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Kankakee County History

French Candian Emigration to Kankakee

Submitted and used with permission by Jean-Paul HUBERT

Some months ago I had enquired about what could explain the French Canadian emigration to the Kankakee region in Illinois. I thought I would share with those interered in that area what I came about upon looking at an excellent (and well known) book by Mason Wade, from Rochester Univeristy, NY, 1955: "Les Canadiens Français, de 1760 à nos jours" (I do not have the original English version). What follows if of course only a partial explanation, but it came as a surprise to me. What follows is my amateurish translation/paraphrasing from the French translation of the book back into English. So it is no doubt quite different from the original. My apologies.

Wade refers to the "renegade priest" Charles Chiniquy as "the leader of emigrants to Illinois". Chiniquy is also refered to as  "one of the very few ‘apostate priests’ in French-Canadian history". Wades adds, and you will see why, that he was "a force for good as well as for evil". Born in Kamouraska in 1809, he was the son of as notary and grandson of a Basque navigator who led the flotilla of Admiral Saunders upriver on the St-Lawrence during the latter’s expedition against Quebec in 1759. Ordained priest in 1833, he launched of a crusade against alcoholic beverages and he was appointed "curé" in Beauport (1838) and Kamouraska (1842). That crusade deserved him a "papal benediction" in 1841. 6,000 copies of the first edition of his "Manual of Temperance Societies" were sold in six months, something totally unprecedented in Quebec. Chiniquy became a national hero.

In 1846, we was "involved in a scandal with as woman and had to abandon his parish and to move away from the diocese of Quebec". He joined an Oblate seminary in Longueuil (near Montreal). He kept at his temperance crusade and came to convert 200,000 to temperance.

"But again he 'compromised' himself with women and in 1851, after several warnings from Bishop Bourget, he lost his clerical powers. It is at that time yhat he left for the French-Canadian colony in Kankakee, south of Chicago. 200 families followed him from Canada as a result of his letter of September 22, 1851 published in "Le Canadien", in which he gave assurances to those who had to migrate that they would not have to alter their French-Canadian ways if they joined him there." He came back to Canada in 1852, to recruit more people for Illinois and, in 1856, he claimed his parish over there was 6,000 strong.

"But Chiniquy had had problem with his bishop, he was placed 'under interdiction' by Mgr O’Regan in 1856, and soon thereafter was excommunicated for having violated the interdiction. The Bishop of Quebec sent his 'grand vicar' Mgr Mailloux to Illinois, to fight against Chiniquy and the schism he had created in Ste-Anne". Chiniquy made an attempt at reconciliation in 1856, and again in 1858, but his "continued scandalous behaviour led to another excommunication in 1858".

Chiniquy then became presbyterian, many of his parishioners following him. Under the auspices of the Protestant Missionary Society, he visited Canada, England, Scotland, India and Australia, preaching against the Catholic Church. "His most famous book of the time, "The Priest, the Woman, and the Confessional" created quite a stir, and was published in the ‘Witness’ in Montreal, given his contribution for a protestant crusade against catholicism. Bishop Bourget issued a pastoral letter on March 19, 1875, forbidding catholics from reading the ‘Witness’."

Chiniquy died in Montreal in January 1899.