François-Norbert Blanchet
François-Norbert Blanchet
Two pioneer bishops of the Pacific Northwest first went to seminary because they nearly drowned.

An article in the January issue of the Blanchet family newsletter — Le Tissu Blanchet — tells the story.

In the small Quebec farm town of Saint-Pierre-de-Montmagny at the start of the 19th century, the parish priest urged the teen Blanchet brothers — François-Norbert and Augustin-Magloire — to study Latin at the parish college. Because Pierre Blanchet's farm was across the river from the school, the lads would need to cross the river in a row boat each day to get there and get home. This ferrying usually went smoothly.

But one spring, because of snowmelt and rain, the river was running high and fast.
Their mother, Rosalie, would nervously watch each day as her sons came and went over the waters. She always begged them to be prudent and warned them of danger.
On this afternoon in 1810, as she did housework, she noticed Norbert and Magloire embark on the far shore and set out. Busy in the kitchen, she took her eye off the river for a bit and lost track of them. After a half hour, she began wondering why her students had not come home.

In the grip of anxiety, she called for them and received no answer. She rushed about the property, even the stables, and found them nowhere. Rosalie then dashed to the river and saw them, thoroughly soaked, draining their shoes before the walk home.

"She did not reproach them," says an account from a 1947 Blanchet family letter. "The two new Moseses could not wait to tell her lightheartedly about their adventure."

The strong current had caught their boat and capsized it. The boys fell into the icy water. They both could swim, so reached the shore. But, they would admit later, it was difficult and frightening.

The capsizing became the center of conversation in the Blanchet home. At supper, there was hearty laughter over the misadventure. But when it came time for evening prayers, Rosalie said extra Hail Marys in thanks for her sons' narrow escape. Then, after everyone went to Bed, Rosalie told her husband that such an accident could have a horrible result next time.

Pierre and Rosalie interpreted the boat accident as a warning from heaven to take good care of their sons, who perhaps had important destinies. Consequently, the enrolled the boys the next autumn in Le Petit Séminaire in Québec City, despite the additional expenses of room and board. The parents would miss the boys through the long absence.  
Norbert and Magloire would go on to be ordained and answered the missionary calling to serve Catholics — many of them French Canadians — living in the Pacific Northwest. In 1846, François-Norbert Blanchet became the first archbishop in Oregon country, heading the Archdiocese of Oregon City, which would later become the Archdiocese of Portland. Augustin-Magloire soon was named bishop of Walla Walla and then of Nesqually, which was based in Vancouver, Wash. and was later renamed the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Even after they became bishops, the reunited Blanchet brothers enjoyed telling the story of how the a rough river crossing led them to the seminary.