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Bishop Lavel
Chapter XVII The Labours of Old Age


THE peace lasted only four years. M. de Calibres, who succeeded Count de Frontenac, was able, thanks to his prudence and the devotion of the missionaries, to gather at Montreal more than twelve hundred Indian chiefs or warriors, and to conclude peace with almost all the tribes. Chief Kondiaronk had become a faithful friend of the French; it was to his good-will and influence that they were indebted for the friendship of a large number of Indian tribes. He died at Montreal during these peaceful festivities and was buried with pomp.

The war was about to break out anew, in 1701, with Great Britain and the other nations of Europe, because Louis XIV had accepted for his grandson and successor the throne of Spain. M. de Calli£res died at this juncture; his successor, Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil, brought the greatest energy to the support in Canada of a struggle which was to end in the dismemberment of the colony. God permitted Mgr. de Laval to die before the Treaty of Utrecht, whose conditions would have torn the patriotic heart of the venerable prelate.

Other reasons for sorrow he did not lack, especially when Mgr. de Saint Vallier succeeded, on his visit to the king in 1691, in obtaining a reversal of the policy marked out for the seminary by the first bishop of the colony; this establishment would be in the future only a seminary like any other, and would have no other mission than that of the training of priests. By a decree of the council of February 2nd, 1692, the number of the directors of the seminary was reduced to five, who were to concern themselves principally with the training of young men who might have a vocation for the ecclesiastical life ; they might also devote themselves to missions, with the consent of the bishop. No ecclesiastic had the right of becoming an associate of the seminary without the permission of the bishop, within whose province it was to employ the former associates for the service of his diocese with the consent of the superiors. The last part of the decree provided that the four thousand francs given by the king for the diocese of Quebec should be distributed in equal portions, one for the seminary and the two others for the. priests and the church buildings. As to the permanence of priests, the decree issued by the king for the whole kingdom was to be adhered to in Canada. In the course of the same year Mgr. de Saint-Valher obtained, moreover, from the sovereign the authority to open at -Quebec in Notre-Dame des Anges, the former convent of the Rdcollets, a general hospital for the poor, which was entrusted to the nuns of the Hotel-Dieu. The poor who might be admitted to it would be employed at work proportionate to their strength, and more particularly in the tilling of the farms belonging to the establishment. If we remember that Mgr. de Laval had consecrated twenty years of his life to giving his seminary, by a perfect union between its members and his whole clergy, a formidable power in the colony, a power which in his opinion could be used only for the good of the Church and in the public interest, and that he now saw his efforts annihilated forever, we cannot help admiring the resignation with which he managed to accept this destruction of his dearest work. And not only did he bow before the impenetrable designs of Providence, but he even used his efforts to pacify those around him whose excitable temperaments might have brought about conflicts with the authorities. The Abbd Gosselin quotes in this connection the following example: "A priest, M. de Franche-ville, thought he had cause for complaint at the behaviour of his bishop towards him, and wrote him a letter in no measured terms, but he had the good sense to submit it previously to Mgr. de Laval, whom he regarded as his father. The aged bishop expunged from this letter all that might wound Mgr. de Saint-Valher, and it was sent with the corrections which he desired." The venerable prelate did not content himself with avoiding all that might cause difficulties to his successor; he gave him his whole aid in any circumstances, and in particular in the foundation of a convent of Ursulines at Three Rivers, and when the general hospital was threatened in its very existence. "Was it not a spectacle worthy of the admiration of men and angels," exclaims the Abbd Fornel in his funeral oration on Mgr. de Saint-Vallier, " to see the first Bishop of Quebec and his successor vieing one with the other in a noble rivalry and in a struggle of religious fervour for the victory in exercises of piety ? Have they not both been seen harmonizing and reconciling together the duties of seminarists and canons; of canons by their assiduity in the recitation of the breviary, and of seminarists in condescending to the lowest duties, such as sweeping and serving in the kitchen ?" The patience and trust in God of Mgr. de Laval were rewarded by the following letter which he received from Father La Chaise, confessor to King Louis XIV : " I have received with much respect and gratitude two letters with which you have honoured me. I have blessed God that He has preserved you for His glory and the good of the Church in Canada in a period of deadly mortality; and I pray every day that He may preserve you some years more for His service and the consolation of your old friends and servants I hope that you will maintain towards them to the end your good favour and interest, and that those who would wish to make them lose these may be unable to alter therq. You will easily judge how greatly I desire that our Fathers may merit the continuation of your kindness, and may preserve a perfect union with the priests of your seminary, by the sacrifice which I desire they should make to the latter, in consideration of you, of the post of Tamarois, in spite of all the reasons and the facility for preserving it to them . . . ."

The mortality to which the reverend father alludes was the result of an epidemic which carried off, in 1700, a great number of persons. Old men in particular were stricken, and M. de Bernieres among others fell a victim to the scourge. It is very probable that this affliction was nothing less than the notorious influenza which, in these later years, has cut down so many valuable lives throughout the world. The following years were still more terrible for the town; smallpox carried off one-fourth of the population of Quebec. If we add to these trials the disaster of the two conflagrations which consumed the seminary, we shall have the measure of the troubles which at this period overwhelmed the city of Champlain. The seminary, begun in 1678, had just been barely completed. It was a vast edifice of stone, of grandiose appearance; a sun dial was set above a majestic door of two leaves, the approach to which was a fine stairway of cut stone. "The building," wrote Frontenac in 1679, "is very large and has four storeys, the walls are seven feet thick, the cellars and pantries are vaulted, the lower windows have embrasures, and the roof is of slate brought from France." On November 15th, 1701, the priests of the seminary had taken their pupils to St. Michel, near Sillery, to a country house which belonged to them. About one in the afternoon fire broke out in the seminary buildings. The inhabitants hastened up from all directions to the spot and attempted with the greatest energy to stay the progress of the flames. Idle efforts! The larger and the smaller seminary, the priests' house, the chapel barely completed, were all consumed, with the exception of some furniture and a little plate and tapestry. The cathedral was saved, thanks to the efforts of the state engineer, M. Levasseur de who succeeded in cutting off the communication of the sacred temple with the buildings in flames. Mgr. de Laval, confined then to a bed of pain, avoided death by escaping half-clad ; he accepted for a few days, together with the priests of the seminary, the generous hospitality offered them by the Jesuit Fathers. In order not to be too long a burden to their hosts, they caused to be prepared for their lodgment the episcopal palace which had been begun by Mgr. de Saint-Vallier. They removed there on December 4th following. The scholars had been divided between the episcopal palace and the house of the Jesuits. " The prelate," says Sister Juchereau, "bore this affliction with perfect submission to the will of God, without uttering any complaint. It must have been, however, the more grievous to him since it was he who had planned and erected the seminary, since he was its father and founder, and since he saw ruined in one day the fruit of his labour of many years." Thanks to the generosity of the king, who granted aid to the extent of four thousand francs, it was possible to begin rebuilding at once. But the trials of the priests were not yet over. " On the first day of October, 1705," relate the annals of the Ursulines, "the priests of the seminary were afflicted by a second fire through the fault of a carpenter who was preparing some boards in one end of the new building. While smoking he let fall in a room full of shavings some sparks from his pipe. The fire being kindled, it consumed in less than an hour all the upper storeys.. Only those which were vaulted were preserved. The priests estimate that they have lost more in this second fire than in the first. They are lodged below, waiting till Providence furnishes them with the means to restore their building. The Jesuit Fathers have acted this time with the same charity and cordiality as on the former occasion. Mgr. L'Ancien1 and M. Petit have lived nearly two months in their infirmary. This rest has been very profitable to Monseigneur, for he has come forth from it quite rejuvenated. May the Lord grant that he be preserved a long time yet for the glory of God and the good of Canada!"

When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to raise it from its ruins, a great grief seized upon him at the sight of the roofs destroyed, the broken doors, the shattered ramparts of the city of David. In the middle of the night he made the circuit of these ruins, and on the morrow he sought the magistrates and said to them: "You see the distress that we are in ? Come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem." The same feelings no doubt oppressed the soul of the octogenarian prelate when he saw the walls cracked and blackened, the heaps of ruins, sole remnants of his beloved house. But like Nehemiah he had the support of a great King, and the confidence of succeeding. He set to work at once, and found in the generosity of his flock the means to raise the seminary from its ruins. While he found provisional lodgings for his seminarists, he himself took up quarters in a part of the seminary which had been spared by the flames ; he arranged, adjoining his room, a little oratory where he kept the Holy Sacrament, and celebrated mass. There he passed his last days and gave up his fair soul to God.

Mgr. de Saint-Vallier had not like his predecessor the sorrow of seeing fire consume his seminary; he had set out in 1700 for France, and the differences which existed between the two prelates led the monarch to retain Mgr. de Saint-Vallier near him. In 1705 the Bishop of Quebec obtained permission to return to his diocese. But for three years hostilities had already existed between France and England. The bishop embarked with several monks on the Seine, a vessel of the Royal Navy. This ship carried a rich cargo valued at nearly a million francs, and was to escort several merchant ships to their destination at Quebec. The convoy fell in, on July 26th, with an English fleet which gave chase to it; the merchant ships fled at full sail, abandoning the Seine to its fate. The commander, M. de Meaupou, displayed the greatest valour, but his vessel, having a leeward position, was at a disadvantage; besides, he had committed the imprudence of so loading the deck with merchandise that several cannon could not be used. In spite of her heroic defence, the Seine was captured by boarding, the commander and the officers were taken prisoners, and Mgr. de Saint-Valher remained in captivity in England till 1710.

The purpose of Mgr. de Saint-Vallier's journey to Europe in 1700 had been his desire to have ratified at Rome by the Holy See the canonical union of his abbeys, and the union of the parish of Quebec with the seminary. On setting out he had entrusted the administration of the diocese to MM. Maizerets and Glandelet; as to ordinations, to the administration of the sacrament of confirmation, .and to the consecration of the holy oils, Mgr. de Laval would be always there, ready to lavish his zeal and the treasures of his charity. This long absence of the chief of the diocese could not but impose new labours on Mgr. de Laval. Never did he refuse a sacrifice or a duty, and he saw in this an opportunity to increase the sum of good which he intended soon to lay at the foot of the throne of the Most High. He was seventy-nine years of age when, in spite of the havoc then wrought by the smallpox throughout the country, he went as far as Montreal, there to administer the sacrament of confirmation. Two years before his death, he officiated pontifically on Easter Day in the cathedral of Quebec. " On the festival of Sainte Magdalene," say the annals of the general hospital, "we have had the consolation of seeing Mgr. de Laval officiate pontifically morning and evening. . . He was accompanied by numerous clergy both from the seminary and from neighbouring missions. . . . We regarded this favour as a mark of the affection cherished by this holy prelate for our establishment, for he was never wont to officiate outside the cathedral, and even there but rarely on account of his great age. He was then more than eighty years old. The presence of a person so venerable by reason of his character, his virtues, and his great age much enhanced this festival. He gave the nuns a special proof of his good-will in the visit which he deigned to make them in the common hall." The predilection which the pious pontiff constantly preserved for the work of the seminary no whit lessened the protection which he generously granted to all the projects of education in the colony; the daughters of Mother Mary of the Incarnation as well as the assistants of Mother Marguerite Bourgeoys had claims upon his affection. He fostered with all his power the establishment of the Sisters of the Congregation, both at Three Rivers and at Quebec. His numerous works left him but little respite, and this he spent at his school of St. Joachim in the refreshment of quiet and rest. Like all holy men he loved youth, and took pleasure in teaching and directing it. Accordingly, during these years when, in spite of the sixteen lustra which had passed over his venerable head,, he had to take upon himself during the long absence of his successor the interim duties of the diocese, at least as far as the exclusively episcopal functions were concerned, he learned to understand and appreciate at their true value the sacrifices of the Charron Brothers, whose work was unfortunately to remain fruitless.

In 1688 three pious laymen, MM. Jean Francis Charron, Pierre Le Ber, and Jean Fredin had established in Montreal a house with a double purpose of charity: to care for the poor and the sick, and to train men and send them to open schools in the country districts. Their plan was approved by the king, sanctioned by the bishop of the diocese, encouraged by the seigneurs of the island, and welcomed by all the citizens with gratitude. In spite of these symptoms of future prosperity the work languished, and the members of the community were separated and scattered one after the other. M. Charron did not lose courage. In 1692 he devoted his large fortune to the foundation of a hospital and a school, and received numerous gifts from charitable persons. Six hospitallers of the order of St. Joseph of the Cross, commonly called Fr&res Charron, took the gown in 1701, and pronounced their vows in 1704, but the following year they ceased to receive novices. The minister, M. de Pont-chartrain, thought "the care of the sick is a task better adapted to women than to men, notwithstanding the spirit of charity which may animate the latter," and he forbade the wearing of the costume adopted by the hospitallers. Francis Charron, seeing his work nullified, yielded to the inevitable, and confined himself to the training of teachers for country parishes. The existence of this establishment, abandoned by the mother country to its own strength, was to become more and more precarious and feeble. Almost all the hospitallers left the institution to re-enter the world; the care of the sick was entrusted to the Sisters. Francis Charron made a journey to France in order to obtain the union for the purposes of the hospital of the Brothers of St. Joseph with the Society of St. Sulpice, but he failed in his efforts. He obtained, nevertheless, from the regent an annual subvention of three thousand francs for the training of schoolmasters (1718). He busied himself at once with finding fitting recruits, and collected eight. The elder sister of our excellent normal schools of the present day seemed then established on solid foundations, but it was not to be so. Brother Charron died on the return voyage, and his institution, though seconded by the Seminary of St. Sulpice, after establishing Brothers in several villages in the environs of Montreal, received from the court a blow from which it did not recover: the .regent forbade the masters to assume a uniform dress and to pledge themselves by simple vows. The number of the hospitallers decreased from year to year, and in 1731 the royal government withdrew from them the annual subvention which supported them, however poorly. Finally their institution, after vainly attempting to unite with the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine, ceased to exist in 1745.

Mgr. de Laval so greatly admired the devotion of these worthy men that he exclaimed one day: "Let me die in the house of these Brothers; it is a work plainly inspired by God. I shall die content if only in dying I may contribute something to the shaping or maintenance of this establishment." Again he wrote: " The good M. Charron gave us last year one of their Brothers, who rendered great service to the Mississippi Mission, and he has furnished us another this year. These acquisitions will spare the missionaries much labour. ... I beg you to show full gratitude to this worthy servant of God, who is as affectionately inclined to the missions and missionaries as if he belonged to our body. We have even the plan, as well as he, of forming later a community of their Brothers to aid the missions and accompany the missionaries on their journeys. He goes to France and as far as Paris to find and bring back with him some good recruits to aid him in forming a community. Render him all the services you can, as if it were to missionaries themselves. He is a true servant of God." Such testimony is the fairest title to glory for an institution.


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