Paquette Consulting

Paquette Consulting - The Bonhomme Project Introduction

Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme – God’s Entrepreneur
A life of practical spirituality

I embarked upon writing this project in 2002 on the death of my mother, Stella Dolores Gosselin Paquette.

I had known Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme as “Bishop Bonhomme” all of my life. I had known him as a great man based on the fact that my mother said he was a great man, and on the fact that on every occasion when he would visit my hometown, or that of my grandmother, it was a really big occasion. In fact, at the urging of my mother I had agreed to translate a genealogy of the Bonhomme family that my great uncle, Bishop Bonhomme had written in the 1950s(1) reviewing the family from 1640 to 1940. Based on my committing to do the translation, my mother had given me a copy of the book, the one copy that had belonged to her mother, in the early 1970's to do the translation.

For nearly two decades I put doing the translation off until in 1993 my spouse, Suzan Schmekel, offered to take on the project. Over the next two years Suzan carried out the translation including doing extensive research to fill in gaps Bishop Bonhomme had left, to correct entries he had made, and extending the coverage of the family from 1640-1940, to 1632-1995, all the time attempting to leave the language and attitudes the Bishop expressed as accurate to his message as possible.

During the writing of the update to Bishop Bonhomme’s genealogy of the Bonhomme family I had the opportunity to accompany Suzan in visiting one of Bishop Bonhomme’s cousins from his generation who was still alive. She made the point that while he was a great man who had done much, he was not liked by many. It was one of those points which stuck with me since in my life, my experience of the Bishop, he was revered by the members of my immediate family – what was the cause of this difference in perspective?  A question which prompted me to want to know the answer.

As the translation and updating project came to an end in 1995(2), I committed to doing a biography of Bishop Bonhomme in part for my own better understanding for this man, and in part because I felt there was a story to be told that would be of interest to a wider audience. Again, as this was a side project, I let it slide until the death of my mother.

At that point I realized that without mother to urge me to carry out the project, I just might continue to procrastinate until it would be too late for me to complete my commitment to my mother. I posed the question to myself as to why I would take this task on, after all mother had passed on, and few people were left alive that even knew of Bishop Bonhomme. It was at that point that I realized that if I did not tell this story, the odds were quite high that no one would, and that another life would fade into the shadows of history, forgotten by all.

I also came to the realization that while it might not be a major loss to civilization if the story of Bishop Bonhomme were forgotten, it might equally be the source of inspiration to someone still alive, such as my children and grandchildren if no one else, that could lead to new leaders stepping forward and making the world of the future a better place to live for someone, a better society.

I am not sure where these realizations came from. In part I sensed a pressure from my mother and the Bishop to carry out this project – from their ghosts or from my own unconscious I won’t get into. In part I knew from an essay(3) I had written during my university years for a course in economic development, that Bishop Bonhomme had understood the role of economic development in the development of a society. I had gleaned this insight from a reading of one of the Bishop’s books, Noir/Or(4). I remember giving a copy of my essay to Father J.-M. Quirion, the dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa at the time, as he had told me that he had served under Bishop Bonhomme in Lesotho in the 1940's. I also remember discussing with Father Quirion the point that missionaries could do a better job for economic development if they were better statisticians.

Needless to say, my naiveté was demonstrated in making that statement as more profound than I would like to admit. Father Quirion’s reaction was gracious, in that he thanked me for the copy of the essay, and suggested – I can’t recall the exact statement – that working for Bishop Bonhomme had not been a picnic, and that one must remember the primary role of a missionary is not necessarily economic development.

I knew from a picture of the Bishop showing him wearing two medals, and from my mother’s comments that Bishop Bonhomme had been honoured by the King or Queen of England for his work in Lesotho, and that served as my point of departure for discovering the story of Bishop Bonhomme. My mother had concluded that Bishop Bonhomme had been awarded a medal by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1950's, but as I quickly concluded that could not have been the case, since he had left Lesotho long before the 1950's.

I contacted Saint James Palace in London, and learned that Bishop Bonhomme had been awarded the rank of member of the Order of the British Empire (Civilian Division) in 1937 by King George VI, but that no further details could be found in the records.

I contacted the Government of Lesotho to find the story and was referred to the Catholic Church. I wrote to Rome, and was referred to the archives of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Les Archives Deschâtelets, in Ottawa Ontario – the city in which I reside – and even provided me with the name of the Director of the archives. What luck.

In July 2003, I wrote to Father André Dubois asking for his assistance. Specifically, I wrote(5):

I am seeking your assistance in reconstructing the life and achievements of my great uncle, the H.E. Joseph Bonhomme, OMI, Titular Bishop of Tulana, Vicar Apostolic Emeritus of Basutoland at the time of his death. He was born 29 Jan 1889 and died 6 August 1973. I have a copy of the notice nécrologique written by Fr. Donat Levasseur, and in fact that was used in providing some background to the 1995 translation and updating (by my spouse Suzan Schmekel) of the genealogy of the Bonhomme Family Msgr Bonhomme had written in 1951. In fact a copy of that updated genealogy was sent to the Library at St. Paul University when it was released in 1995. However, there are a number of oral stories about Bishop Bonhomme that are not covered in detail in that notice nécrologique, and there is a lot of detail on his work and what has been said about him that is not covered.

I would like to put together his story as completely as possible for a number of reasons. Bishop Bonhomme had a profound impact on my life as a youngster, and on my brothers and sister, as well as my cousins, but most of us had no idea of his accomplishments as a missionary, nor as a parish priest here in Canada, and little is known by his family of what he did after he returned to Canada and the U.S. after resigning as the Apostolic Delegate to Basutoland, now Lesotho. So, my first objective is to put the full story together for my/his extended family that never really knew what he had done. Secondly, I believe his story has a value to Canadians as the story of a very talented native son who had an impact on the world, both in terms of the advancement of the faith, and in terms of the social and economic development of the people of southern Africa, and in North America. Thirdly, I believe his story has a value to managers on how to manage to achieve objectives, with his tendency to write a history of the parish or mission to which he was assigned to establish a sound basis on which to build the future.

I have sought information from Rome (it was Fr. Aloysius Kedl, O.M.I. who referred me to you), from London (St. James Palace, the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood), and from Lesotho. Fr. Kedl tells me that the most complete records on Bishop Bonhomme are in your hands here in Ottawa. St. James Palace was able to inform me that “The Right Reverend Monseigneur Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme, was appointed an Officer of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on the 1st of January 1938, for his services whilst Vicar Apostolic of the Roman Catholic Church in Basutoland” – however, they could not give me any detail on the whys and wherefores of the appointment.

I have an undated picture of Bishop Bonhomme wearing two medals. I succeeded in finding out about the OBE (but not the details behind it), even if it took a few years before making the right connection, but I have no clue as to what the second medal might be.

I inherited the pictures and documents my mother had kept regarding Bishop Bonhomme last year when she passed away. I wanted these items to begin the work of recreating the life of this servant of God, the life of my great Uncle, that his role in his time could be better understood by others, and that the importance of his work that transcends his own time and provides lessons for those of us today dealing with the world around us can be shared with a larger audience. I am undertaking this project as a part time effort, and expect it will take some time, but if I could be granted access to your files on Bishop Bonhomme for a few months (I am assuming I would have to use the files in situ) and take notes and photocopies, I would truly appreciate it.

Father Dubois replied to me as follows:

Bishop Bonhomme was a gifted, colourful and controversial figure. Your project is therefore very interesting. We have tons of material here, v.g. some 1 000 letters, etc ... Mostly in French, of course. There is an index and an inventory of the Fonds. Since Bishop B. died in 1973, there may be a time restriction on some of the documents. As for starting the work, the end of September or October would be a better time, because for the summer, we are short of staff.(6)

I spent the next year visiting the Les Archives Deschâtelets sorting through the writings by and about Bishop Bonhomme. In order to bring some order to the total inventory of material available at the Archives, I prepared a listing of all the card file holdings which is contained in this volume as Appendix A(7).

As I reviewed the work of Bishop Bonhomme and about Bishop Bonhomme a number of issues arose. One was that there were at least four views of his work in Lesotho – his view, the view of those who loved him, the view of Pope Pius XII, and the view of some of his fellow Oblates who either worked for him or with him, or those who attempted to control him – and these views were not totally compatible with each other.

Another issue was that while I could read his views, that is, read the words he had written, I could not really understand his views in a way that could transcend the time in which he lived unless I could understand the political, economic, and ecclesiastical context of his time.

As I write this in 2009, the views of the general population of the Catholic Church is not the view that was held in 1889, 1909, 1929, 1949, or 2009. The role of the Catholic Church, of other religious organizations, in fact of religion in society has changed in 2005 from what it was during the life of Bishop Bonhomme. Hence, the role of a priest, or a Roman Catholic Bishop in the society he served or serves has also changed considerably over the past century or so. In addition, the role of the Pope in governing the Roman Catholic Church has also evolved or at least changed in the past century, a point which has considerable bearing on the life and times of Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme.

The plan of this project to share the story of Bishop Bonhomme can be outlined as follows. This may become a traditionally published biography or not, but this at least begins the sharing of his life.

The first step is to provide a brief review of the history of the Roman Catholic Church both in Europe and in Canada, a review of the role and ideas of the Popes that seem to have had the greatest influence on the life of Bishop Bonhomme, and a review of the changing role of the Catholic Church and of governments from the late 19th Century through the 1960's. This will provide the reader with the context for the life and work of Bishop Bonhomme. Research has been done, and continues.

With the context defined, my plan is to present the conflicting views that exist of Bishop Bonhomme based on interviews, on newspapers articles, and based on a number of eulogies and articles written about the Bishop and his work. These have been drawn from the Archives Deschâtelets and from newspaper articles in the archives left by my mother. The intent of this stage is to convey is the puzzle that is Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme, or as the Archivist (Nathalie Parent)(8) at Les Archives Deschâtelets put it: “he was different from all the others”.

My next step is to provide a chronology through the life of Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme, beginning with his family and his early years on his parent’s farm and cheese factory in Compte Wolf, Quebec, and his early education. These early years, as for all of us, are formative years, and I have no doubt that his father’s experiences in business were a major influence on his life and life’s work. It is at this stage that I believe both his sense of entrepreneurship and his sense of social justice were awakened. The bulk of this stage of the project will be based on the writings of Bishop Bonhomme.

My next phase in this story is to turn to the period after Bishop Bonhomme as a young man left the family farm and moved to Burlington Vermont where he continued his education at Saint Michael’s College(9) taking a commercial program under the tutelage of the French priests of the Order of Saint Edmund. It is at this stage that I believe Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme likely encountered the teachings of Pope Leo XIII, and in particular the Papal Encyclical, Rerum Novarum(10). This will then be followed by a review of his education through essentially his high school years, and his studies for the priesthood in Ottawa Ontario and Lachine, Quebec through to his ordination in 1918. Much of this is based on the writing of Bishop Bonhomme.

The next phase to review and describe the first seven years of his priesthood an outline of which is that he served as a parish priest in Hull, Quebec, and as Chaplain to the nascent Catholic union movement, and this role in the French newspaper Le Droit in Ottawa, based primarily on his own writing supplemented by other articles. This is a period which clearly demonstrates his entrepreneurial spirit, his building of community economics or social economics – in fact his living the message of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.

This will be followed by a description of the promotion of Father Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme to, and his tenure as, Pastor of the parish of Notre-Dame de Lourdes, Rimouski Quebec from 1927-1930 based on his own writing and on various supplementary materials. This period showed him replicating the same approaches he had taken in Hull to improving the community or social economics of the parish but of Rimouski as a whole continuing his implementation of the teachings of Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum.

His story then returns to the parish of Notre-Dame de Hull as Pastor from 1930 to 1933, and his attempts to address the economic crisis we have come to call The Great Depression both locally and more broadly – again implementing and seeking to have implemented more broadly the teachings of Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum as reinforced by the Papal Enclycal of Pius XI, Quadragissimo Anno(11). Again it is his own writing that forms the basis of the presentation of this era, supplemented by other articles on his work in this period.

The next step is his elevation on April 25, 1933, of Father Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme to the rank of Bishop Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme, and to the rank of Apostolic Delegate to Basutoland by Pope Pius XI. There is a lot of detail about the arrangements for the ceremony, the ceremony, the visits prior to departure, and the departure for Africa in the Fall of 1933. This is based on the letters of Bishop Bonhomme and on newspaper articles of the day.

Then of course begins his work, his saga as the instrument of Pope Pius XI in revitalizing the mission of the Catholic Church in Lesotho with his trip from Canada to Lesotho, his assessment of Lesotho, the changes he brought to health, education, electrification, commerce basically from 1933 through 1938. It also covers his appointment by King George VI to the rank of Officer (Civilian Division) of the Order of the British Empire in gratitude for his work in the British Protectorate of Basutoland (now called Lesotho). This is followed by two other stages in his tenure, the first of which is the period from 1938 as Apostolic Delegate to Basutoland through to his departure for North America in 1941 following the death of his mother; and the second is the period of his exile in North America where he worked to generate funds for his flock in Africa – and really exercised his entrepreneurial spirit in the work of God.

The next chapter in his story is his return to Africa by ship during war time and his final stage as the spiritual head of the Catholic Church in Basutoland, 1944-1947. This period of his tenure is marked by the problems in Africa created in his being exiled in North America, the issues that arose from his entrepreneurial activities, and at the same time his retaining trust in his vision of what was “right”, his resignation as Apostolic Delegate to Basutoland, and his appointment by Pope Pius XII to the rank of (Bishop) Assistant to the Pontifical Throne.

His return to Canada and his assignments to the Canadian West on his return to North America, his willingness to rock the boat, to continue pressing for the full implementation of the concepts of social justice proposed by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, confirmed by Pius XI, reconfirmed by Pius XII, and by all Pontiffs since that time, and then finally his “retirement” years of Bishop Bonhomme, his thoughts, reading, writing, and activities – his reflection on his life and relationship to God.

This project is about revisiting of this life of action, finding the lessons we can learn from the experiences of Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme, the greatest of which is that spirituality is not detachment from life, but having the courage to look inside to see what needs to be done in the context of the day, to have the courage to do what needs to be done, the courage to deal with the consequences of doing what needs to be done, and thus have the inner peace of knowing that one has done what was “right”.

I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to write about Bishop Bonhomme, to share my thoughts about this man who so influenced my life and the lives of thousands, and to fulfill the commitment I made to my mother and to myself to do so.

I am delighted you have read this far. Invite you to explore what I have to offer, and to go beyond that if you are so inspired. I invite all readers to see what lessons they can take for themselves from this life of an entrepreneur working for the spiritual enhancement of all, for the implementation of concepts of social justice for those he influenced, and for the inner peace of knowing one has done one’s best in the applications of one’s talents to the world in which we live.

Philémon Paquette
23 September 2009

  1. (return) HE 1548.B71R 16 - Généalogie de la famille Bonhomme (s.d.) 110 p. unpublished manuscript. The initial number in this footnote is the archival reference number of Archives Deschâtelets, with the title of the document following. This is the approach that will be used for all documents cited from the Archives. This specific reference while being undated (s.d. - sans date) is estimated to be 1951 from its contents and other references.
  2. (return) H.E. Joseph Bonhomme, O.M.I.. - A Genealogy of the The Bonhomme Family (1632-1995) (Edited and Translated by Suzan Schmekel). Ottawa: The Paquette Press, June 1995, xxx1v, 194 pp.
  3. (return) The Role of Missionaries in Economic Development: The Case of Lesotho. An Essay in Development Economics submitted to the University of Ottawa. December 7, 1971. 17 pp. plus appendices
  4. (return) CM 3507.B71 1934 - Noir Or: le Basutoland, mission noire, mission d=or. Montréal: Les Missionnaires Oblat de M.I., Maison provinciale 1934 275 p.
  5. (return) E-mail to Father André Dubois of 3 July, 2003.
  6. (return) E-mail from Fr. Dubois of July 4, 2003
  7. (return) Archival listings of Mgr Joseph Cyprien Bonhomme, O.M.I., Evèque de Tulana, Vicar Apostolique Au Basutoland, Assistant au Trône Pontifical, O.B.E. préparé par Philémon Paquette, April 2004, 19 pp.
  8. (return) In an oral discussion of the Bishop during a visit in the Fall of 2004.
  9. (return) Actually Saint Michael’s Institute the predecessor to Saint Michael’s College.
  10. (return) Published 1891, but for the edification of all Catholics, not just for the clergy – see chapter 3 below.
  11. (return) Published in 1931, the fortieth anniversary (hence the title) of the publication of Rerum Novarum.