Plessis, Joseph-Octave

Joseph-Octave Plessis, archbishop of Québec (b at Montréal 3 Mar 1763; d at Québec City 4 Dec 1825). After his ordination in 1786, Plessis served as secretary to 3 bishops and as parish priest at Québec. Chosen coadjutor in 1797, he became bishop in 1806, and in 1819 was named first archbishop of Québec by Rome though never recognized as such by the British government. A small, corpulent man, Plessis was ambitious, methodical and a realist with a flair for diplomacy. He co-operated with the British colonial authorities in civil matters while resisting their efforts to weaken and dominate the church. He urged Canadians to support the British during the War of 1812, and in 1817 he was appointed to the Legislative Council of Lower Canada. He opposed a plan for state-controlled education but encouraged the establishment of Catholic primary education in the parishes.

Plessis maintained the church's position in the struggle for the social leadership of Lower Canada between the British colonial government and a rising Canadian bourgeoisie. Though his clergy were too few to meet all the pastoral needs in the parishes, Plessis deliberately channelled a significant number of young ecclesiastics into classical and clerical education, a policy which eventually halted the persistent decline in clerical recruitment. Largely through Plessis's efforts, the Roman Catholic diocese of Québec, then including all the BNA colonies except Newfoundland, was divided into a number of administrative units, still the basis of today's diocesan organization.