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Francois Le Mercier

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Le Mercier, FRANCOIS, one of the early missionaries of New France, b. at Paris, October 4, 1604; d. in the island of Martinique, June 12, 1690. He entered the Society of Jesus at Paris, October 19, 1620. He taught in succession all the classes of grammar and humanities in the Jesuit college of the capital, and after completing his own philosophical and theological studies, was sent to Canada, where he arrived July 20, 1635, and with Father Pierre Pijart set out for the Huron country the third day after landing at Quebec, reaching his destination on August 13. He devoted himself to the work of the Huron mission for fifteen years uninterruptedly, save for a brief absence at Quebec on business of the mission during the summer months of 1639. He received the Huron name of Chauose, but years after when among the Onondagas he went by the Iroquois name Teharonhiagannra. Father Jean de Brebeuf, an exacting judge of what was required of an Apostolic laborer, wrote his panegyric in two words when he described him as “a perfect missioner”. While in Ruronia he was stationed from 1635 to 1637 at Ihonatiria, from 1637 to 1639 at Ossossane, from 1639 to 1640 at Ste-Marie I, again at Ossossane until 1642, at Ste-Marie I until 1649, and finally at Ste-Marie II, on St. Joseph‘s Island, from June 16, 1649. He left Huronia only after the laying waste of the country by the Iroquois, and the complete abandonment of the mission, subsequent to their inroads, on June 10, 1650.

On his return to Quebec he was engaged in the ministry there and at Three Rivers until 1653, when he was appointed rector of the college and superior of the whole Canada mission, a post he occupied until 1656. But while yet in office, on May 11 of the latter year, not willing to expose the lives of others to perils he was not ready to face, he named Father Jerome Lalemant vice-superior, so as to be himself free to head a tentative missionary expedition, fraught with danger, to the Onondagas. While on his way to this fierce Iroquois nation he wrote from Montreal on June 6, 1656, to his provincial in France a letter setting forth vividly the difficulties of the undertaking (see “Relation, 1657”, Quebec ed., 50-54). On June 1, 1657, he was back at Quebec, but started to return on June 27. He could not have proceeded far when he was recalled, for the “Jesuits’ Journal” mentions his saying the Christmas midnight Mass for the Hurons at the Quebec hospital. From 1659 to 1660, though in charge of the parish with Father Dablon, he had also to attend the outlying mission at Beaupre. He was formally named assistant parish priest, October 21, 1660, by Msgr. de Petree, the first Bishop of Quebec, who had arrived in June of the previous year. On August 6, 1665, for the second time, he was promoted to the office of rector and superior of the whole Canada Mission, and continued to act as such until replaced by Father Dablon on July 12, 1671, Le Mercier becoming procurator et primarius in convictu, or, in modern parlance, “bursar and vice-president” of the Jesuit college at Quebec. Father Le Mercier was recalled from Canada and was deputed by the general of the order as visitor of the French missions in South America and in the Antilles, in 1673. By December 12 of the same year he was already acting in that capacity in Cayenne. On October 12, 1674, he was named superior of all these missions. For ten years he acquitted himself of his onerous duties to the satisfaction of all, and died at Martinique at an advanced age with a widespread reputation for sanctity of life.

We are indebted to Le Mercier for the compiling of nine of the annual “Relations”, 1653, 1654, 1655, and 1665 to 1670 inclusively, besides the two written by him on the Huron mission, those of the years 1637 and 1638.

A. E. JONES


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