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François Norbert Blanchet
Missionary and first Archbishop of Oregon City, U.S.A., son of Pierre Blanchet, a Canadian farmer, born 30 September, 1795, near Saint-Pierre, Riviere du Sud, Province of Quebec; died 18 June, 1883, at Portland, Oregon. After three years in the village school he went in 1810, with his brother Augustin Magloire, later the first Bishop of Nesqually, to the Seminary of Quebec, where he was ordained priest 18 July, 1819. He was stationed at the cathedral for a year and was then sent to Richibucto, New Brunswick, as pastor of the Micmac Indians and Acadian settlers, among whom he spend seven years of missionary apprenticeship, enduring poverty, isolation, and innumerable hardships. In 1827 he was recalled to Montreal and appointed pastor of St. Joseph de Soulanges, a parish of 2000 souls. During the cholera epidemic of 1832 Father Blanchet attended the stricken so fearlessly that the Protestants of the place presented him with a testimonial. In 1837 he was appointed vicar-general by Archbishop Signay for the Oregon mission, a vast region never before visited by a priest, and he set out on 3 May, 1838, accompanied by the Rev. Modeste Demers with the annual express of the Hudson's Bay Company. The journey from Lachine to Fort Vancouver, a distance of about 5,000 miles, was made in canoes, by portages, in barges, on horseback, and in light boats. It took them nine days to cross the Rocky Mountains, on the summit of which, at three o'clock in the morning of 16 October Father Blanchet celebrated Mass. They arrived at Fort Vancouver on 24 November. The territory assigned to the two priests embraced about 375,000 square miles. It extended from California to Alaska and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
For four years they laboured alone, going from settlement to settlement, facing every peril of a wild country, recalling the scattered faithful to the practice of religion and instructing the aborigines. Then two other priests from Canada, the Revs. A. Langlois and Z. Boldue, came to their assistance. In 1844 they were reinforced by the great missionary, Father De Smet, with four other Jesuit priests, three lay brothers, and six Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The immense territory of the Oregon mission was made an Apostolic vicariate 1 December, 183; Father Blanchet was named its first vicar Apostolic and titular Bishop of Philadelphia. The letters from Rome arrived in August, 1844. To receive episcopal consecration he started for Canada 5 December, boarded a steamer on the Columbia River, touched at Honolulu, doubled Cape Horn, landed at Dover, England, went by rail to Liverpool, took a vessel to Boston and thence proceeded by rail to Montreal, a journey of 22,000 miles. He was consecrated by Bishop Bourget int he Cathedral of Montreal 25 July, 1845. Later he returned to Europe, visiting Rome, France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria in the interests of his diocese. He gathered together six secular priests, four Jesuit priests, three lay brothers, and seven Sisters of Notre Dame. They sailed from Brest 22 February, 1847, and reached the Columbia River on 12 August. The bishop was translated to the See of Draza by letters of 4 May, 1844, to avoid the confusion of his former title with that of Philadelphia, U.S.A. The Vicariate was erected into a province 24 July, 1846. Bishop Blanchet was made Archbishop of Oregon City, his brother Magloire became Bishop of Walla Walla, and Father Demers Bishop of Vancouver's Island.
The archbishop was indefatigable. He summoned his first provincial council in 1848; attended the First Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1852; went in 1855 to South America and collected for two years in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia; returned to Canada in 1859 and took back to Oregon 31 priests, sisters, and servants. He attended the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866; celebrated, 19 July, 1869, the golden jubilee of his ordination, and in the following October set out for Rome to assist at the Vatican Council, where he voted for the definition of the dogma of Papal Infallibility. He was still in the city 26 September, 1870, when the temporal power of the papacy was overthrown. When Bishop Seghers was made his coadjutor in 1879 he retired to the hospital of the Sisters of Providence at Portland. He wrote the story of the Oregon mission (Historical sketches of Catholicity in Oregon) in a series of papers published in the "Catholic Sentinel" of that city. In 1880 he resigned and wa appointed titular Archbishop of Amida. He consecrated three bishops — Demers, D'Herbomez, and Seghers. He found on the Pacific coast a wilderness, spiritual as well as material; the left, after forty-six years of heroic work, a well-provided ecclesiastical province. His name will be forever illustrious in the history of the Church in America as the first archbishop of the Northwest and the Apostle of Oregon.