Plessis, Joseph Octave

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Eleventh bishop of Quebec, Canada; b. Montreal, March 3, 1763; d. Quebec, Dec. 4, 1825. He was the son of a blacksmith; his outstanding ability enabled him to complete his philosophical studies and to receive tonsure by the age of 17. While awaiting the required age for ordination, he taught in the Quebec seminary and was secretary to Bp. J. O. briand. After ordination on March 11, 1786, he remained in Quebec, where he served on the bishop's council and at 29 became pastor of the cathedral. In 1797, when Bp. Pierre Denaut succeeded to the See of Quebec, he requested that Plessis be named his coadjutor. Because the bulls from Rome were delayed, the consecration did not take place until 1801; five years later he succeeded to the see. During his administration he energetically supported the rights of the church and of the French in Canada in opposition to the policies of Gov. James Craig and other Protestant high officials of Quebec. In recognition of his influence in ensuring the loyalty of French Canadians to the British cause in the War of 1812 with the United States, the English ministry expressly recognized his episcopacy and approved his appointments in 1815 and later named him an ex officio member of the legislative council (1817). His pastoral visits, accounts of which remain, finally convinced him that one bishop could not govern the 500 leagues of territory from Cape Breton to Red River. Thus in 1819 and 1820 he went to London and to Rome to urge a division of his diocese and succeeded in obtaining the creation of four suffragans as well as the status of archbishop for himself. However, in deference to the sensibilities of the English government, he did not assume the title, which was not used publicly by an incumbent of the see until 1844. His concern for education led him to establish many elementary schools, and he founded or encouraged the seminaries of Nicolet, St. Hyacinthe, and St. Roch, as well as the old Seminary of Quebec, where he resided and helped in the formation of future priests. He interested himself in school legislation and succeeded in neutralizing the Protestant-oriented system of l'Institution Royale (1801) and in having a parochial-based school system finally adopted in 1824. His Journal de deux voyages apostoliques dans le Golfe Saint-Laurent et les provinces d'en bas, en 1811 et 1812 was published in 1865.

Bibliography: j. b. a. ferland, Mgr. Joseph-Octave Plessis: Évêque de Québec (Quebec 1878). h. tÊtu, Les Évêques de Québec (Quebec 1889). l. p. audet, Le Système scolaire de la Province de Québec (Quebec 1952) v. 3, 4.

[h. provost]