Desbiens, Jean-Paul 1927-

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DESBIENS, Jean-Paul 1927-

(Brother Anonymous, Frère Mariste, Frère Untel)

PERSONAL: Born March 7, 1927, in Metabet-chouan, Quebec, Canada; son of Abelard (a logger and day laborer) and Alberta (Bouchard) Desbiens. Education: Attended Maison de Formation des Frères Maristes (Marist seminary), 1941–44, Ecole Normale Valcartier, c. 1953–54, and Lateran University (Rome), c. 1961–64; Université Laval, B.A., 1958; University of Fribourg, Ph.D., 1968. Religion: Roman Catholic.

ADDRESSES: Home—5050 rue Clément-Lockquell, Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Quebec, Canada G3A 1B3. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Memoirist and journalist, c. 1960–. Joined Marist order, 1944, under name Frère Pierre-Jerome; took perpetual vows, 1950; became Roman Catholic priest; also known as Frère Mariste and Frère Untel (Brother Anonymous). Teacher at institutions in Quebec, Canada, 1953–61; Government of Quebec, administrator in Ministry of Education, 1964–70; La Presse (newspaper), Montreal, Quebec, editor in chief, 1970–72; Campus Notre-Dame-de-Foy, Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Quebec, director general, 1972–78; member of Marist brothers of Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec, 1978–83; Ceǵep de Sainte-Foy, Saint-Foy, Quebec, director of research and development services, 1984–86; Campus Notre-Dame-de-Foy, director general, 1986–90; retired, 1991. Radio-Canada, council member, 1989–92; l'Ordre National du Québec, council member, 1992–98; Campus Notre-Dame-de-Foy, president of administrative council, 2000–04.

AWARDS, HONORS: Freedom Award, 1961; honorary doctorates, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, 1983, University of Sherbrooke, 1987, and Université du Québec à Montréal, 2004; decorated chevalier, Ordre national du Québec, 1988; medal from Ordre du Mérite de la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Québec, 1988;.


(Translator) Thomas Aquinas, Du maitre, de veritate, Q. XL, L'Entraide, FF. Maristes (Valcartier, Quebec, Canada), 1958.

(Under name Frère Untel) Les insolences de Frère Untel, Éditions de l'Homme (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1960, revised edition, 1988, translation by Miriam Chapin published as The Impertinences of Brother Anonymous, Harvest House (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1962.

For Pity's Sake: The Return of Brother Anonymous (memoir), translated by Frédéric Côte, Harvest House (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1965, revised edition published as Soud le soleil de la pitié, Éditions du Jour (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1973.

La psychologie de l'intelligence chez Jean Piaget: presentation sommaire et remarques critiques, Presses de l'Université Laval (Quebec, Quebec, Canada), 1966.

Introduction à un examen philosozphique de La psychologie de l'intelligence chez Jean Piaget, Presses de l'Université Laval (Quebec, Quebec, Canada), 1968.

Dossier Untel, Éditions du Jour (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1973.

Appartenance et liberté, le Frére Untel, Éditions Jean-Claude Larouche (Saint-Nazaire, Quebec, Canada), 1983.

L'actuel et l'actualité, Éditions du Griffon d'Argile (Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Canada), 1986.

Se dire, c'est tout dire (journal), L'Analyste (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1989.

Jérusalem, terra dolorosa (journal), Éditions du Beffroi (Beauport, Quebec, Canada), 1991.

Comment peut-on être autochtone? remarques sur la question autochone (title means "How Can One Be a Native Person? Comments on the Native Question"), Secretariat aux Affaires Autochtones (Quebec, Canada), 1993.

Journal d'un homme farouche (journal for the years 1983–92), Éditions du Boréal (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1993.

L'école, pour quoi faire?, Éditions Logiques (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1996.

Les années novembre; journal 1993–1995, Éditions Logiques (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1996.

À l'heure qu'il est (journal for the years 1996–97), Éditions Logiques (Montreal, Quebec, Canada),1998.

Ainsi donc: journal 1998–1999, Éditions Logiques (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2000.

(With Jean O'Neil) Entre Jean: correspondance 1993–2000, Éditions Libre Expression (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2000.

Je te cherche dès l'aube: journal 2001–2002, Stanké (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2002.

Comme un veilleur: journal, années 2002 et 2003, Septentrion (Sillery, Quebec, Canada), 2004.

Contributor to books. Contributor of numerous articles to periodicals, including Cahiers de Cap-Rouge, Etudes Françaises, Strategie, Le Souffle, and Education Québec.

SIDELIGHTS: Jean-Paul Desbiens is best known for the "insolences" he published under his pen name Frère Untel ("Brother Anonymous"). His vitriolic criticism of Quebec's watered-down French-Canadian culture fomented Quebec's Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, though as "Untel"'s ideas took root, Desbiens himself became part of Quebec's governing institutions. "In that decade of Quebec's transformation," wrote Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Phyllis M. Senese, "Desbiens's blistering critiques of the established order were an important ingredient in the creation of the new Quebec."

Desbiens was born in Metabetchouan, a town in the Lac Saint-Jean area of Quebec. His parents were working people—his father toiled most of his life as a logger and day laborer. Desbiens managed to escape a life of privation and hardship by excelling in the local parish school of Saint-Jerome. There, he found his calling as a teacher. He worked at the Marist seminary in Levis in the early 1940s, finally joining the Marist brotherhood in 1944. Desbiens continued to prepare for a life of teaching by attending the École Normale Valcartier, but after one year of study, he contracted tuberculosis. He was treated in the Hôpital Laval in Quebec between 1947 and 1951.

Desbiens continued to be treated for his illness, on and off, until 1955, when he underwent successful lung surgery. After suffering from consumption for a full decade, he now had a chance to re-enter the world—and he did so boldly. As he was recuperating, Desbiens earned a bachelor's degree at the Université Laval, then began to teach at Chicoutimi. As he was pursuing these goals, however, he was also writing letters to Andre Laurendeau, editor of the Montreal daily newspaper Le Devoir.

In his letters Desbiens disgorged all of his disgust at the low level of culture and education among French-Canadians in Quebec. According to Desbiens, French-Canadians had allowed their culture and their language to become pitifully weakened by assimilating too quickly into the larger Canadian culture. He called this wimpy French-Canadian culture "joual"—which represented for him the pathetically degraded Quebeçoise pronunciation of the French word "cheval." The poor quality of spoken French, he railed, was indicative of the poorer quality of French-Canadian identity. Desbiens's irritation with French-Canadian culture in Quebec in the sixties came not only from the poor quality of French, but also from the lack of education in French-Canadian culture and Catholicism. Desbiens asserted that Quebec should protect its cultural heritage by instating French as the language of the province and by grounding the provincial educational system in a return to Christian values and French-Canadian culture.

During the 1960s, Desbiens's views were highly explosive—so much so that he could only keep his position as a teacher if he published his assertions, titled Les insolences de Frère Untel, anonymously. When "Untel's" identity came at last to light, however, Desbiens was attacked from various quarters: the Sacra Congregation de Religiosis denounced Desbiens to his superior general. Desbiens was shielded from their fury by his order, until he accepted the Freedom Award in 1961 and was sent from the country by his religious order. He studied in Rome at the Lateran University and then earned a doctorate at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. When Desbiens returned to Canada in 1964, the furor surrounding his book had died down, and the political tide had turned toward Desbiens's ideas. As Senese stated in her essay: "The provincial government had secularized the educational system of Quebec, and Desbiens joined the new Ministry of Education in which he was to hold three senior administrative appointments from 1964 to 1970."

Desbiens continued to publish his thoughts, though now with less outrage. In 1965 he put out his memoir, For Pity's Sake: The Return of Brother Anonymous. In this new volume he focuses on his own upbringing rather than on the problems of French-Canadian people generally; though Desbiens continued to push for change, he now employed a measured, educational approach rather than open revolt. In a sense, he had become part of the institution. This was partly due to governmental acceptance of his ideas, but also the fact that his anger had died down. He began to edit the Montreal newspaper La Presse, for which he wrote short pieces explaining his loyalty to strict social and moral codes. These editorials were collected in Dossier Untel. His newer essays, now upright pronouncements rather than raging heresy, were largely ignored.

Desbiens has continued to write about French-Canadian identity and about matters of religion and education. In 1993 he published a personal consideration of political identity in Comment peut-on être Autochtone?: Remarques sur la question autochone, and in 1998 he considered the then-current situation in Quebec with À l'heure qu'il est, a collection of his journal entries. He has continued to comment on current French-Canadian affairs by producing further published journals, as well as a collection of letters, Entre Jean, correspondance 1993–2000, an exchange with Jean O'Neil.



Desbiens, Jean-Paul, For Pity's Sake: The Return of Brother Anonymous, translated by Frederic Côte, Harvest House (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1965.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, Se dire, c'est tout dire, L'Analyste (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1989.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, Jérusalem, terra dolorosa, Éditions du Beffroi (Beauport, Quebec, Canada), 1991.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, Journal d'un homme farouche, Éditions du Boréal (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1993.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, Les années novembre; journal 1993–1995, Éditions Logiques (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1996.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, À l'heure qu'il est, Éditions Logiques (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1998.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, Ainsi donc; journal 1998–1999, Éditions Logiques (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2000.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, and Jean O'Neil, Entre Jean: correspondance 1993–2000, Éditions Libre Expression (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2000.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, Je te cherche dès l'aube; journal 2001–2002, Stanké (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 2002.

Desbiens, Jean-Paul, Comme un veilleur: journal; années 2002 et 2003, Septentrion (Sillery, Quebec, Canada), 2004.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 53: Canadian Writers since 1960, First Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.

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