Celebrated missionary in Quebec abused Innu girls, inquiry hears

The Toronto Star

November 29, 2017

By Allan Woods

Father Alexis Joveneau was celebrated for his work over four decades among the Innu of northern Quebec, but a string of women now say he groped and abused them as girls.MONTREAL—For most of his adult life and for decades after his death Father Alexis Joveneau was regarded as a religious superstar in Quebec.

But the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women has heard from several witnesses who said they were sexually abused over several years by the priest.

In the predominately Innu community of La Romaine, Que., Joveneau was celebrated, respected, and considered by many to be “Jesus in person,” as one witness recounted. He left a much different impression on his victims.

“He mistreated us. He abused us,” said Noelle Mark, 57, who described being touched inappropriately by Joveneau between the ages of about nine and 15.

She was one of two women Wednesday who described going to church for confession and being forced to sit on the priest’s knee and endure his inappropriate touches, rather than kneeling.

“He would stick his tongue in my ear. I remember that for a long time,” Mark said. “I hated that smell—his breath. I smell it now.”

The Belgian-born priest was ordained in 1951 and requested he be sent to Canada with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, an international religious order. He arrived in Quebec’s rugged north coast of the St. Lawrence River and spent nearly four decades living and working among the Innu people until his sudden death in 1992.

It was noted upon his death that Joveneau was fluent in Innu-aimun, the Innu language, and dedicated much of his time to safeguarding the language and translating educational and religious books for Innu readers.

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