PROVENCHER, JOSEPH-NORBERT (1787-1853)
Born on February 12, 1787, at Nicolet, Quebec, Joseph-Norbert Provencher (baptized Joseph) was ordained in 1811 and served as a curate until he was sent to the Red River Settlement (Manitoba) in 1818 to establish the Catholic Church in the Canadian West. Described as moral, humble, tenacious, and devout, Provencher was consecrated titular bishop in 1822 and first bishop of the diocese of the Northwest, founded in 1847 at St. Boniface (Manitoba). He died there on June 7, 1853.
Bishop Provencher worked tirelessly as an ecclesiastic administrator. He built churches and schools to serve the newly arriving Irish, Scottish, and French Canadian Catholic settlers. He sent priests out to the Métis hunters and traders to solemnize their mixed-race marriages. He created "itinerant missions" with priests who traveled with various Plains Native peoples, attempting to convert them to Christianity–an endeavor that was largely unsuccessful during this period. Provencher even sent missionaries as far afield as Lake Athabasca and the Pacific Northwest to establish the Catholic presence. He skillfully avoided conflict with rival Protestant groups and received, like them, an annual grant from the Hudson's Bay Company to assist in his activities. During his career, Provencher made numerous trips to Quebec, and two to the United States and Europe, to garner Catholic support for mission development. In total, Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher brought thirteen secular priests from Quebec and during the 1840s persuaded both the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général at Montreal (commonly known as the "Grey Nuns") to establish themselves in the Canadian West.
James G. Mullens University of Saskatchewan
Frémont, Donatien. Mgr. Provencher et son temps. Winnipeg: Editions de Liberté, 1935.
King, Dennis. Joseph Norbert Provencher. Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1982.
Provencher, Joseph-Norbert. "Lettres de monseigneur Joseph-Norbert Provencher, premier évêque de Saint-Boniface," Soc. Hist. de Saint-Boniface, Bulletin 3 (1913). St. Boniface, Manitoba.