Quebec City – The Birthplace of The Catholic Church in Canada

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 On December 31, 2008, the celebrations commemorating the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Québec city by Samuel de Champlain came to a conclusion. Although the contribution of the Church was vaguely insinuated, history illustrates it has played a key role not only in the province of Quebec, but also in the whole country.

Summoned by Champlain, theRécollets, a reformed branch of the Franciscan family, arrive on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in 1615.Missionaries and preachers, they are renowned for their simple and austere lifestyle.Their work, on the whole, proved to be somewhat disappointing, for their numbers and their resources were too small for significant progress. Jean de Brébeuf and companions arrive in 1625.The Récollets remain until Québec city is temporarily captured by the British in 1629 and all missionaries are forced to go back to France. When Samuel de Champlain returns to the Nouvelle-France in 1633, he is accompanied by the Jesuits; the Récollets only reappear in 1670.

Founded in 1540 by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Society of Jesus ranks among religious institutes as a mendicant order of clerks regular, that is, a body of priests organized for apostolic work, following a religious rule, and relying on alms for their support.At the death of their founder in 1556, the Company had 1000 members and 150 foundations.A century later, it counted 15,000 members and in 1773, 23,000 members had joined their ranks. The founder’s main aspiration was to make the Society of Jesus a missionary order.Less than a year after the approbation of the Order Constitutions in 1541, Saint Francis Xavier left for India.Many Jesuits followed his footsteps and the missionary labors of the Order among the pagans of India, Japan, China, Canada, Central and South America were as important as their activity in Christian countries.

Shortly after their arrival in Quebec City, the Jesuits establish two centers for their evangelical actions, a college in Quebec for the French inhabitants and Sainte Marie-des-Hurons along Georgian Bay for the native people.From this centre the missionaries spread out to the neighboring Indian villages to teach, baptize, and celebrate mass.They believed that if they had the chance to educate simple people from the beginning, it would be possible to build a Christian state where individuals would live in equality and peace. These famous Jesuits – Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, Gabriel Lalemant, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier, Noël Chabanel, Jean de Lalonde and Rene Goupil are the first Canadian martyrs. In 1663, the first seminary was opened and the following year the first parish of the new colony, Notre-Dame-de-Quebec, was established. Mgr François de Laval, born in the diocese of Chartres in France, became the first bishop of the newly created diocese of Quebec in 1674.

In 1639, responding to an appeal from the Jesuits, three Ursulines, including blessed Marie de l’Incarnation, the future first superior of the order in Canada and Madame de la Peltrie, a Frenchwidow of comfortable means, arrive in Quebec.The earliest female teaching order established in the Church, the Ursulines opened the first school for young Amerindian and French girls in North America.The community was founded in Italy by Saint Angela de Merici.Orphan from a very young age, she was soon interested in the social problems of her time.Her idea was both original and audacious.Angele de Merici reserved the new order to virgins free from all engagements.Members were not required to live within the confines of a convent, did not pronounce vows, except for the private vow of chastity and did not wear a specific costume. They met periodically for conferences and spiritual exercises. The movement was taken up with great enthusiasm and spread rapidly throughout Italy, Germany and France. However, in 1572, thirty-two years after the foundress’death, Charles Borromeo, CardinalArchbishop of Milan, obtained for the new congregation the status of a monastic order with enclosure.Following the reforms of Council Vatican II, the Ursulines renounce to cloistered life while maintaining their apostolate mission dedicated to the education of young girls.

Also in 1639, the Augustinian Hospital Sisters of the Mercy of Jesus, the first female missionaries in the world, opened l’Hôtel-Dieu du Précieux-Sang de Québec.The Congregation is the oldest existing Hospitaller community in Canada. Their work was funded by Marie de Vignerot de Pontcourlay, Marquise of Combalet and Duchesse d’Aiguillon; niece of Cardinal Richelieu, the famous clergyman during Louis XIII’s reign. Nine years later, Blessed Marie-Catherine de Saint-Augustin arrived, at the age of sixteen.Regarded as one of the founders of the CanadianChurch, for twenty years she acted as economist, mistress of novices and director general of the hospital, being entirely devoted to the sick and the dispossessed.

During the effervescent seventeenth century, two other French women wrote important pages of Canadian history.The first one, Jeanne-Mance, arrived in 1642.Three years later, with the financial help of Angélique de Bullion, a wealthy woman eager to fund a hospital in New France; she opens l’Hôtel-Dieu in Ville-Marie, then known as Montreal.In 1659, following multiple obstacles, three sisters from les Soeurs Hospitalières de St-Joseph, a community dedicated to the sick founded in France by Jérome Le Royer de la Dauversière and Marie de la Ferre, disembark in Montreal.Subsequent to Jeanne Mance’s death in 1673, the Congregation becomes administrator of the hospital.Subsequently, eleven years after the foundation of Montreal, Marguerite Bourgeoys makes her appearance.She had heard about Ville-Marie from the governor’s sister, Mother Louise de Chomedey de Sainte-Marie, who was director of the extern Congregation of Troyes, an association dedicated to the education of poor children.Marguerite Bourgeoys wished to accomplish the same task in the new colony.Following the nine-month sea journey, the 33 year-old started her work without delay. Convinced of the importance of the role of women in the family life, she devoted herself to their education.In 1658, she opened the first school in Montreal. From the beginning, she gave special care to Indian girls.Consequently, around 1678 she established a mission in the Indian village of Montagne where teachers taught in cabins made of bark. On three occasions, Marguerite Bourgeoys went to France to obtain help. As of 1658, the group of teachers who joined her in her life of prayer, of poverty, and of service, represented the image of a religious institute. The Congregation de Notre-Dame received canonical approbation by decree of the Bishop of Quebec in 1676.

In August 1657, Messieurs de Queylus, Souart, Galenier and d’Allet arrive in Montreal.The Company of St Sulpice was founded by Jean-Jacques Olier, who was not only a priest, but a zealous missionary.Upon the Sulpicians’ arrival, no institution was in place.The Jesuits, who were at the time the only missionaries present in the island, laboured mostly at the evangelisation of Indians. Therefore, during the first century, the Sulpicians created countless foundations.Their first establishments are Notre-Dame church and the Grand Seminary.In the latter part of the seventeenth century, the Sulpician Order had also been requested to send missionaries in Acadia. The Sulpician Fathers covered the whole of the Maritime Provinces, in St. JohnIsland (Prince Edward Island), Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Numerous political and religious quarrels mark the history of the Company.In 1840, matters start to improve considerably.Mgr Ignace Bourget, archbishop of Montreal, bestows them officially the training of priests.While exercising a certain power over the future of Montreal as owners and Seigneurs, the community then enters a fruitful period where they organize parishes, found charitable associations and sustain educational organizations such as the University of Montreal.

In 1737 Marguerite d’Youville, the first Canadian-born saint canonized in 1994, founded what became known as the Grey Nuns to assume charge of the General Hospital of Montréal from the Frères Charon, a community of brothers founded for this work in 1694 but in the process of dissolution. From the moment of its establishment, the community was a lay charitable association.The Sisters sheltered abandoned children, tended to the sick, buried the dead. However, the community of brothers had been very popular and people mock the nuns by calling them grises (drunk). Another story implies that the sisters were wrongly accused of selling alcohol to the Indians and to grise them (encourage them to drink).In 1755, when the community is officially established, the Sisters take the grey habit in allusion to the nickname.

Then the British came.In 1759, General James Wolfe defeated General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm at Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham and the course of history changed forever.The royal instructions to General Murray, the first civil governor of the province, required him to admit of no “Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the See of Rome.” He was also requested to encourage the creation of Protestant schools and churches.However, this policy was soon reversed. The British ceased to suppress the French of Quebec or what they called Lower Canada and allowed them to preserve their language, religion, culture and system of law. Many years later, with the restoration of rights for Catholics in England, the Church was able to expand into English Canada. The Archdiocese of Quebec gave birth, among others, to the Diocese of Kingston in 1826, the Diocese of Charlottetown in 1829 and the Diocese of Halifax in 1842.Consequently, the Archdiocese of Kingston isCanada‘s oldest English-speaking Roman Catholic Diocese.It once included suffragan dioceses of Hamilton, London, Saint-Catharines, Thunder Bay and Toronto.

At the time of the conquests, there were three clerical communities in New France: Jesuits, Récollets and Sulpicians.There were also seven communities of women.The British refused to allow the Jesuits and the Récollets to receive new members, but the Sulpicians, who could present themselves as diocesan clergy, were able to carry on. The women’s communities, regarded by the British as less dangerous and as offering valuable social services, were allowed to continue. By 1837, there were over 300 professed sisters.The establishment of the diocese of Montréal in 1836 brought a remarkable evolution.In 1841, on a visit to Europe, Archbishop Ignace Bourget approached several French communities.As a result, a year later, the Jesuits sent six priests and three lay brothers to Montréal. The Viatorians, founded in 1831 by Louis Querbes, sent five priests to open a college, school and novitiate in Joliette in 1847. Also in 1847 the Congregation of the Holy Cross, under its founder, Basile Moreau, sent out a priest, seven brothers and four sisters. Elsewhere, in 1850, Armand de Charbonnel, second bishop of Toronto, brought in the Basilian Fathers, founded 1822 inFrance. Many Canadian female communities were born during Bishop Bourget’s mandate.In 1844, he approved Émilie Gamelin’s institution of the Sisters of Providence to care for the poor, and the teaching order of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary by Eulalie Durocher.In 1848, to care for unwed mothers and their children, he asked Rosalie Jetté, a widow and mother of eleven children, to set up the Soeurs de la Miséricorde.In 1850, he welcomed Marie-Esther Blondin’s foundation of the Sisters of Saint Anne, whose charge was to labour in the public schools of the countryside.

From the founding of Port Royal up to the time of the cruel expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, the Catholic missionaries who laboured in Nova Scotia, or Acadia as it was then called, came from France. Some of the early priests were Jesuits. Then the Recollect Fathers arrived, working hard to convert the Micmacs, the native Indians of Nova Scotia.French and Irish Capuchin Friars ministered during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.The Capuchin Order, a branch of the Franciscan Order, was founded in Italy in 1528 as a reform movement within the Franciscan Order. The word Capuchin derives from the large cowl or hood of the habit adopted by the early Capuchins. In 1801, Father Edmund Burke, an Irish priest who had arrived in Canada in 1786, left Quebec to start his mission in Halifax, which at that period formed part of the Diocese of Quebec, and remained until it was made a vicariate in 1817. Father Burke was consecratedVicar Apostolic of Nova Scotia in 1818 and filled the office until his death in 1820. The vicariate was erected into a diocese on February 15th 1842, and was called the Diocese of Halifax, which included all the province of Nova Scotia.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, founded in 1816 by Eugène de Mazenod, were looking for a mission outside France. They came to Montréal in 1841 and soon moved on; they were in Ottawa and on James Bay by 1844. They arrived in 1845 at St-Boniface on the Red River.At the time of their arrival, the religious mission of Red River included all of the territory west of the Great Lakes. On April 24th 1851, the first eight provinces and mission vicariates were created. They included the Province of Canada-East and the Mission Vicariate of Red River.Arriving in Saint-Boniface on August 25th 1845, Brother Alexandre Tache and Father Pierre Aubert laid the foundations of Oblate mission work in the North West which became Western Canada, the North WestTerritories, the Yukon and British Columbia. The number of Oblates who were there at the beginning very quickly increased to become the largest body of Roman Catholic male religious in Western and Northern Canada. By 1864, when the Mission Vicariate of Red River was first subdivided, thirty Oblates had either visited or opened a mission at more than forty-five locations from Red River to Youcon (Alaska) and FortMcPherson.The Oblates were best known for their missionary work among the natives.Establishing missions in as many places as possible, they also became involved in education by operating industrial and residential schools.They founded many parishes and played a significant role in helping newly arrived immigrants such as the Germans, the Poles and the Italians.Gradually, English-speaking clergy and laity replaced the French Canadians in the west. The French sphere of influence was restricted to Quebec and enclaves of French-speaking peoples at St Boniface, Gravelbourg, St Albert, and smaller communities in the Canadian West.

During the second half of the eighteen century, the Irish and the Scots invaded the shores of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.The Irish during the mid-eighteenth century in Newfoundland were kept separate from the French Canadians by the large territory between them. They were a minority in Newfoundland and were forced to hide their priests or their homes would be destroyed. By the beginning of the nineteen century the Irish became a majority, but still suffered from discrimination. In 1850, the triumphant Newfoundland Catholics constructed on the high ground overlooking St John’s a classical granite cathedral as a glistening symbol of the Celtic emergence in Atlantic Canada.In the mid-nineteenth century, the Irish and the Scots opened more dioceses. They broke once and for all the French Canadian franchise over the Catholic Church.

The Eastern Churches have also played a major role in the development of the Catholic Church in Canada, especially in Western Canada.Under Bishops Bourget, Fleming and Lynch, ultramontane spirituality conveyed a romantic vision of Catholic unity in Canada.By the end of the century, however, German, Ukrainian, Polish, and Hungarian immigrants had begun to challenge the French and Irish dominance of Catholic life and provide the foundation of a multicultural church. With the creation of the Canadian Catholic Conference in the postwar period, these different groups were finally drawn into a more unified Canadian church.

Hence, through the efforts of tireless, passionate and determined people, the Catholic Church planted roots in Québec city which spread throughout Canada.


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