By Frédéric Barriault
Visitors to Bellarmine House, the main Jesuit office in Canada, will surely have seen the huge room with glass doors that bears the name of the Jesuit Jean D’Auteuil Richard. But who was this man that his memory should be honoured in this way?
Frequently celebrated during his lifetime and even after his death for his prophetic role in the silicosis affair, Fr. D’Auteuil Richard is both the most French Canadian of Quebec Jesuits and a compelling witness to the radical transformations experienced by the Society of Jesus and the Jesuits in Canada during the 20th century.
Fr. D’Auteuil Richard is a compelling witness to the radical transformations experienced by the Society of Jesus and the Jesuits in Canada during the 20th century.
A socially committed Jesuit
Jean D’Auteuil Richard was born in 1906 in the village of Richard, Saskatchewan, a municipality founded by his father Émile Richard and his mother Arthémise D’Auteuil. The future Jesuit had a compound name, an uncommon practice in early 20th-century Canada. His parents sent him to study at the Jesuit College in Edmonton, where he discerned his religious vocation. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1923 and did his novitiate and scholasticate in Montreal, where he was ordained 12 years later in 1935.
Fr. D’Auteuil Richard came from a generation of Jesuits trained in the social sciences who had experienced the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the rise of fascism in the interwar years. He quickly stood out because of his concern for social justice. In 1937, his provincial sent him to pursue his education in Europe, where he studied sociology and became interested in the commitment of Catholic labour activists to social and union issues; he then did doctoral studies about professional organizers in Canada. Back in Canada in 1940, he quickly put his knowledge to good use, first at the École sociale populaire, the early predecessor of the Centre justice et foi, as well as at the Jesuit journal L’Ordre nouveau (1936–1940). He also became the chaplain of the railway workers.
In the early 1940s, this Jesuit specialist in union and labour organizations began to take an interest in the issue of public housing. The city of Montreal was then hit by a serious housing crisis. The Ligue ouvrière catholique and other social organizations promoted the creation of building and housing cooperatives. Fr. D’Auteuil Richard gradually became an expert on this issue, publishing many articles on the subject, first in the pages of L’Ordre nouveau and the brochures of the École sociale populaire, then in those of Relations, the journal that he cofounded in 1941. He played a key role in the creation of the very first housing cooperative in Montreal and became one of Quebec’s leading authorities on the subject.
The Silicosis Affair, the Quiet Revolution, and Vatican II: Drivers of change
In 1941, Fr. D’Auteuil Richard became the very first editor of Relations, which was in solidarity with the struggles of the labour movement. The mining industry, strongly supported by the government of Maurice Duplessis, was at the very core of the Christian social justice movements that were concerned not only with workers’ rights but also with the effects of occupational diseases such as silicosis and asbestosis, which were themselves denounced by the union members at the time. In the March 1948 edition of Relations, the journalist Burton Ledoux and Fr. D’Auteuil Richard warned people of the toxicity of silica dust inhaled by miners and residents of the village of Saint-Rémi d’Amherst in the Laurentides.
In the March 1948 edition of Relations, the journalist Burton Ledoux and Fr. D’Auteuil Richard warned people of the toxicity of silica dust inhaled by miners and residents of the village of Saint-Rémi d’Amherst in the Laurentides.
As soon as it was published, the report stirred controversy: The mine owners’ response was brutal. Pressure was brought to bear on the Jesuits, as well as on the Archbishop of Montreal, Joseph Charbonneau, who ordered Relations to publish a retraction. Fr. D’Auteuil Richard was forced to leave the journal and the diocese of Montreal.
Humiliated, broken, and angry, despite many letters of support, Fr. D’Auteuil Richard was appointed professor and later rector of the Collège de Saint-Boniface in Manitoba. He left his mark as a defender of the French language and culture as a minority in Western Canada.
He began a new stage was in 1954 when he became professor of sociology and rector of Notre-Dame de Port-au-Prince Major Seminary in Haiti, as well as superior of the Jesuit community in the country. He participated in several major Jesuit and Catholic meetings in the Caribbean. He thus developed a broader vision of his apostolate and of the Society of Jesus.
Elected provincial of the Jesuits in French Canada in 1959, Fr. D’Auteuil Richard had to face a society and a Church in the midst of major transformation. In Quebec, it was the time of the Quiet Revolution—and in Rome, that of the Second Vatican Council. At a time of postconciliar intellectual and spiritual renewal, of secularization of institutions and of mentalities, the Jesuits of French Canada, including Fr. D’Auteuil Richard, tried to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity.
At a time of postconciliar intellectual and spiritual renewal, of secularization of institutions and of mentalities, the Jesuits of French Canada, including Fr. D’Auteuil Richard, tried to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity.
In 1966, Fr. D’Auteuil Richard returned to academic life as rector of the University of Sudbury, the first Jesuit university in Canada. He once again became the ardent promoter of French-Canadian cultural and linguistic vitality, this time in northern Ontario.
Finally, in 1973, he returned to Quebec. Fr. D’Auteuil Richard gradually withdrawn from his many commitments to enjoy a well-deserved retirement. He passed away in 2002.