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Bishop Lavel
Chapter XII Third Voyage to France


Disembarking in the year 1675 on that soil where as apostolic vicar he had already accomplished so much good, giving his episcopal benediction to that Christian throng who came to sing the Te Deum to thank God for the happy return of their first pastor, casting his eyes upon that manly and imposing figure of one of the most illustrious lieutenants of the great king, the Count de Frontenac, what could be the thoughts of Mgr. de Laval? He could not deceive himself: the letters received from Canada proved to him too clearly that the friction between the civil powers and religious authorities would be continued under a governor of uncompromising and imperious character. With what fervour must he have asked of Heaven the tact, the prudence and the patience so necessary in such delicate circumstances

Two questions, especially, divided the governor and the bishop: that of the permanence of livings, and the everlasting matter of the sale of brandy to the savages, a question which, like the phoenix, was continually reborn from its ashes. " The prelate," says the Abbe Gosselin, "desired to establish parishes wherever they were necessary, and procure for them good and zealous missionaries, and, as far as possible, priests residing in each district, but removable and attached to the seminary, which received the tithes and furnished them with all they had need of. But Frontenac found that this system left the priests too dependent on the bishop, and that the clergy thus closely connected with the bishop and the seminary, was too formidable and too powerful a body. It was with the purpose of weakening it and of rendering it, by the aid which it would require, more dependent on the civil authority, that he undertook that campaign for permanent livings which ended in the overthrow of Mgr. de Laval's system."

Colbert, in fact, was too strongly prejudiced against the clergy of Canada by the reports of Talon and Frontenac. These three men were wholly devoted to the interests of France as well as to those of the colony, but they judged things only from a purely human point of view. " I see," Colbert wrote in 1677 to Commissioner Duchesneau, " that the Count de Frontenac is of the opinion that the trade with the savages in drinks, called in that country intoxicating, does not cause the great and terrible evils to which Mgr. de Quebec takes exception, and even that it is necessary for commerce; and I see that you are of an opinion contrary to this. In this matter, before taking sides with the bishop, you should enquire very exactly as to the number of murders, assassinations, cases of arson, and other excesses caused by brandy . . . and send me the proof of this. If these deeds had been continual, His Majesty would have issued a most severe and vigorous prohibition to all his subjects against engaging in this traffic. But, in the absence of this proof, and seeing, moreover, the contrary in the evidence and reports of those that have been longest in this country, it is not just, and the general policy of a state opposes in this the feelings of a bishop who, to prevent the abuses that a small number of private individuals may make of a thing good in itself, wishes to abolish trade in an article which greatly serves to attract commerce, and the savages themselves, to the orthodox Christians." Thus M. Dudouyt could not but fail in his mission, and he wrote to Mgr. de Laval that Colbert, while recognizing very frankly the devotion of the bishop and the missionaries, believed that they exaggerated the fatal results of the traffic. The zealous collaborator of the Bishop of Quebec at the same time urged the prelate to suspend the spiritual penalties till then imposed upon the traders, in order to deprive the minister of every motive of bitterness against the clergy.

The bishop admitted the wisdom of this counsel, which he followed, and meanwhile the king, alarmed by a report from Commissioner Duchesneau, who shared the view of the missionaries, desired to investigate and come to a final decision on the question. He therefore ordered the Count de Frontenac to choose in the colony twenty-four competent persons, and to commission them to examine the drawbacks to the sale of intoxicating liquors. Unfortunately, the persons chosen for this enquiry were engaged in trade with the savages; their conclusions must necessarily be prejudiced. They declared that " very few disorders arose from the traffic in brandy, among the natives of the country; that, moreover, the Dutch, by distributing intoxicating drinks to the Iroquois, attracted by this means the trade in beaver skins to Orange and Manhattan. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary to allow the brandy trade in order to bring the savages into the French colony and to prevent them from taking their furs to foreigners."

We cannot help being surprised at such a judgment when we read over the memoirs of the time, which all agree in deploring the sad results of this traffic. The most crying injustice, the most revolting immorality, the ruin of families, settlements devastated by drunkenness, agriculture abandoned, the robust portion of the population ruining its health in profitless expeditions: such were some of the most horrible fruits of alcohol. And what do we find as a compensation for so many evils ? A few dozen rascals enriched, returning to squander in France a fortune shamefully acquired. And let it not be objected that, if the Indians had not been able to purchase the wherewithal to satisfy their terrible passion for strong drink, they would have carried their furs to the English or the Dutch, for it was proven that the offer of Governor Andros, to forbid the sale of brandy to the savages in New England on condition that the French would act likewise in New France, was formally rejected. " To-day when the passions of the time have long been silent," says the Abbe Ferland, " it is impossible not to admire the energy displayed by the noble bishop, imploring the pity of the monarch for the savages of New France with all the courage shown by Las Casas, when he pleaded the cause of the aborigines of Spanish America. Disdaining the hypocritical outcries of those men who prostituted the name of commerce to cover their speculations and their rapine, he exposed himself to scorn and persecution in order to save the remnant of those indigenous American tribes, to protect his flock from the moral contagion which threatened to weigh upon it, and to lead into the right path the young men who were going to ruin among the savage tribes."

The worthy bishop desired to prevent the laxity of the sale of brandy that might result from the declaration of the Committee of Twenty-four, and in the autumn of 1678 he set out again for France. To avoid a journey so fatiguing, he might easily have found excuses in the rest needed after a difficult pastoral expedition which he had just concluded, in the labours of his seminary which demanded his presence, and especially in the bad state of his health; but is not the first duty of a leader always to stand in the breach, and to give to all the example of self-sacrifice ? A report from his hand on the disorders caused by the traffic in strong liquors would perhaps have obtained a fortunate result, but thinking that his presence at the court would be still more efficacious, he set out. He managed to find in his charity and the goodness of his heart such eloquent words to depict the evils wrought upon the Church in Canada 'by the scourge of intoxication, that Louis XIV was moved, and commissioned his confessor, Father La Chaise, to examine the question conjointly with the Archbishop of Paris. According to their advice, the king expressly forbade the French to carry intoxicating liquors to the savages in their dwellings or in the woods, and he wrote to Frontenac to charge him to see that the edict was respected. On his part, Laval consented to maintain the castle reserve only against those who might infringe the royal prohibition. The Bishop of Quebec had hoped for more; for nothing could prevent the Indians from coming to buy the terrible poison from the French, and moreover, discovery of the infractions of the law would be, if not impossible, at least most difficult. Nevertheless, it was an advantage obtained over the dealers and their protectors, who aimed at nothing less than an unrestricted traffic in brandy. A dyke was set up against the devastations of the scourge; the worthy bishop might hope to maintain it energetically by his vigilance and that of his coadjutors. Unfortunately, he could not succeed entirely, and little by little the disorders became so multiplied that M. de Denonville considered brandy as one of the greatest evils of Canada, and that the venerable superior of St. Sulpice de Montreal, M. Dollier de Casson, wrote in 1691: "I have been twenty-six years in this country, and I have seen our numerous and flourishing Algonquin missions all destroyed by drunkenness." Accordingly, it became necessary later to fall back upon the former rigorous regulations against the sale of intoxicating liquors to the Indians.

Before his departure for France the Bishop of Quebec had given the devoted priests of St. Sulpice a mark of his affection: he constituted the parish of Notre-Dame de Montreal according to the canons of the Church, and joined it in perpetuity to the Seminary of Ville-Marie, "to be administered, under the plenary authority of the Bishops of Quebec, by such ecclesiastics as might be chosen by the superior of the said seminary. The priests of St. Sulpice having by their efforts and their labours produced during so many years in New France, and especially in the Island of Montreal, very great fruits for the glory of God and the advantage of this growing Church, we have given them, as being most irreproachable in faith, doctrine, piety and conduct, in perpetuity, and do give them, by virtue of these presents, the livings of the Island of Montreal, in order that they may be perfectly cultivated as up to now they have been, as best they might be by their preachings and examples." In fact, misunderstandings like that which had occurred on the arrival of de Queylus were no longer to be feared; since the authority to which Laval could lay claim had been duly established and proved, the Sulpicians had submitted and accepted his jurisdiction. They had for a longer period preserved their independence as temporal lords, and the governor of Ville-Marie, de Maison-neuve, jealous of preserving intact the rights of those whom he represented, even dared one day to refuse the keys of the fort to the governor-general, M. dArgenson. Poor de Maisonneuve paid for this excessive zeal by the loss of his position, for d'Argenson never forgave him.

The parish of Notre-Dame was united with the Seminary of Montreal on October 30th, 1678, one year after the issuing of the letters patent which recognized the civil existence of St. Sulpice de Montreal. Mgr. de Laval at the same time united with the parish of Notre-Dame the chapel of Bonsecours. On the banks of the St. Lawrence, not far from the church of Notre-Dame, rises a chapel of modest appearance. It is Notre-Dame de Bonsecours. It has seen many generations kneeling on its square, and has not ceased to protect with its shadow the Catholic quarter of Montreal. The buildings about it rose successively, only to give way themselves to other monuments. Notre-Dame de Bonsecours is still respected; the piety of Catholics defends it against all attacks of time or progress, and the little church raises proudly in the air that slight wooden steeple that more than once has turned aside the avenging bolt of the Most High. Sister Bourgeoys had begun it in 1657; to obtain the funds necessary for its completion she betook herself to Paris. She obtained one hundred francs from M. Macú, a priest of St. Sulpice. One of the associates of the Company of Montreal, M. de Fan-camp, received for her from two of his fellow-partners, MM. Denis and Lepretre, a statuette of the Virgin made of the miraculous wood of Montagu, and he himself, to participate in this gift, gave her a shrine of the most wonderful richness to contain the precious statue. On her return to Canada, Marguerite Bourgeoys caused to be erected near the house Of the Sisters a wooden lean-to in the form of a chapel, which became the provisional sanctuary of the statuette. Two years later, on June 29th, the laying of the foundation stone of the chapel took place. The work was urged with enthusiasm, and encouraged by the pious impatience of Sister Bourgeoys. The generosity of the faithful vied in enthusiasm, and gifts flowed in. M. de Maisonneuve offered a cannon, of which M. Souart had a bell made at his expense. Two thousand francs, furnished by the piety of the inhabitants, and one hundred louis from Sister Bourgeoys and her nuns, aided the foundress to complete the realization of a wish long cherished in her heart; the new chapel became an inseparable annex of the parish of Ville-Marie.

These most precious advantages were recognized on November 6th, 1678, by Mgr. de Laval, who preserved throughout his life the most tender devotion to the Mother of God. On the other hand, the prelate imposed upon the parish priest the obligation of having the Holy Mass celebrated there on the Day of the Visitation, and of going there in procession on the Day of the Assumption. Is it necessary to mention with what zeal, with what devotion the Canadians brought to Mary in this new temple their homage and their prayers? Let us listen to the enthusiastic narrative of Sister Morin, a nun of St. Joseph: "The Holy Mass is said there every day, and even several times a day, to satisfy the devotion and the trust of the people, which are great towards Notre-Dame de Bonse-cours. Processions wend their way thither on occasions of public need or calamity, with much success. It is the regular promenade of the devout persons of the town, who make a pilgrimage there every evening, and there are few good Catholics who, from all the places in Canada, do not make vows of offerings to this chapel in all the dangers in which they find themselves."

The church of Notre-Dame de Bonsecours was twice remodelled; built at first of oak on stone foundations, it was rebuilt of stone and consumed in 1754 in a conflagration which destroyed a part of the town. In 1772 the chapel was rebuilt as it exists now, one hundred and two feet long by forty-six wide.


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