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François Norbert Blanchet

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François Norbert Blanchet
Archbishop of Oregon City
Archbishop François Norbert Blanchet
ArchdioceseOregon City
InstalledJuly 24, 1846
Term endedDecember 12, 1880
SuccessorCharles John Seghers
Other post(s)Titular Archbishop of Amida
OrdinationJuly 18, 1819
by Joseph-Octave Plessis
ConsecrationJuly 25, 1845
by Ignace Bourget
Personal details
BornSeptember 30, 1795
DiedJune 18, 1883(1883-06-18) (aged 87)
Portland, Oregon
BuriedSt. Paul Catholic Cemetery
St. Paul, Oregon
ParentsPierre Blanchet
Previous post(s)Vicar Apostolic of the Oregon Territory, Apostolic Administrator of Walla Walla, Titular Bishop of Draso, Titular Bishop of Philadelphia in Arabia
Ordination history of
François Norbert Blanchet
Priestly ordination
Ordained byJoseph-Octave Plessis
DateJuly 18, 1819
PlaceNotre-Dame de Québec
Episcopal consecration
Principal consecratorIgnace Bourget
Co-consecratorsRémi Gaulin
Patrick Phelan
DateJuly 25, 1845
PlaceMontréal Cathedral
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by François Norbert Blanchet as principal consecrator
Modeste DemersNovember 30, 1847
Louis-Joseph d'Herbomez, O.M.I.October 9, 1864
Charles John SeghersJune 29, 1873
Egidius JungerOctober 28, 1879

François Norbert Blanchet (September 30, 1795 – June 18, 1883) was a French Canadian-born missionary priest and prelate of the Catholic Church who was instrumental in establishing the Catholic Church presence in the Pacific Northwest. He was one of the first Catholic priests to arrive in what was then known as the Oregon Country and subsequently became the first bishop and archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oregon City (now known as the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon).

Early life and priesthood[edit]

François Norbert Blanchet was born near Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud in Lower Canada (present-day Quebec). Along with his younger brother Augustin-Magloire Blanchet, he entered the Seminary of Quebec and was ordained a priest in 1819.[1] Blanchet spent a year working at the cathedral in Quebec before being sent to do missionary work with the Micmac and Acadian people in present-day New Brunswick. To be able to preach to the local Irish, Blanchet became fluent in English.[2] In 1827 he was summoned back to Montreal and became a pastor.[1]

Missionary work and episcopal career[edit]

In the 1830s, John McLoughlin sent letters from French Canadian Catholic employees of the Hudson's Bay Company requesting from Bishop Provencher of the Red River colony to send priests to what was then known as the Oregon Country.[3] Bishop Provencher originally suggested that priests be sent to the Willamette Valley but the Hudson's Bay Company pressed for the considered mission to be on the Cowlitz River, north of the Columbia River.[4] Blanchet was appointed the Vicar General of the Oregon Country, with fellow priest Modeste Demers to aid in the missionary efforts. The missionaries were instructed by Archbishop Joseph Signay of Quebec: "In order to make yourselves sooner useful to the natives... you will apply yourselves... to the study of the Indian languages... so as to be able to publish a grammar after some of your residence there."[3] The two priests along with nuns and lay people departed from Quebec on May 3, 1838, and traveled along the York Factory Express.

Arriving on 18 November at Fort Nez Percés, a Hudson's Bay Company fur trade outpost located in the present state of Washington, Blanchet celebrated Masses and baptized three Roman Catholic converts.[5] In November of that year, they arrived at Fort Vancouver in present-day Vancouver, Washington. A delegation composed of French-Canadians from the Willamette Valley composed of Pierre Belleque, Joseph Gervais and Étienne Lucier were present to greet them.[3] During their winter stay at the Fort, the priests held services in Chinook Jargon with Klickitats in attendance.[3] Blanchet and Demers held Masses in various buildings within the fort, and Catholics often had to share worship space with Protestants, an arrangement that did not please either group.[6]

Beginning on January 3, 1839, Blanchet, with Belleque and Lucier, went to the French Prairie farms maintained by the French-Canadians. The first Catholic Mass south of the Columbia river (in the Oregon Country) was celebrated at the St. Paul church on January 6, where Blanchet remained for five weeks.[3] During his second visit in March 1839 to Cowlitz to visually explain basic Catholic religious concepts, Blanchet created the "Sahale stick" or stick from God in Chinook Jargon.[7] This was later made more complex with the use of cloth, to allow for additional representations. The use of the Sahale stick was later adopted by Methodists and Presbyterians like Daniel Lee and Henry H. Spalding.[7]

Blanchet was the first non-Native American to make an overnight stay on Whidbey Island in May 1840, where he offered Mass for several tribes at an outdoor altar; he had been invited by Chief Tslalakum.[8][9] The chief presented him with a huge wooden cross (24 feet (7.3 m) long) and by 1841 the inhabitants were building a log church in the same area. Blanchet stayed on the island for nearly a year.[10][8]

In February 1841 several gatherings were convened to determine the fate of recently deceased Ewing Young's estate, the first of the Champoeg Meetings which two years later saw formation of the Provisional Government of Oregon. Jason Lee as chairman of the first meeting on the 17th proposed that a Willamette Valley-based settler government be formed. Included in the considered government was the position of governor, which led Blanchet to counter propose a political system with a judge as the highest authority.[11] During the subsequent meeting held at David Leslie's home near Champoeg[5] on the next day Blanchet was selected to chair a committee to draft the laws of government.[12] Blanchet was still opposed to the contemplated political structure, and six months later asked for a reprieve of his duties.

On December 1, 1843, the Vatican under Pope Gregory XVI established the Vicariate Apostolic of the Oregon Territory, and named Blanchet its vicar apostolic. With no bishops out west to consecrate him, Blanchet had to journey home to Quebec to be consecrated a bishop. He began his journey for Canada in December 1844, boarded a steamer on the Columbia River, touched at Honolulu, Hawaii doubled Cape Horn, landed at Dover, England, went by rail to Liverpool, took a vessel to Boston, Massachusetts, and finally proceeded by rail to Montréal, a journey of 22,000 miles (35,000 km).[1] Blanchet was consecrated a bishop on July 25, 1845 by Archbishop Ignace Bourget at Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in Montréal.

Then on July 24, 1846, the Vatican under Pope Pius IX divided the vicariate apostolic into three dioceses: Oregon City, Vancouver Island, and Walla Walla. Blanchet was named Bishop of Oregon City, while Demers was named Bishop of Vancouver Island and Augustin Blanchet Bishop of Walla Walla. The Diocese of Oregon City was elevated to an archdiocese on July 29, 1850, and François Blanchet was elevated to archbishop.

He retired in 1880; retaining the title of archbishop, he was named to a titular see, in the practice of that time. He died in 1883 and is interred at St. Paul Cemetery in St. Paul, Oregon.

François’s brother was Augustin-Magloire Blanchet, who was the Bishop of Walla Walla until 1850 and then the Bishop of the Diocese of Nesqually, which later became the Diocese of Seattle.[1][13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "François Norbert Blanchet". The Catholic Encyclopedia. NewAdvent.org. Retrieved 2010-02-16.
  2. ^ Pioneer Catholic History, O'Hara, Edwin V. Portland, Oregon.: Glass & Prudhomme Co., 1911
  3. ^ a b c d e Blanchet, Francis Norbert, and Edward J. Kowrach. Historical sketches of the Catholic Church in Oregon. Fairfield, Wash.: Ye Galleon Press, 1983
  4. ^ Francis Norbert Blanchet (1878). Historical Sketches of the Catholic Church in Oregon, During the Past Forty Years. Portland, Or.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ a b Lockley, Fred (1982). Visionaries, Mountain Men, & Empire Builders. Rainy Day Press.
  6. ^ Caldbick, John J. (29 August 2009). "Bishop Augustin Blanchet dedicates Washington's original St. James Cathedral at Fort Vancouver on January 23, 1851". HistoryLink.org. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  7. ^ a b White, Kris A. White, and Janice St. Laurent. "Mysterious Journey: The Catholic Ladder of 1840." Oregon Historical Quarterly 97, no. 1 (1996): 70-88.
  8. ^ a b "Father Francis (or Francois) N. Blanchet visits Whidbey Island on May 26, 1840. - HistoryLink.org".
  9. ^ "Holy Things, Holy People".
  10. ^ "Washington State Archives - WA Secretary of State".
  11. ^ Creating a Provisional Government in Oregon: A Revision, Loewenberg, Robert J., Seattle: The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. 1 (Jan., 1977), pp. 19-20
  12. ^ Grover, La Fayette, The Oregon Archives, Salem: A. Bush, 1853
  13. ^ "Augustin Magloire Blanchet". The Catholic Encyclopedia. NewAdvent.org. Retrieved 2010-02-16.
  14. ^ "A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Seattle". Archives and Records, Archdiocese of Seattle. Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington. Archived from the original on 2006-09-11. Retrieved 2010-02-16.

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
position established
Archbishop of Oregon City
Succeeded by
Preceded by
position established
Bishop of Oregon City
Succeeded by
raised to Archbishopic
Preceded by
position established
Vicar Apostolic of Oregon City
Succeeded by
raised to Bishopric