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Modeste Demers

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Demers, MODESTE, apostle of the Pacific Coast of North America, and the first Catholic missionary among most of the Indian tribes of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia; b. at St. Nicholas, Quebec, October 11, 1809; d. at Victoria, B.C., July 21, 1871. His father, Michel Demers, and his mother, Rosalie Foucher, were two worthy representatives of the French Canadian farmer class. Endowed with a delicate conscience and a distinctly religious disposition, young Demers resolved to enter the ecclesiastical state, and studied first privately and then at the seminary of Quebec. He was ordained February 7, 1836, by Bishop Signay, and after fourteen months passed as assistant priest at Trois-Pistoles, he volunteered for the far-off mission of Oregon, where the white population, made up mostly of French Canadian employes of the Hudson Bay Company, was clamoring for the ministrations of a priest. Having crossed the American continent in the company of the Rev. F. N. Blanchet, his superior, he reached Walla-Walla, on the lower Columbia, November 18, 1838, and immediately applied himself to the care of the lowliest, that is the Indian tribes, which were then very numerous and not any too meek. He studied their languages and visited their homes regularly, preaching, catechizing the adults, and baptizing the children, especially those whose habitat lay to the north of the Columbia. His apostolic zeal even led him on along the coast of British Columbia, and in 1842 he proceeded inland as far north as Stuart Lake, evangelizing as he went all the interior tribes of that province. His companion, the Rev. F. N. Blanchet, having been elevated to the episcopate, Demers had to submit to what he considered a burden beyond his strength.

He was consecrated bishop on November 30, 1847, and appointed to the spiritual care of Vancouver Island, making the incipient town of Victoria his headquarters. As a bishop he continued his favorite work among the Indians, though he soon had to give his best attention to the rough and cosmopolitan element which now formed his white flock. For its benefit he procured in 1858 the services of the Sisters of St. Anne, who established schools at Victoria and elsewhere, and of the Oblate Fathers, who took in hand the evangelization of the natives and also founded a college in his cathedral city. In 1866 he assisted at the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, and shortly afterwards he was one of the fathers of the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. He died soon after his return, beloved alike by Protestants and Catholics, and revered for his gentleness and his apostolic zeal on behalf of the poor and lowly.


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