The contribution of members of the Catholic clergy in Acadian history is significant. It was the priests who took command of this small group of people who were devoid of resources following the Deportation. Mostly of Quebec and of French origin, and sometimes Irish, the priests travelled the vast territories of this new Acadia as early as the 18th century. Sometimes priests and spiritual guides, sometimes teachers and agricultural advisors, they were conscious of the importance of their presence and the encouragement they represented. Among their priorities, the chapel, the chancery and the school created under their direction were often the only public buildings in Acadian communities.

Fromt his mid-19th century, Acadians built vast churches. While traditional history views this as an eloquent testimony to their faith and rivalry between parishes, it can no doubt be interpreted also as a demonstration of the sometimes rather bloated expectations of this clergy towards the Acadians. Indeed, many priests met with difficulty trying to persuade parishioners sitting on the fabric to support them in their ambitious projects, more so from the time when churches began being b Read More
The contribution of members of the Catholic clergy in Acadian history is significant. It was the priests who took command of this small group of people who were devoid of resources following the Deportation. Mostly of Quebec and of French origin, and sometimes Irish, the priests travelled the vast territories of this new Acadia as early as the 18th century. Sometimes priests and spiritual guides, sometimes teachers and agricultural advisors, they were conscious of the importance of their presence and the encouragement they represented. Among their priorities, the chapel, the chancery and the school created under their direction were often the only public buildings in Acadian communities.

Fromt his mid-19th century, Acadians built vast churches. While traditional history views this as an eloquent testimony to their faith and rivalry between parishes, it can no doubt be interpreted also as a demonstration of the sometimes rather bloated expectations of this clergy towards the Acadians. Indeed, many priests met with difficulty trying to persuade parishioners sitting on the fabric to support them in their ambitious projects, more so from the time when churches began being built of stone. The construction of such structures required a major effort, forcing the parishioners to supply materials and days of labour. In some cases, the work could be spread over more than a year, even more then a decade.

Before those majestic wood or stone buildings could take shape however, more simple structures were erected by the faithful to answer to the needs of their religious life. Humble chapels, most of which were later deserted to give way to more imposing temples, pointed their modest steeples to the sky in the midst of small isolated communities. But, destined as they were to become the nerve centre of this new emerging community, the determination of church location sometimes gave rise to bitter quarrels.

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.

The priest playe a foremost role in Acadian communities. When he leaves his function, he habitually pays a visit to his flock with his successor.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


From his birth to his death, the church is present in the Acadian's life and prescribes rules and practises. Upon the death of a member of the family, for instance, mourning clothes are worn and black is the rule for all garments.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Important religious events were held outside the church or chapel. This was the case with processions like the one held on Corpus Christi Feast, celebrating the Blessed Sacrament (communion) for Catholics. For this march, held annually between May 21 and June 24, everyone dons his or her Sunday best.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Most Acadian communities do not have the services of a resident priest before the late 1800s. In the absence of the missionary, it is still possible to meditate in the chapel.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


With the arrival of resident priests, in the early 1900s, vast stone churches are more often found in Acadian communities.

PANB
c. 1902-1925
APNB P6-38
© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


As was the case for the church, the building and maintenance of the school, whose architecture was typically quite similar to that of other buildings, depended first and foremost upon the efforts of the community. In fact, until the early 20th century, governments were little involved in the financing and management of schools. Parents, through the trustees, were the first ones to be responsible for the school's establishment, and, subsequently, of its operation.

However, during nearly the whole 19th century, education was not a priority for Acadians. Far from it! In general, education was considered of little value and schools were, consquently, scares, poorly maintained and run by untrained teachers. For most Acadian families, survival took precedence. Many young lads alnded jobs on fishing schooners as young as ten or twelve years old. Others chose the axe and left at fourteen for logging camps. As for the girls, they took on some of their mother's chores. According to circumstances, for many young Acadians, the school was a part-time occupation, during the times of the year when their services were not required at home. This explains the irregular attendance that te Read More
As was the case for the church, the building and maintenance of the school, whose architecture was typically quite similar to that of other buildings, depended first and foremost upon the efforts of the community. In fact, until the early 20th century, governments were little involved in the financing and management of schools. Parents, through the trustees, were the first ones to be responsible for the school's establishment, and, subsequently, of its operation.

However, during nearly the whole 19th century, education was not a priority for Acadians. Far from it! In general, education was considered of little value and schools were, consquently, scares, poorly maintained and run by untrained teachers. For most Acadian families, survival took precedence. Many young lads alnded jobs on fishing schooners as young as ten or twelve years old. Others chose the axe and left at fourteen for logging camps. As for the girls, they took on some of their mother's chores. According to circumstances, for many young Acadians, the school was a part-time occupation, during the times of the year when their services were not required at home. This explains the irregular attendance that teachers had to deal with over the course of a year.

Still, in the early 19th century, provincial authorities tried to improve the educational system. But material resources were lacking, most textbooks were in English and were practically impossible to find. Moreover, competent French-speaking teachers were a rare commodity, as training for the teaching profession was only available in English. It may also be assumed that at the time, Acadians were not necessarily a government priority. All these factors explain why, in most Acadian communities, education was seen as rather the exclusive prerogative of the English-speaking elite, who held the upper hand in administrative offices.

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.

More often than not, the Acadian teacher at the time of our ancestors has but scant education, is poorly paid and a bachelor. Custom requires that she quit her job upon marrying.

Each day, the teacher rings the bell to signal the start of class; but all too often, very few pupils enter the school.

Village Historique Acadien
2002
© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


A visit by the school inspector puts a stress on the teacher. The report drawn by this representative of goverment could indeed deprive her school of financial help. Besides verifying the degree of learning of the pupils, the inspector examines the competence of the teacher and the state of the school.

In most cases, Acadian schools in the 1800s and the early 1900s had a single room where older pupils and small children rubbed elbows.

Village Historique Acadien

© Village Historique Acadien, Province of New Brunswick, 2003. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • describe the many functions that clergy men had to undertake;
  • demonstrate an understanding of the major role of the church in Acadia history;
  • list the challenges of teaching in Acadia back in the 18th and 19th century.

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