A.L. K. Switzer, March 4, 1964 Part two:
Early Life of Father Couture
Father Cadieux’s task as a biographer was lightened by having access to 140 letters written by Father Couture to his sister Madame Alfred Avard, mother of Longlac’s Jean-Louis Avard. Father Couture too left a few leaflets – about 30 – concerning himself and his thoughts.
Born of the union of Francois-Xavier Couture and Celine Audet, October 17, 1885 at St. Anseline-de-Dorchester, Province de Quebec, he was the sixth child and first son in a family of six girls and three boys. He was baptised Joseph-Xavier. His father was a Road Master with the Quebec Central Railway. While he was attending primary school he fell ill. He was a voracious reader and at this time showed a strong desire to emulate Francois-Zavier, who with Loyola was one of the founders of the Jesuit Order.
He took a commercial course at Sainte-Marie de Beauce and then evinced an interest in taking classical studies. In 1902 at the age of 16 he entered the College de Levis. He found Greek and Latin roots not particularly to his liking and longed for action and fresh air. At this time he was offered a job as fireman on the Quebec Central by his uncle Onesime and he told his superior he would like to take it.
The Superior reasoned with him. Then Joseph Couture declared awkwardly “but Monsieur L’Abbe, I haven’t a calling to the priesthood…I like …the young girls.” They talked the matter over together and before the discussion ended student Joseph was convinced that he was called by God. At Easter 1906 he attended a “triduum” or three day prayer session at the Novitiate of the Jesuit Fathers in Montreal and at that time his final decision was taken.
Following this he spent five months as a fireman on the Quebec Central Railway and on September 13, 1906 he entered the Novitiate of Sault-du- Recollet. On his entry to the Novitiate at Sault-du-Recollet he produced a bottle of whiskey from his pocket. His uncle Onesine had given it to him as a present saying “my boy, in case of stress take some, it will give you courage.” A little astonished the Father Superior laughingly told him that the apprentices were not accustomed to taking strong drinks and it would be necessary to sacrifice the bottle. Joseph explained that he didn’t drink but his uncle had given it to him to please him. He offered it to the Superior to be used for the sick, - as for him he would put his faith in miracles.
On the completion of his apprenticeship Joseph took up literary and philosophic studies. He was a real student - long hours were the rule. At this stage he took the name Joseph-Marie Couture. In July 1913 he left Montreal for Spanish, Ontario, an apprentice missionary at the age of 27. At the Indian Industrial School in Spanish, Father Napoleon Dugas, the Superior, was among those who welcomed him. After four years of mastership here he counted on returning to Montreal to begin his theological studies, however, he was prevailed upon to remain another year as the need for good teachers was great.
Finally he got away to start his higher studies but “hardly had he begun his theological studies than he received a message from his Provincial, Father Filion, asking him to set out again for Spanish.” It was 1918 and the death-dealing influenza had hit. For eleven days and nights out of night-marish fourteen, he and Father Gamache nursed 105 critically ill children and six Fathers and Brothers. Despite heroic efforts on the part of Joseph and Father Gamache, eight of the children died.