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Blanchet, Francis Norbert

BLANCHET, FRANCIS NORBERT

Pacific Northwest missioner, first archbishop of Oregon City (now portland), Oregon, archdiocese; b. St. Pierre, Quebec, Canada, Sept. 3, 1795; d. Portland, June 18, 1883. Son of Pierre and Rosalie Blanchet, whose families had given distinguished leaders to Church and State in Canada, Blanchet attended the local parish school and the minor and major seminaries of Quebec. After ordination on July 18, 1819, he was stationed first at the cathedral in Quebec City. In October of 1820, in answer to an appeal for a French-speaking priest, he was sent by Bp. Joseph Signay to minister to the Acadians and the Micmac Indians living under primitive conditions in New Brunswick. Early in 1827 he became pastor of St. Joseph de Soulanges parish in Montreal. When Signay was pressed to supply priests for white settlers in the Pacific Northwest, mostly retired Hudson's Bay Company employees, he chose Blanchet as vicar-general for the Oregon country. With an assistant, Modeste Demers, a Quebec missionary who had worked under Bp. Joseph Provencher at Red River, Blanchet set out in May of 1838 with the annual brigade of Hudson's Bay Company, arriving on November 24 at Fort Vancouver, the western headquarters of the company. Eagerly welcomed by whites and Indians, Blanchet and Demers visited the principal posts of Hudson's Bay Company, established missions at Cowlitz and later among the French Canadians in Willamette Valley, and explored the possibility of working among the indigenous tribes. In addition to the difficulties to be expected in a wilderness, they also experienced frustrations and petty opposition from American Methodist missioners who were already well established and had gained converts even among the French Canadians.

In 1842 Blanchet met Pierre Jean De Smet, SJ, and with him and Demers drew up a plan for the ecclesiastical organization of the Oregon country. This plan was eventually approved by the Canadian and American bishops and presented by them to the Holy See. In December of 1843, a vicariate apostolic was erected in Oregon with Blanchet at its head as titular bishop of Philadelphia (later changed to Adrasus to avoid confusion with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). He received the announcement of his appointment in November of 1844, and in December he embarked on a long sea journey to Montreal for his consecration by Bp. Ignatius Bourget, which took place on July 25, 1845. Before returning to his post, he sailed for Europe to seek funds and candidates for the missions. Reaching Rome in January of 1846, he had several audiences with Gregory XVI and successfully petitioned the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith for the erection of an ecclesiastical province from his vicariate, with an archbishop and suffragan bishops, and further divisions to be made as the area developed. He was named archbishop of Oregon City, with his brother Augustin Magloire as bishop of Walla Walla, Washington, and Demers as bishop of Vancouver Island. After leaving Rome he appealed effectively in the major cities of Europe for assistance in his apostolate. When he sailed for home in February of 1847, he was accompanied by 21 missionaries, including 8 priests and 7 sisters.

Bright prospects for the new province were rudely shattered by the Whitman massacre on Nov. 29, 1847. The event practically ended missionary work among the Indians and was the signal for a new and virulent out-break of bigotry that strained relations with many whites who clung to the belief, long since refuted, that the priests had been responsible for the massacre. Then, too, the discovery of gold in California drew many French Canadians from Oregon; priests and nuns, deserted by those to whom they ministered, went elsewhere.

In the face of all this, Blanchet convened the first Provincial Council of Oregon on Feb. 28, 1848. Again and again during the next decade he sought help for his work. In 1855, with the approval of Rome, he visited South America and was well received in Peru and Bolivia and especially in Chile, where he had published a pamphlet describing his province. He returned home in 1857 with sufficient money to meet the debts of his diocese. In 1859 he collected funds in eastern Canada and brought back 31 more helpers, among them Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to staff his schools. He also attended the First (1852) and Second (1866) Plenary Councils of Baltimore, and in 1869 Vatican Council I, at which he strongly favored the declaration of papal infallibility.

These years were marked by continuous development in Oregon. With the growth of the city of Portland, Blanchet established his residence there in 1862, and he chose Immaculate Conception Church for the pro-cathedral. Schools and other facilities opened. A diocesan paper, the Catholic Sentinel, appeared in 1870. Even the Indian missions were reopened, though never on the scale that Blanchet had planned. After initiating his coadjutor, Bp. Charles J. Seghers (appointed Dec.10, 1878), into the work of the archdiocese, he resigned in 1880, retiring to St. Vincent's Hospital.

Essentially a man of action, Blanchet published only his Historical Sketches of the Catholic Church in Oregon. (Portland, Ore. 1878). His "Catholic Ladder," a pictorial device for teaching Indians the life of Christ, Christian doctrine, and Church history, was copyrighted in 1859. His interest in the Native Americans never flagged. His last effort for them was to represent the hierarchy in protesting the injustice of a government policy that placed many Catholic reservations under Protestant control. In the course of protracted controversy, the need for the continual presence in Washington of an authorized representative of Catholic Indian missions became evident, and the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions was organized in 1874.

Bibliography: l. m. lyons, Francis Norbert Blanchet and the Founding of the Oregon Missions, 18381848 (Washington 1940). c. b. bagley, Early Catholic Missions in Old Oregon, 2 v. (Seattle 1932). h. h. bancroft, History of Oregon, 2 v. (San Francisco 188688). f. n. blanchet, Historical Sketches of the Catholic Church in Oregon, reprint (Fairfield, Wash., 1983). a dries, The Missionary Movement in American Catholic History (Orbis 1998). h. munnick, Priest's Progress (Portland, Oreg. 1989). e. o'hara, Pioneer Catholic History of Oregon (Paterson, NJ 1939).

[l. m. lyons]

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