Cuoq, Father Jean André

1898, July 21

Date of Birth:  1821, June 6

November 4, 1898

Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord,

No Memorial Card is Available

On last July 21st we lost, at the Lake of the Two Mountains, the exemplary Father Cuoq, who for more than fifty years had been pastor and father of the Indians of that mission.

Born at Le Puy on June 6, 1821, Father Jean André Cuoq was dedicated to God by his pious mother while she was carrying him in her womb. He was only ten years old when he lost his father. Sent to the college of Le Puy for his classical studies, he early on distinguished himself by his intelligence and by his piety as well as by his character, at the time energetic and sportive. Although he got along well with most of his fellow-students, he was nonetheless the object of bad treatment from some – jealous no doubt of his worth and his success. So it was that one day he received from one of them a punch in the eye so violent that from it his sight thereafter remained impaired. But neither that incident nor other less serious pestering ever left the least rancor in his heart.

At the major seminary of Le Puy, where he entered as his classical training came to a close, Father Cuoq showed himself an excellent student, thoroughly polite, pious, reliable, of good character, happy, on good terms with everyone. It is remembered that drawn to languages even then, he took Spanish and gave instructions in it.

In October 1844, at twenty-three, since he had finished Theology and had received the diaconate, he came to St. Sulpice in Paris, where he was the student of Father Le Hir. The following year he entered the Solitude and was ordained priest there on December 20, 1845. At the end of his novitiate he took a resolution to depart the American mission; and, in the spirit of sacrifice, he formally added to that resolution the one of never returning to France. He went back to Le Puy only to take leave of his family. His good mother was at first upset by his resolution, but her faith and generosity quickly revived in the presence of his. Moreover, the young missionary kept calling on merriment to help [ease the shock]. Soon his mother was the first to say: “Go my son, if God is calling you. Far be it from me to keep you from doing His will!”

When, on November 20, 1846, he arrived at Montreal after a crossing of nearly six weeks, Father Cuoq was employed there in parochial ministry during his first year. In 1847 he was sent to the Lake of the Two Mountains as missionary to the Algonquins; eleven years later he was put in charge also of the mission to the Iroquois. It can be said that since then – up to his last day – he never ceased being involved with one or the other, although his actual presence at the Lake of the Two Mountains underwent some interruptions. For instance, in 1859 he was on the faculty of the college of Montreal as teacher of Prosody, and in 1860 he accompanied Father Faillon to Baltimore. On that occasion he did some part-time teaching at St. Charles College. Still later, he spent some time in Montreal in parochial ministry. There as well as at the parish of Oka (modern name of the village of Two Mountains) when Canadian families began settling there, Father Cuoq gave proof of a definitely Sulpician zeal for discerning and encouraging vocations to the priesthood. He always showed a deep attachment, moreover, for the spirit and practices of St. Sulpice; he always drew from them the strength which sustained him in all his labors, and which consoled him in all his disappointments in his life as a missionary.

The Indian mission begun at Montreal on the coming of the first Sulpicians, soon after – in hope of escaping scandalous example – transferred to the Falls or Ricollet, and still later to the Lake of the Two Mountains, was, in its pristine state, a sort of commune. Father Cuoq saw its last good days when public penance was still being practiced; when, on big feasts, the young warriors took pride in serving Mass and in marching in processions decked in white albs with red and blue cinctures, bewigged or powdered, as in the Age of Louis XIV. At that time the summer months were for the missionary a time of heavy labor: back from the winter hunts to take it easy at the Lake of the Two Mountains, the Indians became more than ever the objects of his zeal. Both tribes, the Algonquins and the Iroquois, separately and each in its own language, had prayers after Holy Mass, morning and evening instructions, catechism lessons for First Communion. They came together only at night for Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In these same months the Solemnity of the Forty Hours was held with a procession on Louis XIII Road and by a pilgrimage to the Mountain Way of the Cross, a pilgrimage which served each year as the closing exercise of the “mission.” Then Father Cuoq could begin something of an easing-off period, which he utilized by studying and composing works calculated to increase the Indians’ piety. It was a precarious relaxation, however; to be interrupted more than once for their sake by winter trips over the Ottawa ice. But these rough trips were in their turn of benefit to his writings, for they put him in contact with hitherto unknown tribes and dialects.

Today, surrounded by a burgeoning culture in which they seem to have no part at all, their faith corrupted by self-serving preachers, reduced in numbers by apostasy and then by the departure of many of them to areas quite a way off, the Indians of Oka form in the midst of a young Canadian parish hardly more than a small band of the faithful, insignificant in the eyes of the world, but always infinitely dear to the missionary who has the care of their souls. In their service Father Cuoq wore himself out, continuing to be a child dealing with children, and very little caring about the growing renown which his philological work had achieved in the world of scholarship.

Those works had their origin in a request from Father Le Hir, a request motivated by the rash statements of Renan on languages about which he knew nothing but from which he did not hesitate to draw arguments against the unity of the human race. Up till then, Father Cuoq had learned the Indian languages only in the interests of his ministry, but he could not refuse to use his acquired knowledge in defense of religious truth. He did so in 1864 in a series of articles soon brought together in a brochure entitled: Mistaken Judgment of M. Ernest Renan about American Indian Languages.  He again treated the subject in 1866 in: Philological Studies on the Indian Languages of the New World; and he brought out in 1869 a very much enlarged edition of his first work.

In 1882 he brought to press his dictionary of the Iroquois language, and in 1886 that of the Algonquin language. He brought out also an Algonquin grammar, published in the Memoires of the Royal Society of Canada. Father Cuoq had long since been elected a member of that society and also of the Ethnological Society of Washington – but he was never willing to leave his mission to attend their meetings.

At the time of Father Cuoq’s death a great French authority on America paid homage to his works and drew this conclusion about them as a whole: “The New World languages, especially those of Canada, are – compared to our European tongues – like the language of a child compared to that of a grown man. If it does not yet equal the latter, one feels that it has everything necessary to equal it in the future.” As for Father Cuoq himself, while having some reservations about certain of his speculations, M. de Charencey called him “a scholar of great merit who has worked prodigiously and contributed more than anyone else in casting light on the subject of his studies.”

To the zeal and self-denial of the missionary, to the deep piety of the holy priest, to the perfect reliability of the true Sulpician, to the seriousness of the scholar, there was joined in the native make-up of Father Cuoq a depth of innocent joy, even comical good humor, inexhaustible, well known to his confreres who spent vacations at the Lake. At the end of last June, quite weak though he was physically, he was still pretty much himself; but in the first days of July he was seen to exhibit a kind of weakness characterized by an insatiable need of rest and sleep.

On Sunday, July 10th. Father Cuoq received Holy Communion and heard three Masses on his knees, in line with his customary practice. The day which followed was very happy; but in the night of Sunday/Monday an attack of paralysis began to manifest itself. His memory failed; however, when someone coming to his bedside identified himself, Father Cuoq repeated the name, added a friendly word, and pressed his visitor’s hand while saying: “Please commend me to the Good God.”

The paralysis made advances on the following days; he was less lucid, and to be on the safe side, the pastor of Oka administered the last sacraments to the dear patient in the daylight hours of July 15th.

In moments of consciousness, Father Cuoq expressed a great desire to die, a great trust in the mercy of God, a heartfelt affection for his confreres. Several times he said to the pastor while holding his hand: “You are my Superior and you have my love.” When the Very Reverend Superior of Montreal came to see him on Saturday, the 16th, Father Cuoq showed his extreme happiness, and asked his blessing “in the name of the Superior General and of Father Olier.”

The following Tuesday His Grace, the Archbishop, went to the trouble of coming back from pastoral visitation, and hurried in his turn to the Lake. Father Cuoq was still living, but all consciousness was gone. Two days later, Thursday, July 21st, towards eight in the evening, he breathed his last amidst the prayers of a number of his confreres.

At the news of his illness the whole parish was grief-stricken, especially the Indians. After his death they came to kneel around his casket. Apostate Indians came there like the others and attended the funeral. That promising development, on the heels of the recantation of an Iroquis chief, gave hope for the return of others.

The funeral of our humble confrere, celebrated on July 25th, drew – in spite of its distance from the city – a numerous crowd, not only of the laity, but also of priests, chief among them His Grace, the Archbishop, who deigned to come back. “In a brief talk,” said the Religious Week of Montreal, “Archbishop Bruchesi paid homage to a life so hidden and so productive. Then he yielded the pulpit to the former pastor of the Iroquois of St. Regis, Father Mainville, who, in a sermon in the Indian language, preached on the terrible and salutary teachings of death.”

Father Cuoq lies in the Oka church in the midst of the Indians whom he loved so much and for whom may he not cease his intercession at God’s hand.

Let us, however, pray for him, Fathers and dear confreres; and let us rouse ourselves out of his example to the generosity of the zeal which all our duties are worthy of.

I renew to you the expression of my entire and very affectionate devotion in Our Lord.

A. Captier

Superior of St. Sulpice