Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Bishop Lavel
Chapter XV Mgr. De Lavel comes for the last time to Canada

MGR. DE SAINT-VALLIER received the most kindly welcome from the king: he availed himself of it to request some aid on behalf of the priests of the seminary whom age and infirmity condemned to retirement. He obtained it, and received, besides, fifteen thousand francs for the building of an episcopal palace. He decided, in fact, to withdraw from the seminary, in order to preserve complete independence in the exercise of his high duties. Laval learned with sorrow of this decision; he, who had always clung to the idea of union with his seminary and of having but one common fund with this house, beheld his successor adopt an opposite line of conduct. Another cause of division rose between the two prelates ; the too great generosity of Mgr. de Saint-Vallier had brought the seminary into financial embarrassment. The Marquis de Seignelay, then minister, thought it wiser under such circumstances to postpone till later the return of Mgr. de Laval to Canada. The venerable bishop, whatever it must have cost him, adhered to this decision with a wholly Christian resignation. "You will know by the enclosed letters," he writes to the priests of the Seminary of Quebec, " what compels me to stay in France. I had no sooner received my sentence than our Lord granted me the favour of inspiring me to go before the most Holy Sacrament and make a sacrifice of all my desires and of that which is the dearest to me in the world. I began by making the amende honorable to the justice of God, who deigned to extend to me the mercy of recognizing that it was in just punishment of my sins and lack of faith that His providence deprived me of the blessing of returning to a place where I had so greatly offended ; and I told Him, I think with a cheerful heart and a spirit of humility, what the high priest EH said when Samuel declared to him from God what was to happen to him: 'Dominns est: quod bonum est in oculis suis faciat.' But since the will of our Lord does not reject a contrite and humble heart, and since He both abases and exalts, He gave me to know that the greatest favour He could grant me was to give me a share in the trials which He deigned to bear in His life and death for love of us; in thanksgiving for which I said a Te Deum with a heart filled with joy and consolation in my soul: for, as to the lower nature, it is left in the bitterness which it must bear. It is a hurt and a wound which will be difficult to heal and which apparently will last until my death, unless it please Divine Providence, which disposes of men's hearts as it pleases, to bring about some change in the condition of affairs. This will be when it pleases God, and as it may please Him, without His creatures being able to oppose it."

In Canada the return of the revered Mgr. de Laval was impatiently expected, and the governor, M. de Denonville, himself wrote that " in the present state of public affairs it was necessary that the former bishop should return, in order to influence men's minds, over which he had a great ascendency by reason of his character and his reputation for sanctity." Some persons wrongfully attributed to the influence of Saint-Valher the order which detained the worthy bishop in France; on the contrary, Saint-Valher had said one day to- the minister, " It would be very hard for a bishop who has founded this church and who desires to go and die in its midst, to see himself detained in France. If Mgr. de Laval should stay here the blame would be cast upon his successor, against whom for this reason many people would be ill disposed."

M. de Denonville desired the more eagerly the return of this prelate so beloved in New France, since difficulties were arising on every hand. Convinced that peace with the Iroquois could not last, he began by amassing provisions and ammunition at Fort Cataraqui, without heeding the protests of Colonel Dongan, the most vigilant and most experienced enemy of French domination in America; then he busied himself with fortifying Montreal. He visited the place, appointed as its governor the Chevalier de Calli&res, a former captain in the regiment of Navarre, and in the spring of 1687 employed six hundred men under the direction of M. du Luth, royal engineer, in the erection of a palisade. These wooden defences, as was to be expected, were not durable and demanded repairs every year. The year 1686, which had begun with the conquest of the southern portion of Hudson Bay, was spent almost entirely in preparations for war and negotiations for peace ; the Iroquois, nevertheless, continued their inroads. Finally M. de Denonville, having received during the following spring eight hundred poor recruits under the command of Vaudreuil, was ready for his expedition. Part of these reinforcements were at once sent to Montreal, where M. de Calli£res was gathering a body of troops on St. Helen's Island: eight hundred and thirty-two regulars, one thousand Canadians, and three hundred Indian allies, all burning with the desire of distinguishing themselves, awaited now only the signal for departure.

"With this superiority of forces," says one author, "Denonville conceived, however, the unfortunate idea of beginning hostilities by an act which dishonoured the French name among the savages, that name which, in spite of their great irritation, they had always feared and respected." With the purpose of striking terror into the Iroquois he caused to be seized the chiefs whom the Five Nations had sent as delegates to Cataraqui at the request of Father de Lamberville, and sent them to France to serve on board the royal galleys. This violation of the law of nations aroused the fury of the Iroquois, and two missionaries, Father Lamberville and Millet, though entirely innocent of this crime, escaped torture only with difficulty. The king disapproved wholly of this treason, and returned the prisoners to Canada; others who, at Fort Frontenac, had been taken by M. de Champigny in as treacherous a manner, were likewise restored to liberty.

The army, divided into four bodies, set out on June 11th, 1687, in four hundred boats. It was joined at Sand River, on the shore of Lake Ontario, by six hundred men from Detroit, and advanced inland. After having passed through two very dangerous defiles, the French were suddenly attacked by eight hundred of the enemy ambushed in the bed of a stream. At first surprised, they promptly recovered from their confusion, and put the savages to flight. Some sixty Iroquois were wounded in this encounter, and forty-five whom they left dead on the field of battle were eaten by the Ottawas, according to the horrible custom of these cannibals. They entered then into the territory of the Tsonnontouans, which was found deserted; everything had been reduced to ashes, except an immense quantity of maize, to which they set fire; they killed also a prodigious number of swine, but they did not meet with a single Indian.

Instead of pursuing the execution of these reprisals by marching against the other nations, M. de Denonville proceeded to Niagara, where he built a fort. The garrison of a hundred men which he left there succumbed in its entirety to a mysterious epidemic, probably caused by the poor quality of the provisions. Thus the campaign did not produce results proportionate to the preparations which had been made; it humbled the Iroquois, but by this very fact it excited their rage and desire for vengeance; so true is it that half-measures are more dangerous than complete inaction. They were, besides, cleverly goaded on by Governor Dongan. Towards the end of the summer they ravaged the whole western part of the colony, and carried their audacity to the point of burning houses and killing several persons on the Island of Montreal.

M. de Denonville understood that he could not carry out a second expedition; disease had caused great havoc among the population and the soldiers, and he could no longer count on the Hurons of Michilimackinac, who kept up secret relations with the Iroquois. He was willing to conclude peace, and consented to demolish Fort Niagara and to bring back the Iroquois chiefs who had been sent to France to row in the galleys. The conditions were already accepted on both sides, when the negotiations were suddenly interrupted by the duplicity of Kondiaronk, surnamed the Rat, chief of the Michilimackinac Hurons. This man, the most cunning and crafty of Indians, a race which has nothing to learn in point of astuteness from the shrewdest diplomat, had offered his services against the Iroquois to the governor, who had accepted them. Enkindled with the desire of distinguishing himself by-some brilliant deed, he arrives with a troop of Hurons at Fort Frontenac, where he learns that a treaty is about to be concluded between the French and the Iroquois. Enraged at not having even been consulted in this matter, fearing to see the interests of his nation sacrificed, he lies in wait with his troop at Famine Creek, falls upon the delegates, and, killing a number of them, makes the rest prisoners. On the statement of the latter that they were going on an embassy to Ville-Marie, he feigns surprise, and is astonished that the French governor-general should have sent him to attack men who were going to treat with him. He then sets them at liberty, keeping a single one of them, whom he hastens to deliver to M. de Durantaye, governor of Michilimackinac; the latter, ignorant of the negotiations with the Iroquois, has the prisoner shot in spite of the protestations of the wretched man, who the Rat pretends is mad. The plan of the Huron chief has succeeded; it remains now only to reap the fruits of it. He frees an old Iroquois who has long been detained in captivity and sends him to announce to his compatriots that the French are seeking in the negotiations a cowardly means of ridding themselves of their foes. This news exasperated the Five Nations; henceforth peace was impossible, and the Iroquois went to join the English, with whom, on the pretext of the dethronement of James II, war was again about to break out. M. de Calli&res, governor of Montreal, set out for France to lay before the king a plan for the conquest of New York; the monarch adopted it, but, not daring to trust its execution to M. de Denonville, he recalled him in order to entrust it to Count de Frontenac, now again appointed governor.

We can easily conceive that in the danger thus threatening the colony M. de Denonville should have taken pains to surround himself with all the men whose aid might be valuable to him. "You will have this year," wrote M. de Brisacier to M. Glandelet, "the joy of seeing again our two prelates. You will find the first more holy and more than ever dead to himself; and the second will appear to you all that you can desire him to be for the particular consolation of the seminary and the good of New France." On the request of the governor-general, in fact, Mgr. de Laval saw the obstacle disappear which had opposed his departure, and he hastened to take advantage of it. He set out in the spring of 1688, at that period of the year when vegetation begins to display on all sides its festoons of verdure and flowers, and transforms Normandy and Touraine, that garden of France, into genuine groves; the calm of the air, the perfumed breezes of the south, the arrival of the southern birds with their rich and varied plumage, all contribute to make these days the fairest and sweetest of the year; but, in his desire to reach as soon as possible the country where his presence was deemed necessary, the venerable prelate did not wait for the spring sun to dry the roads soaked by the rains of winter; accordingly, in spite of his infirmities, he was obliged to travel to La Rochelle on horseback. However, he could not embark on the ship Le Soleil dAfrique until about the middle of April.

His duties as Bishop of Quebec had ended on January 25th preceding, the day of the episcopal consecration of M. de Saint-Valher. It would seem that Providence desired that the priestly career of the prelate and his last co-workers should end at the same time. Three priests of the Seminary of Quebec went to receive in heaven almost at the same period the reward of their apostolic labours. M. Thomas Morel died on "September 23rd, 1687; M. Jean Guyon on January 10th, 1688; and M. Dudouyt on the fifteenth of the same month. This last loss, especially, caused deep grief to Mgr. de Laval. He desired that the heart of the devoted missionary should rest in that soil of New France for which it had always beat, and he brought it with him. The ceremony of the burial at Quebec of the heart of M. Dudouyt was extremely touching; the whole population was present. Up to his latest day this priest had taken the greatest interest in Canada, and the letter which he wrote to the seminary a few days before his death breathes the most ardent charity; it particularly enjoined upon all patience and submission to authority.

The last official document signed by Mgr. de Laval as titulary bishop was an addition to the statutes and rules which he had previously drawn up for the Chapter of the city of Champlain. He wrote at the same time: " It remains for me now, sirs and dearly beloved brethren, only to thank you for the good affection that you preserve towards me, and to assure you that it will not be my fault if I do not go at the earliest moment to rejoin you in the growing Church which I have ever cherished as the portion and heritage which it has pleased our Lord to preserve for me during nearly thirty years. I supplicate His infinite goodness that he into whose hands He has caused it to pass by my resignation may repair all my faults."'

The prelate landed on June 3rd. "The whole population," says the Abb£ Ferland, "was heartened and rejoiced by the return of Mgr. de Laval, who came back to Canada to end his days among his former flock. His virtues, his long and arduous labours in New France, his sincere love for the children of the country, had endeared him to the Canadians; they felt their trust in Providence renewed on beholding again him who, with them, at their head, had passed through many years of trial and suffering." He hardly took time to rest, but set out at once for Montreal, where he was anxious to deliver in person to the Sulpieians the document of spiritual and devotional union which had been quite recently signed at Paris by the Seminary of St. Sulpice and by that of the Foreign Missions. Returning to Quebec, he had the pleasure of receiving his successor on the arrival of the latter, who disembarked on July 31st, 1688.

The reception of Mgr. de Saint-Valher was as cordial as that offered two months before to his predecessor. "As early as four o'clock in the morning," we read in the annals of the Ursulines, "the whole population was alert to hasten preparations. Some arranged the avenue along which the new bishop was to pass, others raised here and there the standard of the lilies of France. In the course of the morning Mgr. de Laval, accompanied by several priests, betook himself to the vessel to salute his successor, whom the laws of the old French etiquette kept on board his ship until he had replied to all the compliments prepared for him. Finally, about two o'clock in the afternoon, the whole clergy, the civil and military authorities, and the people having assembled on the quay, Mgr. de Saint-Vallier made his appearance, addressed first by M. de Berni&res in the name of the clergy. He was next greeted by the mayor, in the name of the whole town, then the procession began to move, with military music at its head, and the new bishop was conducted to the cathedral between two files of musketeers, who did not fail to salute him and to fire volleys along the route." "The thanksgiving hymn which reechoed under the vaults of the holy temple found an echo in all hearts," we read in another account; "and the least happy was not that of the worthy prelate who thus inaugurated his long and laborious episcopal career."

Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus