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Bishop Lavel
Chapter XIV Resignation of Mgr. De Lavel


THE long and conscientious pastoral visit which he had just ended had proved to the indefatigable prelate that it would be extremely difficult to establish his parishes solidly. Instead of grouping themselves together, which would have given them the advantages of union both against the attacks of savages and for the circumstances of life in which man has need of the aid of his fellows, the colonists had built their dwellings at random, according to the inspiration of the moment, and sometimes at long distances from each other ; thus there existed, as late as 1678, only twenty-five fixed livings, and it promised to be very difficult to found new ones. To give a pastor the direction of parishioners established within an enormous radius of his parish house, was to condemn his ministry in advance to inefficacy. To prove it, the Abbe Gosselin cites a striking example. Of the two missionaries who shared the southern shore, the one, M. Morel, ministered to the country between Berthier and Rivi&re du Loup; the other, M. Volant de Saint-Claude, from Berthier to Rivi&re du Chene, and each of them had only about sixty families scattered here and there. And how was one to expect that these poor farmers could maintain their pastor and build a church? Almost everywhere the chapels were of wood or clapboards, and thatched; not more than eight or nine centres of population could boast of possessing a stone church; many hamlets still lacked a chapel and imitated the Lower Town of Quebec, whose inhabitants attended service in a private house. As to priests' houses, they were a luxury that few villages could afford: the priest had to content himself with being sheltered by a respectable colonist.

During the few weeks when illness confined him to his bed, Laval had leisure to reflect on the difficulties of his task. He understood that his age and the infirmities which the Lord laid upon him would no longer permit him to bring to so arduous a work the necessary energy. "His humility," says Sister Juchereau, "persuaded him that another in his place would do more good than he, although he really did a great deal, because he sought only the glory of God and the welfare of his flock.In consequence, he decided to go and carry in person his resignation to the king. But before embarking for France, with his accustomed prudence he set his affairs in order. He had one plan, especially, at heart, that of establishing according to the rules of the Church the chapter which had already existed de facto for a long while. Canons are necessary to a bishopric; their duties are not merely decorative, for they assist the bishop in his episcopal office, form his natural council, replace him on certain occasions, govern the diocese from the death of its head until the deceased is replaced, and finally officiate in turn before the altars of the cathedral in order that prayer shall incessantly ascend from the diocese towards the Most High. The only obstacle to this creation until now had been the lack of resources, for the canonical union with the abbeys of Maubec and Lestrdes was not yet an accomplished fact. Mgr. de Laval resolved to appeal to the unselfishness of the priests of the seminary, and he succeeded : they consented to fulfil without extra salary the duties of canons.

By an ordinance of November 6th, 1684, the Bishop of Quebec established a chapter composed of twelve canons and four chaplains. The former, among whom were five priests born in the colony, were M. Henri de Bernieres, priest of Quebec, who remained dean until his death in 1700 ; MM. Louis Ange de Maizerets, archdeacon, Charles Glandelet, theologist, Dudouyt, grand cantor, and Jean Gauthier de Brulon, confessor. The ceremony of installation took place with the greatest pomp, amid the boom of artillery and the joyful sound of bells and music; governor, intendant, councillors, officers and soldiers, inhabitants of the city and the environments, everybody wished to be present. It remained to give a constitution to the new chapter. Mgr. de Laval had already busied himself with this for several months, and corresponded on this subject with M. Charon, a clever lawyer of Paris. Accordingly, the constitution which he submitted for the infant chapter on the very morrow of the ceremony was admired unreservedly and adopted without discussion. Twenty-four hours afterwards he set sail accompanied by the good wishes of his priests, who, with anxious heart and tears in their eyes, followed him with straining gaze until the vessel disappeared below the horizon. Before his departure, he had, like a father who in his last hour divides his goods among his children, given his seminary a new proof of his attachment: he left it a sum of eight thousand francs for the building of the chapel.

It would seem that sad presentiments assailed him at this moment, for he said in the deed of gift: " I declare that my last will is to be buried in this chapel; and if our Lord disposes of my life during this voyage I desire that my body be brought here for burial. I also desire this chapel to be open to the public." Fortunately, he was mistaken, it was not the intention of the Lord to remove him so soon from the affections of his people. For twenty years more the revered prelate was to spread about him good works and good examples, and Providence reserved for him the happiness of dying in the midst of his flock.

His generosity did not confine itself to this grant. He could not leave his diocese, which he was not sure of seeing again, without giving a token of remembrance to that school of St. Joachim, which he had founded and which he loved so well; he gave the seminary eight thousand francs for the support of the priest entrusted with the direction of the school at the same time as with the ministry of the parish, and another sum of four thousand francs to build the village church.

A young Canadian priest, M. Guyon, son of a farmer'of the Beauprd shore, had the good fortune of accompanying the bishop on the voyage. It would have been very imprudent to leave the venerable prelate alone, worn out as he was by troublesome fits of vertigo whenever he indulged too long in work; besides, he was attacked by a disease of the heart, whose onslaughts sometimes incapacitated him.

It would be misjudging the foresight of Mgr. de Laval to think that before embarking for the mother country he had not sought out a priest worthy to replace him. He appealed to two men whose judgment and circumspection he esteemed, M. Dudouyt and Father Le Valois of the Society of Jesus. He asked them to recommend a true servant of God, virtuous and zealous above all. Father Le Valois indicated the Abbe Jean Baptiste de la Croix de Saint-Vallier, the king's almoner, whose zeal for the welfare of souls, whose charity, great piety, modesty and method made him the admiration of all. The influence which his position and the powerful relations of his family must gain for the Church in Canada were an additional argument in his favour; the superior of St. Sulpice, M. Tronson, who was also consulted, praised highly the talents and the qualities of the young priest. "My Lord has shown great virtue in his resignation," writes M. Dudouyt. "I know no occasion on which he has shown so strongly his love for his Church; for he has done everything that could be desired to procure a person capable of preserving and perfecting the good work which he has begun here." If the Abbe de Saint-Vallier had not been a man after God's own heart, he would not have accepted a duty so honourable but so difficult. He was not unaware of the difficulties which he would have to surmount, for Mgr. de Laval explained them to him himself with the greatest frankness; and, what was a still greater sacrifice, the king's almoner was to leave the most brilliant court in the world for a very remote country, still in process of organization. Nevertheless he accepted, and Laval had the satisfaction of knowing that he was committing his charge into the hands of a worthy successor.

It was now only a question of obtaining the consent of the king before petitioning the sovereign pontiff for the canonical establishment of the new episcopal authority. It was not without difficulty that it was obtained, for the prince could not decide to accept the resignation of a prelate who seemed to him indispensable to the interests of New France. He finally understood that the decision of Mgr. de Laval was irrevocable; as a mark of confidence and esteem he allowed him to choose his successor.

At this period the misunderstanding created between the common father of the faithful and his most Christian Majesty by the claims of the latter in the matter of the right of regale1 kept the Church in a false position, to the grief of all good Catholics. Pope Innocent XI waited with persistent and calm firmness until Louis XIV should become again the elder son of the Church ; until then France could not exist for him, and more than thirty episcopal sees remained without occupants in the country of Saint Louis and of Joan of Arc. It was not, then, to be hoped that the appointment by the king of the Abbd de Saint-Valher as second bishop of Quebec could be immediately sanctioned by the sovereign pontiff. It was decided that Mgr. de Laval, to whom the king granted an annuity for life of two thousand francs from the revenues of the bishopric of Aire, should remain titular bishop until the consecration of his successor, and that M. de Saint-Vallier, appointed provisionally grand vicar of the prelate, should set out immediately for New France, where he would assume the government of the diocese. The Abbd de Saint-Valher had not yet departed before he gave evidence of his munificence, and proved to the faithful of his future bishopric that he would be to them as generous a father as he whom he was about to replace. By deed of May 10th, 1685, he presented to the Seminary of Quebec a sum of forty-two thousand francs, to be used for the maintenance of missionaries; he bequeathed to it at the same time all the furniture, books, etc., which he should possess at his death. Laval's purpose was to remain for the present in France, where he would busy himself actively for the interests of Canada, but his fixed resolve was to go and end his days on that soil of New France which he loved so well. It was in 1688, only a few months after the official appointment of Saint-Valher to the bishopric of Quebec, and his consecration on January 25th of the same year, that Laval returned to Canada.

M. de Saint-Vallier embarked at La Rochelle in the beginning of June, 1685, on the royal vessel which was carrying to Canada the new governor-general, M. de Denonville. The king having permitted him to take with him a score of persons, he made a most judicious choice: nine ecclesiastics, several school-masters and a few good workmen destined for the labours of the seminary, accompanied him. The voyage was long and very fatiguing. The passengers were, however, less tried than those of two other ships which followed them, on one of which more than five hundred soldiers had been crowded together. As might have been expected, sickness was not long in breaking out among them; more than one hundred and fifty of these unfortunates died, and their bodies were cast into the sea.

Immediately after his arrival the grand vicar visited all the religious establishments of the town, and he observed everywhere so much harmony and good spirit that he could not pass it over in silence. Speaking with admiration of the seminary, he said: " Every one in it devoted himself to spiritual meditation, with such blessed results that from the youngest cleric to the highest ecclesiastics in holy orders each one brought of his own accord all his personal possessions to be used in common. It seemed to me then that I saw revived in the Church of Canada something of that spirit of un-worldliness which constituted one of the principal beauties of the budding Church of Jerusalem in the time of the apostles." The examples of brotherly unity and self-effacement which he admired so much in others he also set himself: he placed in the library of the seminary a magnificent collection of books which he had brought with him, and deposited in the coffers of the house several thousand francs in money, his personal property. Braving the rigours of the season, he set out in the winter of 1685 and visited the shore of Beaupre, the Island of Orleans, and then the north shore as far as Montreal. In the spring he took another direction, and inspected all the missions of Gaspesia and Acadia. He was so well satisfied with the condition of his diocese that he wrote to Mgr. de Laval: " All that I regret is that there is no more good forme to do in this Church."

In the spring of this same year, 1686, a valiant little troop was making a more warlike pastoral visit. To seventy robust Canadians, commanded by d'lberville, de Sainte-H^l&ne and de Maricourt,' all sons of Charles Le Moyne, the governor had added thirty good soldiers under the orders of MM. de Troyes, Duchesnil and Catalogne, to take part in an expedition for the capture of Hudson Bay from the English. Setting out on snowshoes, dragging their provisions and equipment on toboggans, then advancing, sometimes on foot, sometimes in bark canoes, they penetrated by the Ottawa River and Temiskaming and Abitibi Lakes as far as James Bay. They did not brave so many dangers and trials without being resolved to conquer or die; accordingly, in spite of its twelve cannon, Fort Monsipi was quickly carried. The two forts, Rupert and Ste. Anne, suffered the same fate, and the only one that remained to the English, that named Fort Nelson, was preserved to them solely because its remote situation saved it. The head of the expedition, M. de Troyes, on his return to Quebec, rendered an account of his successes to M. de Denonville and to a new commissioner, M. de Champigny, who had just replaced M. de Meulles.

The bishop's infirmities left him scarcely any respite. "My health," he wrote to his successor, "is exceedingly good considering the bad use I make of it. It seems, however, that the wound which I had in my foot during five or six months at Quebec has been for the last three weeks threatening to re-open. The holy will of God be done!" And he added, in his firm resolution to pass his last days in Canada: "In any case, I feel that I have sufficient strength and health to return this year to the only place which now can give me peace and rest. In pace in idipsum dormiam et re-quiescam. Meanwhile, as we must have no other aim than the good pleasure of our Lord, whatever desire He gives me for this rest and peace, He grants me at the same time the favour of making Him a sacrifice of it in submitting myself to the opinion that you have expressed, that I should stay this year in France, to be present at your return next autumn." The bad state of his health did not prevent him from devoting his every moment to Canadian interests. He went into the most infinitesimal details of the administration of his diocese, so great was his solicitude for his work. "We must hasten this year, if possible," he wrote, "to labour at the re-establishment of the church of Ste. Anne du Petit-Cap, to' which the whole country has such an attachment. We must work also to push forward the clearing of the lands of St. Joachim, in order that we may have the proper rotation crops on each farm, and that the farms may suffice for the needs of the seminary." In another letter he concerns himself with the sum of three thousand francs granted by the king each year for the marriage portion of a certain number of poor young girls marrying in Canada. "We should," says he, " distribute these moneys in parcels, fifty francs, or ten crowns, to the numerous poor families scattered along the shores, in which there is a large number of children." He practises this wise economy constantly when it is a question, not of his personal property, but of the funds of his seminary. He finds that his successor, whom the ten years which he had passed at court as king's almoner could not have trained in parsimony, allows himself to be carried away, by his zeal and his desire to do good, to a somewhat excessive expense. With what tact and delicacy he indulges in a discreet reproach "Magna est fides tua," he writes to him, "and much.greater than mine. We see that all our priests have responded to it with the same confidence and entire submission with which they have believed it their duty to meet your sentiments, in which they have my approval. My particular admiration has been aroused by seeing in all your letters and in all the impulses of your heart so great a reliance on the lovable Providence of God that not only has it permitted you not to have the least doubt that it would abundantly provide the wherewithal for the support of all the works which it has suggested to you, but that upon this basis, which is the firm truth, you have had the courage to proceed to the execution of them. It is true that my heart has long yearned for what you have accomplished ; but I have never had sufficient confidence or reliance to undertake it. I always awaited the means quce pater posuit in sua potestate. I hope that, since the Most Holy Family of our Lord has suggested all these works to you, they will give you means and ways to maintain what is so much to the glory of God and the welfare of souls. But, according to all appearances, great difficulties will be found, which will only serve to increase this confidence and trust in God." And he ends with this prudent advice: " Whatever confidence God desires us to have in His providence, it is certain that He demands from us the observance of rules of prudence, not human and political,' but Christian and just."

He concerns himself even with the servants, and it is singular to note that his mind, so apt to undertake and execute vast plans, possesses none the less an astonishing sagacity and accuracy of observation in petty details. One Valet, entrusted with the purveyance, had obtained permission to wear the cassock. " Unless he be much changed in his humour," writes Mgr. de Laval, "it would be well to send him back to France ; and I may even opine that, whatever change might appear in him, he would be unfitted to administer a living, the basis of his character being very rustic, gross, and displeasing, and unsuitable for ecclesiastical functions, in which one is constantly obliged to converse and deal with one's neighbours, both children and adults. Having given him the cassock and having admitted him to the refectory, I hardly see any other means of getting rid of him than to send him back to France."

In his correspondence with Saint-Vallier, Laval gives an account of the various steps which he was taking at court to maintain the integrity of the diocese of Quebec. This was, for a short time, at stake. The Rdcollets, who had followed La Salle in his expeditions, were trying with some chance of success to have the valley of the Mississippi and Louisiana made an apostolic vicariate independent of Canada. Laval finally gained his cause; the jurisdiction of the bishopric of Quebec over all the countries of North America which belonged to France was maintained, and later the Seminary of Quebec sent missionaries to Louisiana and to the Mississippi.

But the most important questions, which formed the principal subject both of his preoccupations and of his letters, are that of the establishment of the Rdcollets in the Upper Town of Quebec, that of a plan for a permanent mission at Baie St. Paul, and above all, that of the tithes and the support of the priests. This last question brought about between him and Mgr. de Saint-Valher a most complete conflict of views. Yet the differences of opinion between the two servants of God never prevented them from esteeming each other highly. The following letter does as much honour to him who wrote it as to him to whom such homage is rendered: " The noble house of Laval from which he sprang," writes Mgr. de Saint-Valher, "the right of primogeniture which he renounced on entering upon the ecclesiastical career; the exemplary life which he led in France before there was any thought of raising him to the episcopacy; the assiduity with which he governed so long the Church in Canada; the constancy and firmness which he showed in surmounting all the obstacles which opposed on divers occasions the rectitude of his intentions and the welfare of his dear flock; the care which he took of the French colony and his efforts for the conversion of the savages; the expeditions which he undertook several times in the interests of both; the zeal which impelled him to return to France to seek a successor; his disinterestedness and the humility which he manifested in offering and in giving so willingly his frank resignation ; finally, all the great virtues which I see him practise every day in the seminary where I sojourn with him, would well deserve here a most hearty eulogy, but his modesty imposes silence upon me, and the veneration in which he is held wherever he is known is praise more worthy than I could give him....."

Mgr. de Saint-Vallier left Quebec for France on November 18th, 1686, only a few days after a fire which consumed the Convent of the Ursulines; the poor nuns, who had not been able to snatch anything from the flames, had to accept, until the reconstruction of their convent, the generous shelter offered them by the hospitable ladies of the Hotel-Dieu. Mgr. de Saint-Vallier did not disembark at the port of La Rochelle until forty-five days after his departure, for this voyage was one continuous storm.


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