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A Missionary of Many Talents

For the week of Monday June 11, 2007

On June 13, 1849, Albert Lacombe was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Father Lacombe would become one of the most renowned missionaries in the Canadian West.

Very Rev.  Albert Lacombe
Very Rev. Albert Lacombe
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-066520
Lacombe was born on February 28, 1827, in Saint-Sulpice, Lower Canada (today Quebec), a small rural community. Despite being needed on the farm, Lacombe’s parents decided to send their son to school in the next parish. Later, having completed his studies at Collège de l’Assomption, Lacombe went on to study at the Archbishop’s palace in Montréal.

While studying at the Archbishop’s palace, Lacombe received a visit from Father Georges Belcourt, who was a missionary in the Pembina area (now in North Dakota). This visit made a lasting impression on Lacombe; two months after he was ordained a priest, he left for the Prairies, where he would spend most of his life.

In 1852, he worked with Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché at the Red River settlement, but was sent to Lac Ste-Anne (in present-day Alberta) in 1853. While visiting many of the missions in the area, Lacombe began forging friendships with the Blackfoot, Cree and Métis peoples through his evangelical missions, as well as become a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1856.

Blackfeet at Earnscliff
Blackfeet and Father Lacombe at Earnscliffe, Ottawa, ON
© Dept. of the Interior / Library and Archives Canada / PA-045666
His missionary work brought him to all corners of the world, from his St. Albert mission just north of Fort Edmonton, which he founded in 1861, to Ottawa and even to the Vatican, all in the hopes of helping the Aboriginal and Métis people of the Prairies. After having lived with the Blackfoot and Cree, Lacombe began to learn their languages. His knowledge of their languages allowed him to publish a Cree dictionary, as well as prepare a Blackfoot-French dictionary. This knowledge made him a valuable resource for the Canadian Pacific Railway, where Lacombe acted as a negotiator. He worked hard to protect both the CPR and the First Nation’s interests.

In 1908, towards the end of his life, Lacombe opened a home for orphans, elderly and disabled in Midnapore, Alberta. This was quite successful; there were 40 residents within six months. It was at this home that Lacombe would spend the rest of his days. He passed away December 12, 1916, at age 89.

For his work with the First Nations and his impact on the development of the Canadian West, Albert Lacombe, O. M. I. , was designated a National Historic Person in 1932.

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