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Chapter 50

Though I had kept my departure from Canada as secret as possible, it had been suspected by many; and Mr. Brassard, unable to resist the desire that his people should give me the expression of their kind feelings, had let the secret slip from his lips two days before I left. I was not a little surprised a few hours before my taking leave of him, to see his whole parish gathered at the door of his parsonage, to present me the following address:.

To the Rev. Father Chiniquy.

Venerable Sir, It is only three years since we presented you with your portrait, not only as an expression of our gratitude for your labours and success in the cause of temperance in our midst, but also as a memorial, which would tell our grandchildren the good you have done to our country. We were, then, far from thinking that we were so near the day when we would have the sorrow to see you separating yourself from us.

Your unforeseen exit from Canada fills us with a regret and sadness, which is increased by the fear we have, that the reform you have started, and so gloriously established everywhere, will suffer from your absence. May our merciful God grant that your faithful co-labourers may continue it, and walk in your footsteps.

While we submit to the decrees of Providence, we promise that we will never forget the great things you have done for the prosperity of our country. Your likeness, which is in every Canadian family, will tell to the future generations what Father Chiniquy has done for Canada.

We console ourselves by the assurance that, wherever you go, you will rise the glorious banners of temperance among those of our countrymen who are scattered in the land of exile. May these brethren put on your forehead the crown of immortality, which you have so well deserved for your noble work in our midst.

L. M. Brassard, Priest and Curate.

H. Hicks, Vicar, and 300 others.

I answered:

Gentlemen, I thank you for the honour you do me by your address. But allow me to tell you, that the more I look upon the incalculable good resulting from the Temperance Reform I have established, nearly from one end of Canada to the other, the more I would deceive myself, were I to attribute to myself the whole merit of that blessed work.

If our God has chosen me, His so feeble servant, as the instrument of His infinite mercies towards our dear country, it is because He wanted us to understand that He alone could make the marvelous change we see everywhere, and that we shall give all the glory to Him.

It is more to the fervent prayers, and to the good examples of our venerable bishops and curates, than to my feeble efforts, that we owe the triumph of temperance in Canada; and it is my firm conviction that that holy cause will lose nothing by my absence.

Our merciful God has called me to another field. I have heard His voice. Though it is a great sacrifice for me to leave my own beloved country, I must go to work in the midst of a new people, in the distant lands of Illinois.

From many parts of Europe and Canada multitudes are rushing towards the western territories of the United States, to secure to their families the incalculable treasures which the good providence of God has scattered over those broad prairies.

Those emigrants are in need of priests. They are like those little ones of whom God speaks in His Word, who wanted bread and had nobody to give them any: "I have heard their cries, I have seen their wants." And in spite of the great sacrifice I am called upon to make, I must bless the Good Master who calls me to work in that vineyard, planted by His own hands in those distant lands.

If anything can diminish the sadness of my feelings, when I bid adieu to my countrymen, it is the assurance given me by the noble people of Longueuil, that I have in Canada many friends whose fervent prayers will constantly ascend to the throne of grace, to bring the benedictions of heaven upon me wherever I go.

C. Chiniquy.

I arrived at Chicago on the 29th of October, 1851, and spent six days with Bishop Vandeveld, in maturing the plans of our Catholic colonization. He gave me the wisest advices, with the most extensive powers which a bishop can give a priest, and urged me to begin at once the work, by selecting the most suitable spot for such an important and vast prospect. May heart was filled with uncontrollable emotions when the hour came to leave my superior and go to the conquest of the magnificent State of Illinois, for the benefit of my church. I fell at his knees to ask his benediction, and requested him never to forget me in his prayers. He was not less affected than I was, and pressing me to his bosom, bathed my face with his tears, and blessed me.

It took me three days to cross the prairies from Chicago to Bourbonnais. Those prairies were then a vast solitude, with almost impassable roads. At the invitation of their priest, Mr. Courjeault, several people had come long distances to receive and overwhelm me with the public expressions of their joy and respect.

After a few days of rest, in the midst of their interesting young colony, I explained to Mr. Courjeault that, having been sent by the bishop to found a settlement for Roman Catholic immigrants, on a sufficiently grand scale to rule the government of Illinois, it was my duty to go further south, in order to find the most suitable place for the first village I intended to raise. But to my unspeakable regret, I saw that my proposition filled the heart of that unfortunate priest with the most bitter feelings of jealousy and hatred. It had been just the same thing with Rev. Lebel, at Chicago.

The very moment I told him the object of my coming to Illinois, I felt the same spirit of jealousy had turned him into an implacable enemy. I had expected very different things from these two priests, for whom I had entertained, till then, most sincere sentiments of esteem. So long as they were under the impression that I had left Canada to help them increase their small congregations, by including the immigrants to settle among them, they loaded me, both in public and in private, with marks of their esteem. But the moment they saw that I was going to found, in the very heart of Illinois, settlements of such a large scale, they banded together to paralyze and ruin my efforts. Had I suspected such opposition from the very men on whose moral help I had relied for the success of my colonizing schemes, I would have never left Canada, for Illinois. But it was now too late to stop my onward march. Trusting in God alone for success, I felt that those two men were to be put among those unforeseen obstacles which Heaven wanted me to overcome, if I could not avoid them. I persuaded six of the most respectable citizens of Bourbonnais to accompany me, in three wagons, in search of the best site for the centre of my future colony. I had a compass, to guide me through those vast prairies, which were spread before me like a boundless ocean. I wanted to select the highest point in Illinois for my first town, in order to secure the purest air and water for the new immigrants. I was fortunate enough, under the guidance of God, to succeed better than I expected, for the government surveyors have lately acknowledged that the village of St. Anne occupies the very highest point of that splendid state. To my great surprise, ten days after I had selected that spot, fifty families from Canada had planted their tents around mine, on the beautiful site which forms today the town of St. Anne. We were at the end of November, and though the weather was still mild, I felt I had not an hour to lose in order to secure shelters for every one of those families, before the cold winds and chilly rains of winter should spread sickness and death among them. The greater part were illiterate and poor people, without any idea of the dangers and incredible difficulties of establishing a new settlement, where everything had to be created. There were, at first, only two small houses, one 25 by 30, and the other 16 by 20 feet, to lodge us. With the rest of my dear immigrants, wrapped in buffalo robes, with my overcoat for my pillow, I slept soundly, many nights on the bare floor, during the three months which it took to get my first house erected.

Having taken the census of the people on the first of December, I found two hundred souls, one hundred of whom were adults. I said to them: "There are not three of you, if left alone, able to prepare a shelter for your families, this winter; but if, forgetting yourselves, you work for each other, as true friends and brethren, you will increase your strength tenfold, and in a few weeks, there will be a sufficient number of small, but solid buildings, to protect you against the storms and snow of the winter which is fast coming upon us. Let us go to the forest together and cut the wood, today; and to-morrow we will draw that timber to one of the lots you have selected, and you will see with what marvelous speed the house will be raised, if your hands and hearts are perfectly united to work for each other, under the eyes and for the love of the merciful God who gives us this splendid country for our inheritance. But before going to the forest, let us kneel down to ask our Heavenly Father to bless the work of our hands, and grant us to be of one mind and one heart, and to protect us against the too common accidents of those forest and building works."

We all knelt on the grass, and, as much with our tears as with our lips, we sent to the mercy seat a prayer, which was surely heard by the One who said "Ask and it shall be given you" (Matt. vii. 7), and we started for the forest.

The readers would scarcely believe me, were I to tell them with what marvelous rapidity the first forty small, but neat houses were put up on our beautiful prairies. Whilst the men were cutting timber, and raising one another's houses, with a unity, a joy, a good-will and rapidity, which many times drew from me tears of admiration, the women would prepare the common meals. We obtained our flour and pork from Bourbonnais and Momence, at a very low price; and, as I was a good shot, one or two friends and I used to kill, every day, enough prairie chickens, quails, ducks, wild geese, brants and deer, to feed more people than there were in our young colony.

Those delicious viands, which would have been welcomed on the table of the king, and which would have satisfied the most fastidious gourmand, caused many of my poor, dear immigrants to say: "Our daily and most common meals here are more sumptuous and delicate than the richest ones in Canada, and they cost almost nothing."

When I saw that a sufficient number of houses had been built to give shelter to every one of the first immigrants, I called a meeting, and said:

"My dear friends, by the great mercy of God, and in almost a miraculous way (thanks to the unity and charity which have bound you to each other till now, as members of the same family) you are in your little, but happy homes, and you have nothing to fear from the winds and snow of the winter. I think that my duty now is to direct your attention to the necessity of building a two-story house. The upper part will be used as the schoolhouse for your children on week days, and for a chapel on Sundays, and the lower part will be my parsonage. I will furnish the money for the flooring, shingles, and nails, and the windows, and you will give your work gratis to cut and draw the timber and put it up. I will also pay the architect, without asking a cent from you. It is quite time to provide a school for your children; for in this country, as in any other place, there is no possible prosperity or happiness for a people, if they neglect the education of their children. Now, we are too numerous to continue having our Sabbath worship in any private house, as we have done till now. What do you think of this?"

They unanimously answered: "Yes! after you have worked so hard to give a home to every one of us, it is just that we should help you to make one for yourself. We are happy to hear that it is your intention to secure a good education for our children. Let us begin the work at once." This was the 16th of January, 1852. The sun was as warm as on a beautiful day of May in Canada. We again fell upon our knees to implore the help of God, and sang a beautiful French hymn.

The next day, we were seventy-two men in a neighbouring forest, felling the great oaks; and on the 17th of April, only three months later, that fine two-story building, nearly forty feet square, was blessed by Bishop Vandeveld. It was surmounted by a nice steeple, thirty feet high, in which we had put a bell, weighing 250 pounds, whose solemn sound was to tell our joys and sorrows over the boundless prairies. On that day, instead of being only fifty families, as at the last census, we numbered more than one hundred, among whom more than five hundred persons were adults. The chapel which we thought at first would be too large, was filled to its utmost capacity on the day of its consecration to God.

Not a month later, we had to speak of making an addition of forty feet more, which, when finished, six months later, was found to be still insufficient for the accommodation of the constantly increasing flood of immigration, which came, not only from Canada, but from Belgium and France. It soon became necessary to make a new centre, and expand the limits of my first colony; which I did by planting a cross at l'Erable, about fifteen miles south-west of St. Anne, and another at a place we call St. Mary, twelve miles south-east, in the country of Iroquois. These settlements were soon filled; for that very spring more than one thousand new families came from Canada to join us.

No words can express the joy of my heart, when I saw with what rapidity my (then) so dear Church of Rome was taking possession of those magnificent lands, and how soon she would be unrivaled mistress, not only of the State of Illinois, but of the whole valley of the Mississippi. But the ways of men are not the ways of God. I had been called by the Bishops of Rome to Illinois, to extend the power of that church. But my God had called me there, that I might give to that church the most deadly blow she has ever received on this Continent.

My task is now to tell my readers, how the God of Truth, and Light, and Life, broke, one after another, all the charmed bonds by which I was kept a slave at the feet of the Pope; and how He opened my eyes, and those of my people, to the unsuspected and untold abominations of Romanism.