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Bishop Lavel
Chapter XIX Death of Mgr. De Lavel


THE end of a great career was now approaching.

In the summer of 1707, a long and painful illness nearly carried Mgr. de Laval away, but he recovered, and convalescence was followed by manifest improvement. This soul which, like the lamp of the sanctuary, was consumed in the tabernacle of the Most High, revived suddenly at the moment of emitting its last gleams, then suddenly died out in final brilliance. The improvement in the condition of the venerable prelate was ephemeral; the illness which had brought him to the threshold of the tomb proved fatal some weeks later. He died in the midst of his labours, happy in proving by the very origin of the disease which brought about his death, his great love for the Saviour. It was, in fact, in prolonging on Good Friday his pious stations in his chilly church (for our ancestors did not heat their churches, even in seasons of rigorous cold), that he received in his heel the frost-bite of which he died. Such is the name the writers of the time give to this sore; in our days, when science has defined certain maladies formerly misunderstood, it is permissible to suppose that this so-called frost-bite was nothing else than diabetic gangrene. No illusion could be cherished, and the venerable old man, who had not, so to speak, passed a moment of his existence without thinking of death, needed to adapt himself to the idea less than any one else. In order to have nothing more to do than to prepare for his last hour he hastened to settle a question which concerned his seminary: he reduced definitely to eight the number of pensions which he had established in it in 1680. This done, it remained for him now only to suffer and die. The ulcer increased incessantly and the continual pains which he felt became atrocious when it was dressed. His intolerable sufferings drew from him, nevertheless, not cries and complaints, but outpourings of love for God. Like Saint Vincent de Paul, whom the tortures of his last malady could not compel to utter other words than these: " Ah, my Saviour! my good Saviour !" Mgr. de Laval gave vent to these words only: " O, my God! have pity on me! O God of Mercy!" and this cry, the summary of his whole life : " Let Thy holy will be done 1" One of the last thoughts of the dying man was to express the sentiment of his whole life, humility. - Some one begged him to imitate the majority of the saints, who, on their death-bed, uttered a few pious words for the edification of their spiritual children. "They were saints," he replied, "and I am a sinner." A speech worthy of Saint Vincent de Paul, who, about to appear before God, replied to the person who requested his blessing, "It is not for me, unworthy wretch that I am, to bless you." The fervour with which he received the last sacraments aroused the admiration of all the witnesses of this supreme hour. They almost expected to see this holy soul take flight for its celestial mansion. As soon as the prayers for the dying had been pronounced, he asked to have the chaplets of the Holy Family recited, and during the recitation of this prayer he gave up his soul to his Creator. It was then half-past seven in the morning, and the sixth day of the month consecrated to the Holy Virgin, whom he had so loved (May, 1708).

It was with a quiver of grief which was felt in all hearts throughout the colony that men learned the fatal news. The banks of the great river repeated this great woe to the valleys; the sad certainty that the father of all had disappeared forever sowed desolation in the homes of the rich as well as in the thatched huts of the poor. A cry of pain, a deep sob arose from the bosom of Canada which would not be consoled, because its incomparable bishop was no more! Etienne de Citeaux said to his monks after the death of his holy predecessor: "Alberic is dead to our eyes, but he is not so to the eyes of God, and dead though he appear to us, he lives for us in the presence of the Lord; for it is peculiar to the saints that when they go to God through death, they bear their friends with them in their hearts to preserve them there forever." This is our dearest desire ; the friends of the venerable prelate were and still are to-day his own Canadians: may he remain to the end of the ages our protector and intercessor with God

There were attributed to Mgr. de Laval, according to Latour and Brother Houssart, and a witness who would have more weight, M. de Glandelet, a priest of the seminary of Quebec, whose account was unhappily lost, a great number of miraculous cures. Our purpose is not to narrate them ; we have desired to repeat only the wonders of his life in order to offer a pattern and encouragement to all who walk in his steps, and in order to pay the debt of gratitude which we owe to the principal founder of the Catholic Church in our country.

The body of Mgr. de Laval lay in state for three days in the chapel of the seminary, and there was an immense concourse of the people about his mortuary bed, rather to invoke him than to pray for his soul. His countenance remained so beautiful that one would have thought him asleep ; that imposing brow so often venerated in the ceremonies of the Church preserved all its majesty. But alas! that aristocratic hand, which had blessed so many generations, was no longer to raise the pastoral ring over the brows of bowing worshippers; that eloquent mouth which had for half a century preached the gospel was to open no more; those eyes with look so humble but so straightforward were closed forever! "He is regretted by all as if death had carried him off in the flower of his age," says a chronicle of the time, "it is because virtue does not grow old." The obsequies of the prelate were celebrated" with a pomp still unfamiliar in the colony; the body, clad in the pontifical ornaments, was carried on the shoulders of priests through the different religious edifices of Quebec before being interred. All the churches of the country celebrated solemn services for the repose of the soul of the first Bishop of New France. Placed in a leaden coffin, the revered remains were sepulchred in the vaults of the cathedral, but the heart of Mgr. de Laval was piously kept in the chapel of the seminary, and later, in. 1752, was transported into the new chapel of this house. The funeral orations were pronounced, which recalled with eloquence and talent the services rendered by the venerable deceased to the Church, to France and to Canada. One was dehvered by M. de la Colombi&re, archdeacon and grand vicar of the diocese of Quebec; the other by M. de Belmont, grand vicar and superior of St. Sulpice at Montreal.

Those who had the good fortune to be present in the month of May, 1878, at the disinterment of the remains of the revered pontiff and at their removal to the chapel of the seminary where, according to his intentions, they repose to-day, will recall still with emotion the pomp which was displayed on this solemn occasion, and the fervent joy which was manifested among all classes of society. An imposing procession conveyed them, as at the time of the seminary obsequies, to the Ursulines; from the convent of the Ursulines to the Jesuit Fathers', next to the Congregation of St. Patrick, to the H6tel-Dieu, and finally to the cathedral, where a solemn service was sung in the presence of the apostolic legate, Mgr. Conroy. The Bishop of Sherbrooke, M. Antoine Racine, pronounced the eulogy of the first prelate of the colony.

The remains of Mgr. de Laval rested then in peace under the choir of the chapel of the seminary behind the principal altar. On December 16th, 1901, the vault was opened by order of the commission entrusted by the Holy See with the conduct of the apostolic investigation into the virtues and miracles in specie of the founder of the Church in Canada. The revered remains, which were found in a perfect state of preservation, were replaced in three coffins, one of glass, the second of oak, and the third of lead, and lowered into the vault. The opening was closed by a brick wall, well cemented, concealed between two iron gates. There they rest until, if it please God to hear the prayers of the Catholic population of our country, they may be placed upon the altars. This examination of the remains of the venerable prelate was the last act in his apostolic ordeal, for we are aware with what precaution the Church surrounds herself and with what prudence she scrutinizes the most minute details before giving a decision in the matter of canonization. The documents in the case of Mgr. de Laval have been sent to the secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Rites at Rome; and from there will come to us, let us hope, the great news of the canonization of the first Bishop of New France.

Sleep your sleep, revered prelate, worthy son of crusaders and noble successor of the apostles. Long and laborious was your task, and you have well merited your'repose beneath the flagstones of your seminary. Long will the sons of future generations go there to spell out your name,—the name of an admirable pastor, and, as the Church will tell us doubtless before long, of a saint.


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