PIERRE MAILLARD, RELIGIOUS EDUCATOR
Fr. Pat Fitzpatrick, CSSp
Spiritan Missionary News, Oct. 1994
Edited for website: Fr. Paul McAuley, CSSp
On Sundays, and when the sick or the dying required his attention, the first priest to come among the Micmac Indians came out, attended to them and then immediately shut himself up again. He continued this all winter, until Easter. He then sent word, that if the people would assemble, he would preach to them. They did so, and to their astonishment, he spoke Micmac as well and as fluently as any of them.
When Pierre Maillard came from the Spiritan Seminary in Paris to Louisbourg, Cape Breton, in 1735, he was convinced that if he was to work among the Native People of that island, he would have to he able to speak to their in their own language. Their astonishment that Easter Sunday resembled the bewilderment of the people of Jerusalem that Pentecost Sunday when each of them heard, in his or her native tongue, the group of apostles in the streets of the city speaking of the marvels of God.
There was nothing miraculous about Pierre Maillard's fluency. He spent years learning Micmac idioms and developing a pictorial script that the people could use. This hieroglyphic script contained more that 5700 different picture letters to speak to their imagination. In addition, he wrote the first Micmac grammar and dictionary, he produced religious handbooks containing prayers, hymns, sermons and forms for celebrating baptisms, marriages and funerals. When the government no longer allowed resident missionaries to work among the people, their chiefs would gather them in their villages for Sunday services, read Fr. Maillard's "sacred text" and comment on his written sermon. Then they would say the prayers and sing the songs taught by Fr. Maillard. The missionary was no longer there, but the Micmac book had taken his place.
In 1740 Pierre Maillard was appointed Vicar General of Cape Breton. Five years later he was among the Catholic priests arrested by the British, and deported to Boston and then back to France. Four years after that, this determined Breton was back in Cape Breton, living and working in Bras d'Or.
After the capture of Louisbourg by the British in 1758 and the deportation of the Acadians in crowded boats to France, Fr. Maillard led his Micmac people to Miramichi, New Brunswick, where they joined the Acadians who had gone into hiding rather than face deportation. Two years later, he convinced the Acadians and the Micmacs to accept the conditions of a peace offer from the British, convinced that trying to hold out against them would be no good.
He moved to Halifax and lived there for two years. But his health was deteriorating and in 1762 he died there, the last Catholic priest allowed to remain in Nova Scotia. A rare tribute was paid to him after his death. In those unecumenical times he was given an Anglican funeral and buried in the Protestant cemetery.
Pierre Maillard identified with the Micmac people. He lived with them, spoke their language, shared their joys and endured their hardships. According to a Micmac legend, after his death bushes bearing beautiful flowers sprang up over his grave. The influence of his twenty-seven years among them did not end with his death. As late as 1927 it could he written, "the Micmac book has taken the place of a missionary for nearly a hundred and seventy years."
*Photos: Fr. Paul McAuley,CSSp