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Bishop Lavel
Chapter IX Becomes Bishop of Quebec


THE creation of a bishopric in Canada was becoming necessary, and all was ready for the erection of a separate see. Mgr. de Laval had thought of everything: the two seminaries with the resources indispensable for their maintenance, cathedral, parishes or missions regularly established, institutions of education or charity, numerous schools, a zealous and devoted clergy, respected both by the government of the colony and by that of the mother country. What more could be desired? He had many struggles to endure in order to obtain this creation, but patience and perseverance never failed him, and like the drop of water which, falling incessantly upon the pavement, finally wears away the stone, his reasonable and ever repeated demands eventually overcame the obstinacy of the king. Not, however, until 1674 was he definitely appointed Bishop of Quebec, and could enjoy without opposition a title which had belonged to him so long in reality; this was, as it were, the final consecration of his life and the crowning of his efforts. Upon the news of this the joy of the people and of the clergy rose to its height: the future of the Canadian Church was assured, and she would inscribe in tier annals a name dear to all and soon to be glorified.

Shall we, then, suppose that this pontiff was indeed ambitious, who, coming in early youth to wield his pastoral crozier upon the banks of the St. Lawrence, did not fear the responsibility of so lofty a task ? The assumption would be quite unjustified. Rather let us think of him as meditating on this text of St. Paul: "Oportet episcopum irreprehensi-bilem esse" the bishop must be irreproachable in his house, his relations, his speech and even his silence. His past career guaranteed his possession of that admixture of strength and gentleness, of authority and condescension in which lies the great art of governing men. Moreover, one thing reassured him, his knowledge that the crown of a bishop is often a crown of thorns. When the apostle St. Paul outlined for his disciple the main features of the episcopal character, he spoke not alone for the immediate successors of the apostles, but for all those who in the succession of ages should be honoured by the same dignity. No doubt the difficulties would be often less, persecution might even cease entirely, but trial would continue always, because it is the condition of the Church as well as that of individuals. The prelate himself explains to us the very serious reasons which led him to insist on obtaining the title of Bishop of Quebec. He writes in these terms to the Propaganda: "I have never till now sought the episcopacy, and I have accepted it in spite of myself, convinced of my weakness. But, having borne its burden, I shall consider it a boon to be relieved of it, though I do not refuse to sacrifice myself for the Church of Jesus Christ and for the welfare of souls. I have, however, learned by long experience how unguarded is the position of an apostolic vicar against those who are entrusted with political affairs, I mean the officers of the court, perpetual rivals and despisers of the ecclesiastical power, who have nothing more common to object than that the authority of the apostolic vicar is doubtful and should be restricted within certain limits. This is why, after having maturely considered everything, I have resolved to resign this function and to return no more to New France unless a see be erected there, and unless I be provided and furnished with bulls constituting me its occupant. Such is the purpose of my journey to France and the object of my desires."

As early as the year 1662, at the time of his first journey to France, the Bishop of Petrasa had obtained from Louis XIV the assurance that this prince would petition the sovereign pontiff for the erection of the see of Quebec; moreover, the monarch had at the same time assigned to the future bishopric the revenues of the abbey of Maubec. The king kept his word, for on June 28th, 1664, he addressed to the common Father of the faithful the following letter: "The choice made by your Holiness of the person of the Sieur de Laval, Bishop of Petraea, to go in the capacity of apostolic vicar to exercise episcopal functions in Canada has been attended by many advantages to this growing Church. We have reason to expect still greater results if it please your Holiness to permit him to continue there the same functions in the capacity of bishop of the place, by establishing for this purpose an episcopal see in Quebec; and we hope that your Holiness will be the more inclined to this since we have already provided for the maintenance of the bishop and his canons by consenting to the perpetual union of the abbey of Maubec with the future bishopric. This is why we beg you to grant to the Bishop of Petraea the title of Bishop of Quebec upon our nomination and prayer, with power to exercise in this capacity the episcopal functions in all Canada."

However, the appointment was not consummated; the Propaganda, indeed, decided in a rescript of December 15th, 1666, that it was necessary to make of Quebec a see, whose occupant should be appointed by the king; the Consistorial Congregation of Rome promulgated a new decree with the same purpose on October 9th, 1670, and yet Mgr. de Laval still remained Bishop of Petraea. This was because the eternal question of jurisdiction as between the civil and religious powers, the question which did so much harm to Catholicism in France, in England, in Italy, and especially in Germany, was again being revived. The King of France demanded that the new diocese should be dependent upon the Metropolitan of Rouen, while the pontifical government, of which its providential r61e requires always a breadth of view, and, so to speak, a foreknowledge of events impossible to any nation, desired the new diocese to be an immediate dependency of the Holy See. "We must confess here," says the Abbd Ferland, "that the sight of the sovereign pontiff reached much farther into the future than that of the great king. Louis XIV was concerned with the kingdom of France; Clement X thought of the interests of the whole Catholic world. The little French colony was growing; separated from the mother country by the ocean, it might be wrested from France by England, which was already so powerful in America; what, then, would become of the Church of Quebec if it had been wont to lean upon that of Rouen and to depend upon it ? It was better to establish at once immediate relations between the Bishop of Quebec and the supreme head of the Catholic Church; it was better to establish bonds which could be broken neither by time nor force, and Quebec might thus become one day the metropolis of the dioceses which should spring from its bosom."

The opposition to the views of Mgr. de Laval did not come, however, so much from the king as from Mgr. de Harlay, Archbishop of Rouen, who had never consented to the detachment of Canada from his jurisdiction. Events turned out fortunately for the apostolic vicar, since the Archbishop of Rouen was called to the important see of Paris on the death of the Archbishop of Paris, Hardouin de Pdr^fixe de Beaumont, in the very year in which Mgr. de Laval embarked for France, accompanied by his grand vicar, M. de Lauson-Charny. The task now became much easier, and Laval had no difficulty in inducing the king to urge the erection of the diocese at Quebec, and to abandon his claims to making the new diocese dependent on the archbishopric of Rouen.

Before leaving Canada the Bishop of Quebec had entrusted the administration of the apostolic vicariate to M. de Berni&res, and, in case of the latter's death, to M. Dudouyt. He embarked in the autumn of 1671.

To the keen regret of the population of Ville-Marie, which owed him so much, M. de Queylus, Abb£ de Loc-Dieu and superior of the Seminary of Montreal for the last three years, went to France at the same time as his ecclesiastical superior. " M. l'abbd de Queylus," wrote Commissioner Talon to the Minister Colbert, "is making an urgent application for the settlement and increase of the colony of Montreal. He carries his zeal farther, for he is going to take charge of the Indian children who fall into the hands of the Iroquois, in order to have them educated, the boys in his seminary, and the girls by persons of the same sex, who form at Montreal a sort of congregation to teach young girls the petty handicrafts, in addition to reading and writing." M. de Queylus had used his great fortune in all sorts of good works in the colony, but he was not the only Sulpician whose hand was always ready and willing. Before dying, M. Olier had begged his successors to continue the work at Ville-Marie, " because," said he, " it is the "will of God," and the priests of St. Sulpice received this injunction as one of the most sacred codicils of the will of their Father. However onerous the continuation of this plan was for the company, the latter sacrificed to it without hesitation its resources, its efforts and its members with the most complete abnegation.1 Thus when, on March 9th, 1663, the Company of Montreal believed itself no longer capable of meeting its obligations, and begged St. Sulpice to take them up, the seminary subordinated all considerations of self-interest and human prudence to this view. To this MM. de Bretonvilliers, de Queylus and du Bois devoted their fortunes, and to this work of the conversion of the savages priests distinguished in birth and riches gave up their whole lives and property. M. de Belmont discharged the hundred and twenty thousand francs of debts of the Company of Montreal, gave as much more to the establishment of divers works, and left more than two hundred thousand francs of his patrimony to support them after his death. How many others did likewise ! During more than fifty years Paris sent to this mission only priests able to pay their board, that they might have the right to share in this evangelization. This disinterestedness, unheard of in the history of the most unselfish congregations, saved, sustained and finally developed this settlement, to which Roman Catholics point to-day with pride. The Seminary of Paris contributed to it a sum equal to twice the value of the island, and during the first sixty years more than nine hundred thousand francs, as one may see by the archives of the Department of Marine at Paris. These sums to-day would represent a large fortune.

Finally the prayers of Mgr. de Laval were heard; Pope Clement X signed on October 1st, 1674, the bulls establishing the diocese of Quebec, which was to extend over all the French possessions in North America. The sovereign pontiff incorporated with the new bishopric for its maintenance the abbey of Maubec, given by the King of France already in 1662, and in exchange for the renunciation by this prince of his right of presentation to the abbey of Maubec, granted him the right of nomination to the bishopric of Quebec. To his first gift- the king had added a second, that of the abbey of Lestr^es. Situated in Normandy and in the archdeaconry of Evreux, this abbey was one of the oldest of the order of Citeaux

Up to this time the venerable bishop had had many difficulties to surmount; he was about to meet some of another sort, those of the administration of vast properties. The abbey of Maubec, occupied by monks of the order of St. Benedict, was situated in one of the fairest provinces of France, Le Perry, and was dependent upon the archdiocese of Bourges. Famous vineyards, verdant meadows, well cultivated fields, rich farms, forests full of game and ponds full of fish made this abbey an admirable domain; unfortunately, the expenses of maintaining or repairing the buildings, the dues payable to the government, the allowances secured to the monks, and above all, the waste and theft which must necessarily victimize proprietors separated from their tenants by the whole breadth of an ocean, must absorb a great part of the revenues. Letters of the steward of this property to the Bishop of Quebec are instructive in this matter. " M. Porcheron is still the same," writes the steward, M. Matberon, " and bears me a grudge because I desire to safeguard your interests. I am incessantly carrying on the work of needful repairs in all the places dependent on Maubec, chiefly those necessary to the ponds, in order that M. Porcheron may have no damages against you. This is much against his will, for he is constantly seeking an excuse for litigation. He swears that he does not want your farm any longer, but as for me, I believe that this is not his feeling, and that he would wish the farm out of the question, for he is too fond of hunting and his pleasure to quit it. . . . He does his utmost to remove me from your service, insinuating many things against me which are not true; but this does not lessen my zeal in serving you."

Mgr. de Laval, who did not hesitate at any exertion when it was a question of the interests of his Church, did not fail to go and visit his two abbeys. He set out, happy in the prospect of being able to admire these magnificent properties whose rich revenues would permit him to do so much good in his diocese ; but he was painfully affected at the sight of the buildings in ruins, sad relics of the wars of religion. In order to free himself as much as possible from cares which would have encroached too much upon his precious time and his pastoral duties, Laval caused a manager to be appointed by the Royal Council for the abbey of Lestr^es, and rented it for a fixed sum to M. Berthelot. He also made with the latter a very advantageous transaction by exchanging with him the Island of Orleans for the lie J^sus; M. Berthelot was to give him besides a sum of twenty-five thousand francs, which was employed in building the seminary. Later the king made the Island of Orleans a county. It became the county of St. Lawrence.

Mgr. de Laval was too well endowed with qualities of the heart, as well as with those of the mind, not to have preserved a deep affection for his family; he did not fail to go and see them twice during his stay in France. Unhappily, his brother, Jean-Louis, to whom he had yielded all his rights as eldest son, and his titles to the hereditary lordship of Montigny and Montbeaudry, caused only grief to his family and to his wife, Fran^oise de Chevestre. As lavish as he was violent and hot-tempered, he reduced by his excesses his numerous family (for he had had ten children), to such poverty that the Bishop of Quebec had to come to his aid ; besides the assistance which he sent them, the prelate bought him a house. He extended his protection also to his nephews, and his brother, Henri de Laval, wrote to him about them as follows: "The eldest is developing a little; he is in the army with the king, and his father has given him a good start. I have obtained from my petitions from Paris a place as monk in the Congregation of the Cross for his second son, whom I shall try to have reared in the knowledge and fear of God. I believe that the youngest, who has been sent to you, will have come to the right place; he is of good promise. My brother desires greatly that you may have the goodness to give Fanchon the advantage of an education before sending him back. It is a great charity to these poor children to give them a little training. You will be a father to them in this matter." One never applied in vain to the heart of the good bishop. Two of his nephews owed him their education at the seminary of Quebec ; one of them, Fanchon (Charles-Fran9ois-Guy), after a brilliant course in theology at Paris, became vicar-general to the Swan of Cambrai, the illustrious F^nelon, and was later raised to the bishopric of Ypres.

Meanwhile, four years had elapsed since Mgr. de Laval had left the soil of Canada, and he did not cease to receive letters which begged him respectfully to return to his diocese. "Nothing is lacking to animate us but the presence of our lord bishop," wrote, one day, Father Dablon. " His absence keeps this country, as it were, in mourning, and makes us languish in the too long separation from a person so necessary to these growing churches. He was the soul of them, and the zeal which he showed on every occasion for the welfare of our Indians drew upon us favours of Heaven most powerful for the success of our missions; and since, however distant he be in the body, his heart is ever with us, we experience the effects of it in the continuity of the blessings with which God favours the labours of our missionaries." Accordingly, he did not lose a moment after receiving the decrees appointing him Bishop of Quebec. On May 19th, 1675, he renewed the union of his seminary with that of the Foreign Missions in Paris. " This union," says the Abbd Ferland, " a union which he had effected for the first time in 1665 as apostolic bishop of New France, was of great importance to his diocese. He found, indeed, in this institution, good recruits, who were sent to him when needed, and faithful correspondents, whom he could address with confidence, and who had sufficient influence at court to gain a hearing for their representations in favour of the Church in Canada." On May 29th of the same year he set sail for Canada; he was accompanied by a priest, a native of the city of Orleans, M. Glandelet, who was one of the most distinguished priests of the seminary.

To understand with what joy he was received by his parishioners on his arrival, it is enough to read what his brother, Henri de Laval, wrote to him the following year: "I cannot express to you the satisfaction and inward joy which I have received in my soul on reading a report sent from Canada of the manner in which your clergy and all your people have received you, and that our Lord inspires them all with just and true sentiments to recognize you as their father and pastor. They testify to having received through your beloved person as it were a new life. I ask our Lord every day at His holy altars to preserve you some years more for the sanctification of these poor people and our own."


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