after my failure to re-enter the Oblates and began my ministry, at once. I might have gone to other places for I have made many friends in these United States.
        Second, I have never been without employment in the ministry for any length of time except twice for short intervals and that simply because I wanted to reach other places. My work in these United States, in the confessional, as orator in the pulpit, as lecturer on the platform, has clearly been appreciated both by clergy and laity. In my peregrinations I have gathered in many stray sheep who were neglected simply because they were poor, for in this country, some priests look too much to the purse. I kept my name out of the directory, purposefully because I did not want to be affiliated to any diocese, preferring to lead a missionary life and because I did not wish my former acquaintances to be following me up. However, the Chancellor of this diocese insisted on putting it in, this year.
        3. I never had any trouble with any authority except such as were trivial and don’t count.
        4. You see at the beginning, what my health is.
        5. I have always had the idea of returning to Ireland, sooner or later. As regards the means, I can return any time. But the main question with me if I were to remain, would be to get a position and a home. This question I shall try to settle shortly, with the authorities of my former diocese, Clogher. Being very sick, I must bring this letter to a close. I thank you dear Father, for your photo. I am not ashamed to tell you that I imprinted a kiss on that dear old face whilst a big tear ran down my cheek. I must say you look fine and standing it well.
        Your account of William’s family is something like what I expected from what I had already heard. I blame myself for a good deal of this and hope that God will pardon me. I had already heard of good old Father Remas’s death and offered my supplications for him, as I always do for all the Oblates whose demise comes under my notice. Poor dear old Bishop Grandin! I dare say he is drawing near the end. But when it comes it will be that of a saint. If you meet Father Frigon, give him my kindest regards. He was a good friend of mine when I met him last at Lowell. This letter is only a short substitute for what I would send you if I were not sick. I will write you again as soon as I am well and back to my home. If you write to me before that, send your letter to Urbana, Ohio. The county is Champaigne County. In the meantime, I hope you will pray for me.
        Yours affectionately
        C Scollen

        (Scollen appears to have forgotten about his sustained periods of ill-health during his time in Wyoming. While it was only four years since he arrived in Ohio, it was fifteen years since he had left Canada. His old friend had been unable to contact him because he had asked the various diocese not to submit his name to the annual directory, possibly Sadliers Catholic Directory, which all clergy used. It was only because his final diocese ignored his wish, that Lacombe was able to make contact, again.)”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Ian,

        What an interesting letter that sounds as if it were written yesterday. Great to see the two had a warm relationship right up to the end of Constantine’s life. BTW today is the 205th Anniversary of the founding of OMI by St. Eugene de Mazenod in Aix-en-Provence. Thanks again for the information on Fr. Scollen.



  3. Markus

    For a relative of mine I am researching the Lacombe family tree. One of my relative’s ancestor was Peter (Pierre) Lacombe, 1858 – 1933. According to his obituary in the Calgary Albertan newspaper, 02 Jan 1934 Peter Lacombe was the nephew of Father Albert Lacombe. However, I am not able to identify the father of Peter Lacombe, which presumably should be the brother of Father Albert Lacombe.
    Thank you for your help.


    • Not sure I can help but will look around and let you know if I find his name.


      • Hello Dave

        Fr Lacombe had several sisters but only one brother. His name was Charles and he was younger than Albert probably born in the 1830s. He worked as a casual hand with the oblates in Alberta for a while but had no part in the missionary work. I hope this will help Markus. The details are on the Mormon Familysearch site.

        Best wishes Ian


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