Gibault, Pierre

views updated


Missionary; b. Montreal, Canada, April 7, 1735; d. New Madrid, Mo., Aug. 15, 1802. He was the eldest of five children of Pierre and Marie Madeleine (Brunet) Gibault, peasants whose ancestors had come to New France in 1663. Sometime in his youth he visited the Mississippi Valley with a fur brigade. Gibault received two years of theological training in the diocesan seminary of Quebec, where he was ordained at the age of 25. In June 1760 he went to the Illinois country, where, from the time of the expulsion of the Jesuits, the aging Sebastian Meurin, SJ, was the only priest to care for the French and indigenous people residing between Michilimakinac and the Arkansas River. Gibault settled at Kaskaskia, and from there he visited Vincennes, Ste. Genevieve, Cahokia, St. Louis, Peoria, St. Joseph (Michigan), and Michilimakinac. In 1777 he was left alone in the ministry when Meurin died at Prairie du Rocher.

When the War of Independence began, Bp. Joseph Briand of Quebec forbade any of the clergy or laity of his diocese to offer help to the revolutionists, threatening suspension of offenders among ecclesiastics and denial of the Sacraments to the laity. However, Gibault lent his support to Gen. George Rogers Clark when the Virginian appeared on July 4, 1778, to persuade the citizenry and the native Americans at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes to join the American cause. The priest's courageous action was the deciding factor in the success of General Clark's campaign. Gibault continued on friendly terms with American officials, but in 1782, when lawless easterners drifted into the Illinois country, making Kaskaskia their center, he left there, taking up residence in Ste. Genevieve. From there he continued to care for the religious needs of the Catholics in the Mississippi Valley. In 1789 when Bp. John Carroll acquired episcopal jurisdiction over the territory, Gibault was in a quandary regarding the source of his ecclesiastical faculties. Though Carroll treated the veteran missionary kindly, Gibault preferred to leave Ste. Genevieve in favor of New Madrid, Mo., which was then clearly within Spanish territory. He applied to Spanish civil authorities as well as to the newly appointed bishop of the See of Louisiana, and in 1792 became the pastor of New Madrid, where he died ten years later.

Bibliography: Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Archives of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The New Madrid collection in the Missouri Historical Society of St. Louis. j. c. dunn, jr. "Father Gibault," Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society (1905) 1534.

[j. p. donnelly]