UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The work of Reverend Father J.M.R. Le Jeune, O.M.I. Gurney, William Harold


Reverend Father Jean Marie Raphael Le Jeune, 0. M. I., was born at Pleybert-Christ, Department of Finisterre, France, on April 12, 1855. He attended the schools of his native village and the neighbouring town of St. Pol de Leon. His theological studies were taken in the college at Autun, Burgundy. Ordained in 1879, he left shortly afterwards for the Indian missions of British Columbia in company with Bishop Durieu of that province. Stationed first at New Westminster, and later at St . Mary's Mission, he ministered to the Indians of the Fraser Canyon and to the Roman Catholics among the workmen engaged in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1882 he was transferred to St. Louis Mission at Kamloops. Kamloops, founded by David Stuart as a fur trading post in 1812, had been an important point of the Hudson's Bay Company on its fur brigade trail. The first missionary to visit the Indians of this district had been Rev. Modeste Demers in 1842. Irregular visits were made to the vicinity by the Oblate Fathers after the establishment of the Mission of the Immaculate Conception on Lake Okanagan in 1859, and a resident Oblate missionary had been established at Kamloops in 1878. From his headquarters at Kamloops Father Le Jeune travelled a circuit of some six hundred miles visiting three or four times a year the Indian camps of Shuswap, Nicola, Douglas Lake, Bonaparte, Deadman's Creek, North Thompson, and Kamloops. A few days were spent at each centre during which time religious exercises and instruction were carried on according to a strict schedule. The liquor traffic among the Indians was fought by the organization among them of Temperance Societies. Under Father Le Jeune's guidance many churches were built by the Indians throughout the district and furnished with taste and discrimination. Occasionally, large gatherings were held at central points, when hundreds of Indians would gather for the enactment of such religious scenes as the Passion Play. The steadfast devotion of Father Le Jeune to his task was such that he achieved outstanding success as a missionary. Early in his career Father Le Jeune set out to master the various Interior Salish dialect in his district and eventually he was able to preach to and converse with the Indians in their own languages. In addition, he gained great facility in the use of the Chinook jargon, a means of communication among the various Indian tribes and the white settlers. In 1890 he adapted the Duployan system of shorthand to Chinook and began to teach his method to the Indians. His brightest students in turn became teachers and within a few years he claimed that there were in his district at least two thousand Indians reading and writing shorthand. The necessity of stimulating and maintaining interest among his Indian students and of providing instructional material for them led to the establishment of the Kamloops Wawa. This publication, often described as "the queerest newspaper in the world" was first issued on May 2, 1891, and continued until 1904. It was published in turn weekly, monthly, and quarterly. From a circulation of one hundred mimeographed copies at the outset Father Le Jeune raised it to over three thousand copies a month with world-wide coverage. Written in shorthand and Chinook, its material consisted of Bible history, prayers, hymns, news of the various Indian bands, and announcements of the priest's forthcoming visits. Father Le Jeune retired from his mission in the summer of 1929, and died at New Westminster on November 21, 1930. He is buried in the Oblate cemetery at Mission City.

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