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Bishop Lavel
Chapter XIII Lavel returns to Canada


MGR. DE LAVAL was still in France when the edict of May, 1679, appeared, decreeing on the suggestion of Frontenac, that the tithe should be paid only to "each of the parish priests within the extent of his parish where he is established in perpetuity in the stead of the removable priest who previously administered it." The ideas of the Count de Frontenac were thus victorious, and the king retracted his first decision. He had in his original decree establishing the Seminary of Quebec, granted the bishop and his successors "the right of recalling and displacing the priests by them delegated to the parishes to exercise therein parochial functions." Laval on his return to Canada conformed without murmur to the king's decision; he worked, together with the governor and commissioner, at drawing up the plan of the parishes to be established, and sent his vicar-general to install the priests who were appointed to the different livings. He desired to inspire his whole clergy with the disinterestedness which he had always evinced, for not only did he recommend his priests "to content themselves with the simplest living, and with the bare necessaries of their support," but besides, agreeing with the governor and the commissioner, he estimated that an annual sum of five hundred livres merely, that is to say, about three hundred dollars of our present money, was sufficient for the lodging and maintenance of a priest. This was more than modest, and yet, without a very considerable extension, there was no parish capable of supplying the needs of its priest. There was indeed, it is true, an article of the edict specifying that in case of the tithe being insufficient, the necessary supplement should be fixed by the council and furnished by the seigneur of the place and by the inhabitants; but this manner of aiding the priests who were reduced to a bare competence was not practical, as was soon evident. Another article gave the title of patron to any seigneur who should erect a religious edifice; this article was just as fantastic, "for," wrote Commissioner Duchesneau, "there is no private person in this country who is in a position to build churches of any kind."

The king, always well disposed towards the clergy of Canada, came to their aid again in this matter. He granted them an annual income of eight thousand francs, to be raised from his "Western Dominions," that is to say, from the sum derived in Canada from the droit du quart and the farm of Tadousac; from these funds, which were distributed by the seminary until 1692, and after this date by the bishop alone, two thousand francs were to be set aside for priests prevented by illness or old age from fulfilling the duties of the holy ministry, and twelve hundred francs were to be employed in the erection of parochial churches. This aid came aptly, but was not sufficient, as Commissioner de Beauharnois himself admits. And yet the deplorable state in which the treasury of France then was, on account of the enormous expenses indulged in by Louis XIV, and especially in consequence o£ the wars which he waged against Europe, obliged him to diminish this allowance. In 1707 it was reduced by half.

It was feared for a time by the Sulpicians that the edict of 1679 might injure the rights which they had acquired from the union with their seminary of the parishes established on the Island of Montreal, and they therefore hastened to request from the king the civil confirmation of this canonical union. "There is," they said in their request, "a sort of need that the parishes of the Island of Montreal and of the surrounding parts should be connected with a community able to furnish them with priests, who could not otherwise be found in the country, to administer the said livings; these priests would not expose themselves to a sea voyage and to leaving their family comforts to go and sacrifice themselves in a wild country, if they did not hope that in their infirmity or old age they would be free to withdraw from the laborious administration of the parishes, and that they would find a refuge in which to end their days in tranquillity in a community which, on its part, would not pledge itself in such a way as to afford them the hope of this refuge, and to furnish other priests in their place, if it had not the free control of the said parishes and power to distribute among them the ecclesiastics belonging to its body whom it might judge capable of this, and withdraw or exchange them when fitting." The request of the Sulpicians was granted by the king.

It was not until 1680 that the Bishop of Quebec could return to Canada. The all-important questions of the permanence of livings and of the traffic in brandy were not the only ones which kept him in France ; another difficulty, that of the dependence of his diocese, demanded of his devotion a great many efforts at the court. The circumstances were difficult. France was plunged at this period in the famous dispute between the government and the court of Rome over the question of the right of regale, a dispute which nearly brought about a schism. The Archbishop of Paris, Mgr. de Harlay, who had laboured'so much when he was Bishop of Rouen to keep New France under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Normandy, used his influence to make Canada dependent on the archbishopric of Paris. The death of this prelate put an end to this claim, and the French colony in North America continued its direct connection with the Holy See.

Mgr. de Laval strove also to obtain from the Holy Father the canonical union of the abbeys of Maubec and of Lestrdes with his bishopric; if he had obtained it, he could have erected his chapter at once, assuring by the revenues of these monasteries a sufficient maintenance for his canons. The opposition of the religious orders on which these abbeys depended defeated his plan, but in compensation he obtained from the generosity of the king a grant of land on which his successor, Saint-Vallier, afterwards erected the church of Notre-Dame des Victoires. The venerable prelate might well ask favours for his diocese when he himself set an example of the greatest generosity. By a deed, dated at Paris, he gave to his seminary all that he possessed: lie Jdsus, the seigniories of Beaupr£ and Petite Nation, a property at Chateau Richer, finally books, furniture, funds, and all that might belong to him at the moment of his death.

Laval returned to Canada at a time when the relations with the savage tribes were becoming so strained as to threaten an impending rupture. So far had matters gone that Colonel Thomas Dongan, governor of New York, had urged the Iroquois to dig up the hatchet, and he was only too willingly obeyed. Unfortunately, the two governing heads of the colony were replaced just at that moment. Governor de Frontenac and Commissioner Duchesneau were recalled in 1682, and supplanted by de la Barre and de Meulles. The latter were far from equalling their predecessors. M. de Lefebvre de la Barre was a clever sailor but a deplorable administrator; as for the commissioner, M. de Meulles, his incapacity did not lessen his extreme conceit.

On his arrival at Quebec, Laval learned with deep grief that a terrible conflagration had, a few weeks before, consumed almost the whole of the Lower Town. The houses, and even the stores being then built of wood, everything was devoured by the flames. A single dwelling escaped the disaster, that of a rich private person, M. Aubert de la Chesnaie, in whose house mass was said every Sunday and feast-day for the citizens of the Lower Town who could not go to the parish service. To bear witness of his gratitude to Heaven, M. de la Chesnaie came to the aid of a good number of his fellow-citizens, and helped them with his money to rebuild their houses. This fire injured the merchants of Montreal almost as much as those of Quebec, and the Histoire de VH6te1-Dieu relates that " more riches were lost on that sad night than all Canada now possesses."

The king had the greatest desire for the future reign of harmony in the colony; accordingly he enjoined upon M. de Meulles to use every effort to agree with the governor-general: "If the latter should fail in his duty to the sovereign, the commissioner should content himself with a remonstrance and allow him to act further without disturbing him, but as soon as possible afterwards should render an account to the king's council of what might be prejudicial to the good of the state." Mgr. de Laval, to whom the prince had written in the same tenor, replied at once: "The honour which your Majesty has done me in writing to me that M. de Meulles has orders to preserve here a perfect understanding with me in all things, and to give me all the aid in his power, is so evident a mark of the affection which your Majesty cherishes for this new Church and for the bishop who governs it, that I feel obliged to assure your Majesty of my most humble gratitude. As I do not doubt that this new commissioner whom you have chosen will fulfil -with pleasure your commands, I may also assure your Majesty that on my part I shall correspond with him in the fulfilment of my duty, and that I shall all my life consider it my greatest joy to enter into the intentions of your Majesty for the general good of this country, which constitutes a part of your dominions." Concord thus advised could not displease a pastor who loved nothing so much as union and harmony among all who held the reins of power, a pastor who had succeeded in making his Church a family so united that it was quoted once as a model in one of the pulpits of Paris. If he sometimes strove against the powerful of this earth, it was when it was a question of combating injustice or some abuse prejudicial to the welfare of his flock. "Although by his superior intelligence," says Latour, " by his experience, his labours, his virtues, his birth and his dignity, he was an oracle whose views the whole clergy respected, no one ever more distrusted himself, or asked with more humility, or followed with more docility the counsel of his inferiors and disciples. . . . He was less a superior than a colleague, who sought the right with them and sought it only for its own sake. Accordingly, never was prelate better obeyed or better seconded than Mgr. de Laval, because, far from having that professional jealousy which desires to do everything itself, which dreads merit and enjoys only despotism, never did prelate evince more appreciative confidence in his inferiors, or seek more earnestly to give zeal and talent their dues, or have less desire to command, or did, in fact, command less." The new governor brought from France strong prejudices against the bishop; he lost them very quickly, and he wrote to the minister, the Marquis de Seignelay: "We have greatly laboured, the bishop and I, in the establishment of the parishes of this country. I send you the arrangement which we have arrived at concerning them. We owe it to the bishop, who is extremely well affected to the country, and in whom we must trust." The minister wrote to the prelate and expressed to him his entire satisfaction in his course.

The vigilant bishop had not yet entirely recovered from the fatigue of his journey when he decided, in spite of the infirmities which were beginning to overwhelm him, and which were to remain the constant companions of his latest years, to visit all the parishes and the religious communities of his immense diocese. He had already traversed them in the winter time in his former pastoral visits, shod with snowshoes, braving the fogs, the snow and the bitterest weather. In the suffocating heat of summer, travel in a bark canoe was scarcely less fatiguing to a man of almost sixty years, worn out by the hard ministry of a quarter of a century. However, he decided on a summer journey, and set out on June 1st, 1681, accompanied by M. de Maizerets, one of his grand vicars. He visited successively Lotbini&re, Batiscan, Champlain, Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Trois Rivi&res, Chambly, Sorel, St. Ours, Contrecoeur, Verch&res, Boucherville, Repentigny, Lachesnaie, and arrived on June 19th at Montreal. The marks of respectful affection lavished upon him by the population compel him to receive continual visits;. but he has come especially for his beloved religious communities, and he honours them all with his presence, the Seminary of St. Sulpice as well as the Congregation of Notre-Dame and the hospital. These labours are not sufficient for his apostolic zeal; he betakes himself to the house of the Jesuit Fathers at Laprairie, then to their Indian Mission at the Sault St. Louis, finally to the parish of St. Francois de Sales, in the lie Jesus. Descending the St. Lawrence River, he sojourns successively at Longueuil, at Varennes, at Lavaltrie, at Nicolet, at Bdcancourt, at Gentilly, at Ste. Anne de la Parade, at Deschambault. He returns to Quebec; his devoted fellow-workers in the seminary urge him to rest, but he will think of rest only when his mission is fully ended. He sets out again, and lie aux Oies, Cap-Saint-Ignace, St. Thomas, St. Michel, Beaumont, St. Joseph de L£vis have in turn the happiness of receiving their pastor. The undertaking was too great for the bishop's strength, and he suffered the results which could not but follow upon such a strain. The registers of the Sovereign Council prove to us that only a week after his return he had to take to his bed, and for two months could not occupy his seat among the other councillors. "His Lordship fell ill of a dangerous malady," says a memoir of that time. "For the space of a fortnight his death was expected, but God granted us the favour of bringing him to convalescence, and eventually to his former health."

M. de la Barre, on his arrival, desired to inform himself exactly of the condition of the colony. In a great assembly held at Quebec, on October 10th, 1682, he gathered all the men who occupied positions of consideration in the colony. Besides the governor, the bishop and the commissioner, there were noticed among others M. Dollier de Casson, the superior of the Seminary of St. Sulpice at Montreal, several Jesuit Fathers, MM. de Varennes, governor of Three Rivers, d'Ailleboust, de Brussy and Le Moyne. The information which M. de la Barre obtained from the assembly was far from reassuring; incessantly stirred up by Governor Dongan's genius for intrigue, the Iroquois were preparing to descend upon the little colony. If they had not already begun hostilities, it was because they wished first to massacre the tribes allied with the French; already the Hurons, the Algon-quins, the Conestogas, the Delawares and a portion of the Illinois had fallen under their blows. It was necessary to save from extermination the Ottawa and Illinois tribes. Now, one might indeed raise a thousand robust men, accustomed to savage warfare, but, if they were used for an expedition, who would cultivate in their absence the lands of these brave men? A prompt reinforcement from the mother country became urgent, and M. de la Barre hastened to demand it.

The war had already begun. The Iroquois had seized two canoes, the property of La Salle, near Niagara; they had likewise attacked and plundered fourteen Frenchmen en route to the Illinois with merchandise valued at sixteen thousand francs. It was known, besides, that the Cayugas and the Senecas were preparing to attack the French settlements the following summer. In spite of all, the expected help did not arrive. One realizes the anguish to which the population must have been a prey when one reads the following letter from the Bishop of Quebec: " Sire, the Marquis de Seig-nelay will inform your Majesty of the war which the Iroquois have declared against your subjects of New France, and will explain the need of sending aid sufficient to destroy, if possible, this enemy, who has opposed for so many years the establishment of this colony. . . . Since it has pleased your Majesty to choose me for the government of this growing Church, I feel obliged, more than any one, to make its needs manifest to you. The paternal care which you have always had for us leaves me no room to doubt that you will give the necessary orders for the most prompt aid possible, without which this poor country would be exposed to a danger nigh unto ruin."

The expected reinforcements finally arrived ; on November 9th, 1684, the whole population of Quebec, assembled at the harbour, received with joy three companies of soldiers, composed of fifty-two men each. The Bishop of Quebec did not fail to express to the king his personal obligation and the gratitude of all: "The troops which your Majesty has sent to defend us against the Iroquois," he wrote to the king, "and the lands which you have granted us for the subsidiary church of the Lower Town, and the funds which you have allotted both to rebuild the cathedral spire and to aid in the maintenance of the priests, these are favours which oblige me to thank your Majesty, and make me hope that you will deign to continue your royal bounties to our Church and the whole colony."

M. de la Barre was thus finally able to set out on his expedition against the Iroquois. At the head of one hundred and thirty soldiers, seven hundred militia and two hundred and sixty Indians, he marched to Lake Ontario, where the Iroquois, intimidated, sent him a deputation. The ambassadors, who expected to see a brilliant army full of ardour, were astonished to find themselves in the presence of pale and emaciated soldiers, worn out more by sickness and privations of every kind than by fatigue. The governor, in fact, had lost ten or twelve days at Montreal; on the way the provisions had become spoiled and insufficient, hence the name of Famine Creek given to the place where he entered with his troops, above the Oswego River. At this sight the temper of the delegates changed, and their proposals showed it; they spoke with arrogance, and almost demanded peace; they undertook to indemnify the French merchants plundered by them on condition that the army should decamp on the morrow. Such weakness could not attract to M. de la Barre the affection of the colonists; the king relieved him from his functions, and appointed as his successor the Marquis de Denonville, a colonel of dragoons, whose valour seemed to promise the colony better days.


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