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LAVAL, FRANÇOIS DE, bishop in partibus of Petraea, vicar apostolic in New France (1658–74), first bishop of Quebec (1674–88); b. 30 April 1623 at Montigny-sur-Avre (department of Eure-et-Loir), in the diocese of Chartres (France) and baptized François-Xavier; son of Hugues de Laval, seigneur of Montigny, Montbaudry, Alaincourt, and Revercourt, and of Michelle de Péricard; d. 6 May 1708 at Quebec and buried 9 May in the cathedral there.
François de Laval was descended from the younger branch of one of the noblest families in France, the Montmorencys, whose origins are believed to go back to pagan Gaul. A Montmorency, in fact, is supposed to have been the first of the nobles of the kingdom of France to receive baptism with Clovis from St Rémi at Reims in 496. The battlecry “Dieu ayde au premier baron chrestien [God aid the first Christian baron],” which was also the motto of this line and is found in Bishop Laval’s arms, perpetuated the memory of this glorious event. The title of “First Barons of France,” which was likewise borne by the Montmorencys, was no less deserved: this family gave the church and the kingdom several cardinals, 6 constables, 12 marshals, 4 admirals, and a great number of generals and civil, naval, and military officers. In the 13th century Mathieu de Montmorency, called the great Constable of France, took as his second wife Emme de Laval, who was also of noble birth. Their son Guy took his mother’s name; François de Laval was descended from him.
Through his mother, Michelle de Péricard, daughter of the seigneur of Saint-Étienne, in Normandy, François de Laval belonged to a family of the legal nobility which had supplied the parlement of Rouen with several officers of the crown and the church with numerous prelates. Indeed, the see of Évreux was occupied about that time by a brother of Madame de Laval, François de Péricard, who was to play an important role in young François’s life.
Despite their noble birth the seigneur of Montigny and his wife, who were both of proven piety and virtue, were not possessed of a large fortune: the fief of Montigny, the most important of the four which they held, was in reality only a good-sized market-town. The family’s financial situation was soon to become rather precarious, and François was one day to have to devote himself to restoring it.
Hugues de Laval and his wife had six sons and two daughters, one of whom, Isabelle, a posthumous child, died at the age of seven months. Henri, the fifth son, entered the Benedictine order and became prior of La Croix-Saint-Lauffroy; Anne-Charlotte took the veil with the Nuns of the Blessed Sacrament and became their superior. Destined by his family for the ecclesiastical state, to which he aspired himself, François received the tonsure and took holy orders at the age of eight and a half, as was the custom of the period, soon after entering the Jesuit college at La Flèche, which was attended by the sons of the best families of France. Francois was to spend ten years, from 1631 to 1641, in this famous institution, pursuing his literary and philosophical studies with great success. In 1637, his uncle, François de Péricard, bishop of Évreux, appointed him a canon of the cathedral of his diocese. Even though it was not large – it was increased in 1639 – this benefice came just at the right time. Added to his family’s meagre resources, it allowed François to continue his studies, which for a time had been endangered by his father’s death on 11 Sept. 1636.
The years that he spent at La Flèche were, in a way, decisive for François de Laval. Under the enlightened guidance of the Jesuits he advanced rapidly in the paths of piety and virtue, soon earning admission into the Congrégation de la Sainte Vierge, which was at the time directed by Father Jean Bagot. His resolution to devote himself to God in the priesthood dated from that period, as did his interest in the Canadian missions; these were held much in honour at the college where lived some of the greatest apostles of the French possessions in America. Being constantly in contact with the sons of St Ignatius, François got to know them, was imbued with their spirituality, and became sincerely attached to them. “God alone,” he wrote in 1659, “knows how much I am indebted to your Society [the Society of Jesus], which warmed me in its breast when I was a child, nourished me with its salutary doctrine in my youth, and has not ceased since then to encourage and guide me. . . . [The Jesuits] taught me to love God and have been my guides in the path of salvation and the Christian virtues. . . .”
In 1641 François went to Paris and lived at the Collège de Clermont, also run by the Jesuits, to study theology. He was proceeding at a good pace towards the priesthood when two tragic events in rapid succession struck him cruel blows: his two older brothers were killed. François, who had enlisted in Condé’s army, fell in 1644 at Freiburg, and Gabriel, who was serving in Turenne’s army, was killed in 1645 at Nordlingen. François, who inherited the patrimony and the family obligations, took the name of Abbé de Montigny. His mother, with the powerful backing of the bishop of Évreux, begged him to leave the ecclesiastical state, to marry, and to uphold the honour of his house. François was immovable but nevertheless decided to interrupt his studies momentarily. He returned to Montigny, put the family’s affairs in order, and soon went back to the Collège de Clermont, this time with the encouragement of the bishop of Évreux. In 1646 he was ordained subdeacon, the following year deacon, and on 1 May 1647 priest.
At 24 years of age, François was well prepared for a ministry that, it appears from the most authoritative testimony, was fruitful. At Paris he had again met Father Bagot and several of his associates of the Congrégation at La Flèche. They had come together once more in the society called the Bons Amis and continued as a group their work of seeking their spiritual improvement. François stood out in this group through his piety, zeal, and virtue. In the year following his ordination he devoted himself to caring for the sick, teaching abandoned children, and administering his patrimony. In 1648 he resigned his canonry at Évreux. Shortly afterwards, in December, he was appointed archdeacon of the same diocese, which at that time comprised 155 parishes and 4 chapels. It was a heavy task. But, wrote M. de La Colombière, “the regularity of his visits, his fervour in carrying them out, the improvements that he effected and the order that he established in the parishes, the relief of the poor, his application to all sorts of good works, all these things indicated clearly that although he was not a bishop, he had the mind and ability of one and that there were no services that the church could not expect from such a great person.” In 1649 he had obtained from the University of Paris a licentiate in canon law, which he required for carrying out his duties as archdeacon.
From 1642 on at least François de Laval had secretly dreamed of being a missionary. The Bons Amis, with whom he remained in close touch during his years as archdeacon, shared his aspirations. This society was, besides, the cradle of the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris. In 1652 the Jesuit, Alexandre de Rhodes, was looking, with the pope’s permission, for candidates who would accept appointments as vicars apostolic in Tonkin and Indochina. After consulting with Father Bagot and the Bons Amis, he chose François Pallu, Bernard Picques, and François de Laval, who were approved by Rome and the court. François de Laval was destined for Tonkin. But the appointment soon began to drag on. The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which disapproved of the excessive independence of the Jesuits in the mission countries, feared that the proposed candidates were too closely linked with them, all the more since they had declared their readiness to join the Society of Jesus. Moreover, Portugal was firmly opposed to French bishops being sent to the Far East. The project was given up in 1654. Whatever his future activity was to be, François de Laval decided to prepare for it henceforth in prayer and seclusion. In 1654, without even keeping the pension to which he was entitled, he resigned the archdeaconry of Évreux – which might have led him to the bishopric – in favour of his friend Henri-Marie Boudon and made over to his younger brother Jean-Louis his patrimony and his birthright. (Hugues, the youngest of his brothers, had died in 1642 at about 12 years of age.) When these last links with the world had been broken, he set off for Caen.
François went to knock at the door of the Hermitage, which was directed by M. Jean de Bernières de Louvigny. One of the great mystics of his time, M. de Bernières, although a layman, had been chosen as teacher and spiritual director by some of the most pious and virtuous persons in France. Since 1649 the Hermitage had sheltered a small community of priests and laymen who devoted themselves to preaching and charitable activities and who led an austere and severely regulated life. François de Laval, who was an “intimate friend” of M. de Bernières, put his admirable maxims into practice: he combined charitable works with prayer and preaching and, as he had done in Paris, engaged in helping the poor and the sick, in the great tradition of St Vincent de Paul. In between, he reformed a monastery whose rule had become lax and brought out into the open, even before the court, the rights of a community of nuns hospitallers which was threatened with spoliation. He was, furthermore, the administrator and confessor of two communities of nuns, and in 1657 he earned from Bishop Servien an unequivocal commendation (which was given upon oath): he was described as a priest “of great piety,” “prudent and of unusually great competence in business matters,” who had set “fine examples” of virtue in the diocese of Bayeux.
But once again there was a movement on foot to endow New France with a bishopric. This movement had originated in 1645 with the Associates of Montreal, but it had subsequently encountered many obstacles. In January 1657 the Associates put forward a candidate, the Sulpician Gabriel de Thubières* de Levy de Queylus. Although he was accepted by the assembly of the clergy of France, Abbé Queylus was not received favourably by the Jesuits. They, declining an invitation from the queen mother, Anne of Austria, to have one of their members appointed to the episcopal see of Quebec, submitted the name of their former pupil, François de Laval. Being anxious that the new bishop should be on good terms with the Jesuits in Canada, the queen mother and the court approved this choice. François de Laval was informed at the Hermitage of the plans which had been made for him. He could not, however, foresee the difficulties with which his path would henceforth be strewn.
The choice of François de Laval and the circumstances surrounding his appointment to the episcopal see of New France were, in fact, going to stir up and bring into the open the latent conflict which was developing in this colony, for the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over it was being disputed by Rome and the archbishop of Rouen quietly but with great determination and tenacity.
Since the 16th century the pope had not had any direct authority over missions. He had to go through the kings, who had the right of advowson, the bishops, who extended their influence beyond the boundaries of their dioceses, and the superiors general of the great missionary orders, which had acquired wide autonomy. The general of the Jesuits, for example, and his provincials in France could found missions without even consulting the Holy See. Thus, on their arrival in Canada in 1625 and when they came back again in 1632 the Jesuits held their powers from Rome, but through the intermediary of their general. In 1622, however, with the object of centralizing the administration of all missions and putting them directly under the control of the Holy See, the pope had created the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The Congregation had thenceforth attempted, with great prudence and diplomacy but rather limited success, to reduce the virtually complete independence of the Jesuits in mission countries.
In Canada, however, the missionaries of the Society of Jesus were to lose gradually the quiet assurance that they had enjoyed at the beginning. The arrival in 1639 of the Ursulines and Nuns Hospitallers – particularly the latter, who had been induced by the archbishop of Rouen to promise that they would recognize his jurisdiction over their community – contributed especially to alarming the Jesuits about the validity of the religious professions which they might be called upon to receive or the marriages among settlers which they solemnized, relying solely upon their powers as missionaries. Did their jurisdiction extend beyond the strictly missionary ministry to the Indians? They were less and less certain about it. To ask the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith for wider powers would mean that they would be putting themselves under its complete domination and would, moreover, be a departure from the Society’s traditional policy, which their general in Rome defended fiercely. Besides, the archbishop of Rouen, who had no doubts about the legality of his jurisdiction over New France, was gradually but irreversibly imposing his episcopal authority upon the young colony.
Two events were to cause the Jesuits in Canada to lean towards Rouen. In 1645 and 1646, on the one hand, the Associates of Montreal were working for the creation of a bishopric in Canada and proposed a candidate of their choosing, Abbé Thomas Le Gauffre. If they were successful, the autonomy of the Jesuits in New France was finished. On the other hand, in 1646 the new general of the Jesuits had given in to the pressure exercised by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and had ceded back to it, in reality, most of his powers as far as missions were concerned. At this juncture the Jesuits in Canada hesitated, deliberated cautiously, and finally in 1648 accepted the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith by asking it for new powers; but at the same time they sought from the archbishop of Rouen letters, which they accepted in 1649, making their superior in Quebec his vicar general. This last step, on which not even their general was consulted, was kept a secret until 1653, one so well kept that despite her close connections with the Jesuits Marie de l’Incarnation [Guyart*] did not suspect anything. The powers of a vicar general were broader than those conferred by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and gave the Jesuits greater reassurance about the validity of the religious professions and marriages. In 1653, therefore, they made public their dependence upon Rouen and ceased to correspond with the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith after that date. Of the two options presented them, they had chosen the one which imposed fewer restrictions upon them: the Rouen formula left them greater authority and autonomy than that of Rome would have done.
In refusing the candidate of the assembly of the clergy of France in January 1657 the Jesuits were not rejecting Abbé Queylus as a person, but rather the threat that he represented for the independence of the church in Canada, which they intended to restore and to secure for good. Secretly they proposed to the court a candidate of their choosing, François de Laval. They wanted to make him the titular bishop of Quebec. For 18 months they pushed this matter in Paris and Rome, apparently without the archbishop of Rouen, François II de Harlay de Champvallon, having the slightest suspicion of it. The fact was that, once their candidate had been appointed and consecrated, they intended to separate the church in Canada completely from the archbishopric of Rouen. In their minds the bishop of Quebec should be directly responsible to the pope. Of course, Harlay would not have been of that opinion.
In January 1657, then, Louis XIV wrote to the pope, presenting to him his candidate for the bishopric of Quebec, Father François de Laval. Rome first wanted to know to what community this father belonged. This was the first cause of delay, Then someone forgot to forward the canonical information. Time passed. Backed by the court of France, the Jesuits kept applying pressure. Months went by. Everyone was becoming impatient; the number of memoranda kept increasing, help was sought from the cardinals in Rome, but to no avail. Only François de Laval remained silent and as though indifferent, to the surprise of those who were supporting his candidature most strongly. It was not he who had sought this appointment; perhaps mindful of the Tonkin affair, he waited at the Hermitage, without doing anything to influence Rome’s decision, which would be the expression of God’s will for him.
Rome’s delay in reaching a decision came, to tell the truth, from the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Once more it was feared there that through François de Laval, who had been closely linked with them since his childhood, the Jesuits would perpetuate their independence from this Roman congregation in Canada. There could be no question of appointing a titular bishop for Canada. Consequently difficulties of all sorts were raised, until finally it was proposed to the court of France to create a vicariate in New France rather than a bishopric. The court obtained the Jesuits’ assent and that of M. de Laval himself on this question. (It has been claimed, incorrectly, that the Jesuits had suggested this expedient themselves.) The appointment of a simple vicar apostolic would make the church and the mission in Canada, including the Jesuits, directly subordinate to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith and thus to the Holy See; for Bishop Laval and the Jesuits it would have the advantage of withdrawing them, at least in theory, from the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Rouen, which would yield to the more universal jurisdiction of the pope.
The bulls appointing François de Laval vicar apostolic were signed in Rome on 3 June 1658. Bishop Laval chose 4 October, the feast-day of St Francis of Assisi, for his consecration.
The archbishop of Rouen, who considered that he was the rightful bishop of Canada, where he had had a vicar general for ten years, seems to have known nothing of the steps taken to endow this part of his diocese with a see. Being, moreover, an ardent Gallican, he took the news of the dispatch of his bulls to François de Laval very badly. All the more since this dignity of vicar apostolic, newly created in the church and most often obtained by stealth and under false pretences, had been the subject of earnest deliberations in the assembly of the clergy of France, which finally recommended to the bishops that they refuse to consecrate these prelates if they applied to them. On 25 Sept. 1658 at Paris, before a special assembly of the clergy, Harlay brought up the question of the bulls delivered to François de Laval and succeeded in having a circular letter sent to the bishops urging them to refuse to consecrate him, in conformity with the recommendations of the plenary assembly and because of the prejudice which this intervention on the part of Rome caused the Gallican church. The three bishops who had already promised François de Laval their co-operation immediately desisted.
In addition to the support of the church of France, Harlay sought that of the parlements, the jealous and punctilious defenders of the “liberties,” rights, privileges, and immunities of the Gallican church. He himself had a seat in the parlement of Rouen. On 3 Oct. 1658, on the eve of the day set for Bishop Laval’s consecration, he obtained a decree forbidding the latter to “take upon himself the functions of vicar apostolic in Canada,” and declaring that in this matter the pope’s good faith had obviously been abused.
François de Laval, who had maintained silence up till then, continued to do so even now; his allies the Jesuits and the papal nuncio to Paris, Monsignor Piccolomini, however, got around the difficulty. Rome had the right of appointing vicars apostolic in mission countries; the claims of the archbishop of Rouen were not based on legal grounds or recognized by Rome; and finally, the queen mother and the young king were favourable to their candidate. They decided therefore to go ahead in secret with Bishop Laval’s consecration in a church that was exempt from the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the kingdom. On 8 Dec. 1658, in the Lady-chapel (which no longer exists) of the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the nuncio laid hands upon François de Laval, who was 35 at that time.
As soon as this consecration was known, the Gallican reaction was not long in coming. The archbishop of Paris, who was offended because François de Laval had been consecrated in his diocese without his permission, and the archbishop of Rouen, for whom Mazarin refused to convene the assembly of the clergy of France for reasons having nothing to do with this affair, fell back upon the parlement of Paris. The parlement agreed with their views and considered that the rights of the episcopate and the liberties of the Gallican church had been infringed. On 16 December it issued a decree calling upon François de Laval to transmit his bulls to the court and forbidding him to claim authority through them before receiving the letters patent necessary in such a case. Bishop Laval was served this decree on 19 December. On 23 December the parlement of Rouen in its turn renewed its decree of 3 October, forbade any of the king’s subjects to recognize M. de Laval as vicar apostolic, and ordered all the officers of the kingdom to resist him in his attempt and prevent him from fulfilling any function. Once more Bishop Laval remained silent: he clearly saw that in all this affair he was only the pretext or the occasion for a battle that had long been shaping up and which others were involving him in.
After vainly threatening the archbishop of Rouen with penalties, Rome advised Monsignor Piccolomini in December 1658 and January 1659 to rely henceforth upon “Their Majesties,” Anne of Austria and young Louis XIV. It was the only way out, as the queen mother had approved the Jesuits’ plan from the beginning. This time Archbishop Harlay did feel that he was being threatened. On 3 March 1659 he suggested to Mazarin a compromise which resulted in the letters patent of 27 March requested by Anne of Austria to annul the decree of the parlement. These letters directed that Bishop Laval be recognized “to fulfil the functions of the bishop, without prejudice to the rights of the regular jurisdiction, and that he do so while awaiting the establishment of a bishopric whose titular incumbent will be suffragan of the archbishop of Rouen.” This ran entirely counter to the plan of the Jesuits and the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Could the queen mother, who was present at the king’s council, be unaware of this? On 30 March, perhaps at the nuncio’s suggestion, she recognized her error. She wrote to Voyer d’Argenson, the governor of New France, giving him strict injunctions to have Bishop Laval recognized as vicar apostolic and “to see that he is obeyed in all the functions of the bishop,” and even “to prevent any ecclesiastic or other person from exercising or holding any ecclesiastical jurisdiction except by the orders or consent” of Bishop Laval. Thus, at least in theory, the authority of the archbishop of Rouen was eliminated from Canada.
Bishop Laval took the oath of loyalty to the king and sailed from La Rochelle on 13 April 1659. He had neither sought nor rejected the dignity of bishop; the worst storms had raged about him without his intervening in any way whatsoever to calm them, leaving the direction of his life entirely to God’s care. One thing was henceforth certain: God wanted him in New France. He was on his way, his sole income an allowance of 1,000 livres with which the queen-regent had favoured him.
Thus, in detachment from worldly goods and in poverty, began a great and laborious adventure, the building of a Canadian church.
Canada in 1659 was, in truth, of little account. Its French population did not amount to 2,000 people, divided among three centres of settlement over a distance of more than 60 leagues. The region of Quebec, formed of the town proper and the seigneuries of Beauport, Beaupré, Notre-Dame-des-Anges, and Lauson, offered the largest concentration of population with nearly 1,200 inhabitants; a few hundred settlers were established at Trois-Rivières or in the neighbouring seigneuries of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Sainte-Anne, and Champlain, which were barely beginning to develop; the island of Montreal, an outpost, was the last inhabited centre.
The numerical weakness of its population illustrates how little the colony had progressed since its foundation by Champlain* in 1608. The companies holding monopolies, on to which the state shifted the entire responsibility for the destinies of New France, completely neglected to meet their obligations, with the exception of the Compagnie des Cent Associés (1627), which, however, got off to a disastrous start from which it never recovered. The Communauté des Habitants took over entire responsibility for the country from 1645 on but did scarcely any better, as a result of the war with the Iroquois which almost completely paralysed the fur trade. An insufficient population, administrative institutions which had remained at the embryonic stage, the repeated attacks by the Iroquois, an economic crisis that had no solution, all these factors made even the most optimistic fear for the future of the colony.
As well as being a French colony, New France was a mission country. The Recollets had arrived first, in 1615; the Jesuits had joined them 10 years later. After the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1632 the Jesuits came back to New France alone. Henceforth they represented the church there, as their superior was the highest ecclesiastical authority in the country. The missions made remarkable progress: in a few years they extended to Acadia, Lac Saint-Jean, the Great Lakes, the Iroquois country. The Jesuits similarly ministered to the French. The mission was in better shape than the colony.
The Jesuits attempted, moreover, to make up for the weaknesses of the Compagnie des Cent Associés and the Communauté des Habitants. In their annual Relations they became propagandists for the mission, but also for the colony preventing Canada from falling into oblivion. They attracted settlers and established them on their seigneuries. They aroused in rich and powerful people an interest in New France and were thus able to endow the colony with a college in 1635, a seminary for girls and a hospital in 1639. Missionaries, parish priests, teachers, propagandists, colonizers, explorers, interpreters, on occasion ambassadors, the Jesuits – whose superior was in addition an ex officio member of the council – were everywhere, being involved in civil affairs just as much as in purely religious matters. The mission kept the colony going; the contrary would have been more normal.
The vicar apostolic, who reached Quebec on 16 June 1659, landed the next day and went to work without delay. He could count upon a limited number of ecclesiastics: 17 Jesuits, 4 Sulpicians, and 6 secular priests and lay brothers, one of whom had received only the tonsure. To the Jesuits he left the Indian missions, to the Sulpicians the care of the parish of Montreal, where they had been installed since 1657. The lay brothers were for their part to take charge of the ministry to the parishes in the region of Quebec, with Trois-Rivières temporarily under the spiritual guidance of the Jesuits. The bishop’s see would be at Quebec.
Bishop Laval’s first preoccupation was to have his authority recognized. He was obsessed by the idea that he might encounter in the colony the opposition that he had known in France. He was quite well aware of the activities of Abbé Queylus, who was for a time the archbishop of Rouen’s vicar general in Canada, and he particularly feared some attempt against his authority by the Sulpicians of Montreal. He was not mistaken. The biography of Abbé Queylus [Thubières*] relates the many episodes of the long jurisdictional dispute from which the vicar apostolic, supported by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, was to emerge victorious. Now, the arrival of a letter from Louis XIV to M. d’Argenson and dated 14 May 1659 provided Bishop Laval with an unhoped-for opportunity. In this letter the king directed the governor to have the authority of the vicar apostolic recognized everywhere and not to allow any vicar general appointed by the archbishop of Rouen to “take it upon himself to exercise any jurisdictional function.” Bishop Laval had this letter published and posted up from one end of the country to the other.
Around this time also the prelate set up an officiality, an ecclesiastical court which would deal with all disputes involving a member of the secular or regular clergy and judge all matters falling under the jurisdiction of the bishop. The haste with which the vicar apostolic created this tribunal – three months after his arrival – seems rather surprising when one considers, for example, that not a single parish was set up canonically. Bishop Laval was arming himself against possible opponents. In the context of Gallicanism, however, this measure looked like a challenge to the civil authority.
“Great disagreements among the authorities” soon arose as a result of the presence of the officiality, but also of numerous quarrels over precedence. Today these disputes may seem trifling. But French society in the 17th century was sensitive about the concept of honour. It was imbued with respect for everything that appertained to the monarch or concerned him directly or indirectly. In this society which was, furthermore, built on a strongly hierarchical system, all the king’s representatives, from the governor down to the humblest legal officer, had precise roles to play to which were attached certain allotted honours that had been minutely evaluated and rigidly fixed. Supplementary honours, whether conferred by the state or by the church, were an enviable reward and sometimes took the place of a salary. Consequently, anyone who felt that he was being wronged in a question of position defended himself bitterly.
For 25 years many ways of doing things had been adopted in New France which were not always in conformity with the customs observed in the kingdom or which could be attributed to the absence of a bishop. Thus the governor had his prie-dieu in the place of greatest honour in the choir of the church and regularly attended, as honorary churchwarden, discussions of the parish council of Quebec. Bishop Laval, who was anxious to suppress abuses and defend his young church against inopportune interference by the state, decided to put things in order before it was too late. His intention was laudable. But perhaps, in the ardour of his 36 years and his somewhat impetuous zeal, he did not use enough tact and diplomacy and was needlessly abrupt with a governor who was jealous of his own privileges and who was, moreover, ill disposed towards this young prelate whose first act had been to set up an ecclesiastical court in the face of civil justice. The governor became stubborn and absolutely refused to give way, as did the bishop. Constantly refueled with new incidents, which were most often provoked by Bishop Laval, the conflict grew worse month by month. ‘We thought it would end in violence,” observed the superior of the Jesuits, who discreetly blamed the bishop.
At the root of these quarrels there was doubtless a burning desire in Bishop Laval to see his authority recognized and his church out of the reach of the state’s enterprises; for this, as Louis XIV was to write in 1665, it was absolutely necessary “that the right balance be maintained between the temporal authority, which resides in the person of the king and those who represent him, and the spiritual, which resides in the person of His Excellency the Bishop and the Jesuits, in such a way, however, that the latter authority be subordinate to the other.” But there was also, on the part of the governor and several settlers, a refusal to accord the vicar apostolic the same authority as a bishop sitting at the head of his diocese. For them the Bishop of Petraea could not be the bishop of Quebec. At first the religious communities had hesitated themselves: must they obey this “apostolic commissioner” who had come to Canada “under the foreign title of Bishop of Petraea,” or the vicar general of the archbishop of Rouen? When they finally accepted Bishop Laval’s authority, the nuns did not bring with them the adherence of the whole population – far from it. Montreal in particular remained more or less hostile to the vicar apostolic.
All were in agreement, however, about Bishop Laval’s personal qualities. His deep piety, his charity, his humility were praised. “He lives like a saint and apostle,” wrote Marie de l’Incarnation. Despite his illustrious origins and his new dignity, he performed the most humble services, as he had done formerly in Paris and Caen, caring for the ill, making their beds, administering the last sacrament to the Indians. In the autumn of 1659, for example, an epidemic, brought by a ship, broke out. Bishop Laval was constantly at the hospital, despite the efforts made to dissuade him and the obvious danger of being stricken himself. He did not spare his energies, and he was prodigal of his own possessions when it came to aiding the poor. He who had only 1,000 livres of guaranteed income distributed enormous sums secretly (10,000 écus in three years, according to Bertrand de Latour*). He lived shabbily, moreover, first in seclusion with the Nuns Hospitallers, then with the Ursulines, and finally with the Jesuits, before acquiring in 1662 an old house where he brought together his little group of ecclesiastics.
Despite the numerous difficulties he encountered, Bishop Laval was extremely active. In 1660 he had completed his first pastoral visit, which had begun at Gaspé, where he had stopped off at the time of his crossing to Canada. He had conferred the sacrament of confirmation upon hundreds of whites and Indians. He had, in addition, attacked from its very beginnings the trade in spirits: being an enemy of half measures and having the support of his clergy, whom he had consulted about this question on three occasions, he had fulminated an excommunication against refractory traffickers. This energetic intervention on his part incurred the opposition of the businessmen, which was open, and that of the governor, more or less admitted. It added more fuel to the already existing “disagreements.” Seeing that he would never stamp out this trade without the powerful aid of the king, Bishop Laval decided in 1662 to go to explain to Louis XIV both his viewpoint on the liquor trade and also the most urgent needs of his church.
He received a sympathetic welcome at court. Louis XIV gratified all his wishes: he promised to forbid explicitly the trade in spirits and to recall Dubois* Davaugour, who had favoured it; he even invited the prelate to choose the new governor; and finally, he appointed Bishop Laval as of then (1662) to the bishopric of Quebec.
It is reasonable to believe that Louis XIV and Bishop Laval discussed at length the reorganization of New France, which would be put under the direct authority of the king. Probably the prelate was likewise consulted about the idea of creating a Conseil Souverain (1663), in which he was to be the second personage, right after the governor. Abbé Bertrand de Latour, Bishop Laval’s earliest biographer, even goes so far as to affirm that “the Conscil Souverain of Canada was the work of its first bishop.” However that may be, Bishop Laval received from the king political powers which put him in certain respects on an equal footing with the governor: “conjointly and in agreement” with him, he was charged with appointing councillors and granting seigneuries. More than that, when he returned to New France in 1663 in company with the new governor, Saffray* de Mézy, and a royal commissioner, Gaudais-Dupont*, it was he whom the king had entrusted with the responsibility of bringing to Canada the edict creating the Conseil Souverain.
Was this Louis XIV, who in 1662 and 1663 interested himself in building up the political power of the Canadian church, the same person who from 1665 on was to take umbrage at any interference in civil affairs, real or supposed, by the church of the colony, and who was to concern himself so much with keeping the clergy in a state of subordination to the state for fear that the bishop and the Jesuits “might establish their authority too firmly through the fear of excommunication and through an excessively severe way of life that they wish to maintain”? Did not Louis XIV go so far as to make grave accusations, as if he had forgotten events that were, however, recent: “To maintain their position [in the colony] they [the Jesuits] were very pleased to designate the Bishop of Petraea to carry out the duties of bishop there since he was entirely under their domination, and up till now they have even designated governors for the King in that country, where they have employed all means possible to obtain the recall of those who had been chosen for that post without their participation . . .”? Is the king’s attitude in 1662 and 1663 to be explained by his ignorance of the abnormal politico-religious situation which still prevailed in Canada at that time? Or must this radical change be attributed to Colbert, who had become minister of the Marine just previously and who was a convinced Gallican? The fact remains that Louis XIV contributed greatly to setting the church and the state in the colony at odds. The quarrels and acts of violence over the composition of the council which characterized M. de Mézy’s government were prepared by the king himself. One day Louis XIV was to regret the extreme liberality towards the church in Canada that marked the beginning of his reign. In 1677 Colbert echoed this feeling when he wrote: “I see that the bishop of Quebec pretends to an authority a little too independent of the royal authority, and for this reason it would perhaps be good that he not have a seat on the council. . . .”
Strong in his appointment to the future see of Quebec and the knowledge that he had acquired of the religious situation in New France, Bishop Laval had not wanted to leave Paris without laying the foundations of his church. To assure the colony of the priests that it needed, he conceived the idea of a seminary, which for years was to be the centre and soul of religious life in Canada. By an ordinance published in Paris on 26 March 1663 and confirmed by the king the following month, the vicar apostolic founded the seminary of Quebec.
In Bishop Laval’s mind the seminary of Quebec was, to be sure, a theological seminary, “in which will be educated and formed the young clerics who appear fitted to God’s service and to whom, for this purpose, will be taught the way to administer the sacraments properly, the method of catechizing and of doing missionary preaching; they will be taught moral theology, the ceremonies, the Gregorian plain-song, and other things pertaining to the duties of a good ecclesiastic.” But Bishop Laval’s seminary was much more than that: “We are setting up,” declared the prelate, “a seminary which will act as the clergy for this new church, . . . a reserve from which we can draw pious and capable persons, to send them on all occasions and when need arises to the parishes and other places in this country in order to fulfil the functions of a parish priest and any others for which they have been intended and whom we can withdraw from the same parishes and functions when the moment is judged opportune. . . .” Bishop Laval conceived his seminary then as a true community of secular priests “which will be directed and governed by the superiors whom we or the bishops of New France who succeed us appoint to it, and according to the regulations which we establish to this purpose.” Clergy and seminary were all one in Bishop Laval’s mind: the seminary of Quebec would be the clergy of New France.
The prelate specified that the future chapter of the bishopric of Quebec would be constituted “within the said seminary and clergy”; all pastoral charges would be united with the seminary, to which the tithes would be paid; the seminary would provide for the needs of the parish priests and would promise to support them “in sickness as in health, either in the exercise of their functions or in the community when they are recalled to it.” In return for this promise the seminary would demand the renunciation of property, that is to say, the pooling of all its members’ wealth and revenues. Membership in the seminary was nevertheless free for secular priests; Abbés Le Sueur* and Le Bey, who had already been in the colony in 1659, did not join it. But in practice it was difficult for anyone who dreamed of receiving a charge not to join the seminary first.
At Bishop Laval’s request the seminary of Quebec was affiliated on 29 Jan. 1665 with the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris, with which it was to maintain close links of friendly collaboration.
Bishop Laval’s seminary corresponded perfectly to the needs of the church in Canada in 1663 and in addition ensured admirable unity in it. It rendered great services as long as Bishop Laval directed it himself; but of necessity it was, in certain respects, provisional in nature. With the development of the colony and once the parishes were able to support the parish priests, this diocesan community of the clergy no longer had any reason to exist. Under Bishop Laval, whose prestige was great, and because of the strong friendship which united him with his priests, the prelate and the seminary collaborated closely and in the most complete harmony. But under a new bishop everything would perhaps not go so well; it would first be necessary that this bishop agree to exercise his authority over the clergy and the parishes only through the intermediary of the directors of the seminary. Bishop Laval’s successor, Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix], refused categorically to do so.
The ordinance which founded the seminary of Quebec and which was registered at Quebec on 10 Oct. 1663 instituted the tithe in Canada at the same time. Bishop Laval set it at a 13th, an amount to which the king gave his approval. Unfortunately the prelate deemed it fitting a month later to make an exception for the members of the parish of Quebec: they were dispensed from paying the tithe for the year 1663, and it was set for them alone at a 20th for the following six years. Immediately, in every part of the colony, people began to hope for a similar reduction; in the meantime they refused to provide for the needs of the clergy. This was the cause of great difficulties and serious disputes. M. de Mézy supported the settlers. Bishop Laval first extended to the whole country the privilege that had been granted to the parish of Quebec, then he set the tithe at a 20th for his lifetime, and finally he postponed until 1665 the application of this regulation. Nevertheless the tithe remained unpaid until 1667, when, on 23 August, Prouville* de Tracy set it at a 26th for 20 years and a 20th after that. Willy-nilly, the settlers submitted to these arrangements rather than be dragged before the courts. In 1707, after an unsuccessful challenge by Louis-Gaspard Dufournel*, the tithe was finally set at a 26th. In this affair Bishop Laval, who was so firm and intractable when questions of principle or morality were threatened, proved to be easy to deal with and understanding, even a little weak in the face of the settlers’ resistance. That alone would be sufficient to warrant a revision of certain opinions of his character.
When M. de Mézy died, after a reconciliation with the bishop and the clergy, there began for Bishop Laval a short period of peace, if not of perfect harmony, with the representatives of the state. M. de Tracy’s presence contributed greatly to it. The prelate, who had established the parish of Quebec canonically in 1664, consecrated its church in 1666. During these few years he gave his attention to introducing into Canada a certain number of devotions, such as that to the Holy Family, to which he was particularly attached, and that to Saint Anne. On 9 Oct. 1668, at Quebec, he founded his Petit Séminaire, called the Seminary of the Infant Jesus. Eight young Canadians who were destined for the ecclesiastical calling and six Hurons whom it was proposed to acculturate were its first pupils. They were accommodated and brought up at the Petit Séminaire and took their courses at the Jesuit college. Around the same period Bishop Laval set up at Saint-Joachim a trades school, as well as a primary school where children would learn reading and arithmetic.
Suddenly, on 10 Oct. 1668, a new crisis began to build up. But here it is advisable to go back a little.
In 1657, by a decree of his council the king had confirmed the prohibition of the trade in spirits which had been in effect in the colony since Champlain’s time. On 5 May 1660 Bishop Laval had in turn forbidden, under pain of excommunication ipso facto, the giving of intoxicating beverages to the Indians. Some time later he had excommunicated by name the trafficker Pierre Aigron*, dit Lamothe. Since the trade had ceased, under the double threat of civil and ecclesiastical sanctions, Bishop Laval lifted his general excommunication in October 1661, to reimpose it on 24 Feb. 1662, shortly after the governor-general, Davaugour, had in an unreflecting moment announced that he was in favour of this commerce. Just previously in Paris the theologians of the Sorbonne, who had been called upon by the vicar apostolic to consider the question, had expressed the opinion that “in view of the disorders which arise from the sale of such beverages to the Americans [i.e. the Indians], the ordinary or prelate may, under pain of excommunication ipso facto, forbid the Europeans to sell such beverages and may treat those who are disobedient and refractory as being under excommunication.” As a result of Davaugour’s conciliatory attitude, however, the trade had reached such proportions and the disorders had become so serious that Bishop Laval had decided to go to France to seek Louis XIV’s support.
When he returned to Quebec in 1663 the vicar apostolic noted with satisfaction that the traffickers had given in under the effect of the terror produced by the great earthquake of 1663. M. de Mézy, the new governor, and Bishop Laval agreed to forbid conjointly the trade in alcoholic beverages. The union of church and state on this matter lasted until 10 Oct. 1668. Then, at Intendant Talon*’s instigation, the Conscil Souverain permitted trade in spirits, although forbidding the Indians to get drunk, which was an absurdity, considering their particular dispositions. In answer to this, on 21 April 1669 Bishop Laval made a reserved sin of getting Indians drunk and giving them alcoholic beverages to take to their villages.
At that moment the great quarrel of the trade in spirits broke out. Until then, in fact, and except for the incident caused by Davaugour, the church and the state had had a common policy, at least officially. But from then on Bishop Laval, the missionaries, and the clergy were under constant attack from all those – and they were numerous – who were in favour of the trade. They were accused of interfering in a matter of commercial policy which rested exclusively with the civil police. The bishop in particular was reproached for his reserved sin. In 1674 Bishop Laval again submitted the question to the theologians of the Sorbonne. The reply, dated 8 March 1675, decided in his favour on the two points that had been proposed: the trade in spirits constituted a mortal sin, and the ordinary had the right to take appropriate measures to curtail this commerce, such as making a reserved sin of it.
In his fights against the civil authority, particularly in those which he waged against the trade in spirits, Bishop Laval found his episcopal authority questioned everywhere, owing to the fact that he was only the vicar apostolic. Until 1664 he himself had not doubted that he had all the powers of an ordinary; consequently he created in all good faith an officiality, a seminary, and the parish of Quebec. When he finally discovered the limitations on his office, he besought Rome to establish a see at Quebec, so that he could organize his church and confront with greater powers the “perpetual and scornful rivals of the ecclesiastical authority” in Canada.
At first this request did not seem to be of a nature to stir up any objections. In 1662 Louis XIV had assured Bishop Laval of his appointment to the future see of Quebec, which shortly afterwards he asked the pope to establish. The vicar apostolic had lost no time in backing up this initiative. Thereupon the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith had expressed the opinion that the time had come, indeed, to endow New France with a diocese. But Louis XIV had finally given such proportions to the incident of the Corsican guard (20 Aug. 1662), that relations between Rome and Paris had deteriorated completely; after that the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith had proven to be more reticent about the plan for a see, no longer promising to do other than examine it attentively.
The king soon demanded that the future see of Quebec should be attached to that of Rouen. Not being willing to give way on this point, Rome paid no attention to the matter for two years, from 1664 to 1666. But from Quebec Bishop Laval was sending urgent letters to the Holy See, setting forth the activities of the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales which, on the pretext that there was no ordinary in Canada, was preparing to send priests there, set up parishes, and appoint priests to them. Besides, the settlers were contesting the vicar apostolic’s right to institute and collect tithes. In 1666 Rome resumed its examination of the matter, but a new demand from Louis XIV again slowed it up: this time the king wanted the establishment of the see of Quebec to be carried out in a manner which would respect the privileges of the Gallican church. While Bishop Laval was fretting vainly in Quebec, Rome finally sent Paris, on 18 June 1668, a model of a bull, “to receive thereon the King’s orders.” The document was studied, then sent back to the Holy See. The chief obstacle continued to be the question of subordination to the archbishopric of Rouen.
In 1669, tired of waiting and seeing his church threatened with ruin, Bishop Laval made the supreme concession: he wrote to Rome and accepted that the future see be subordinated to Rouen if the cardinals considered that it should be. That same year Louis XIV and Colbert, realizing that the discussions with the Holy See would never end, gave up the condition that they had maintained till then for the establishment of the see of Quebec, that is to say the subordination to Rouen!
The matter was proceeding extremely well in 1670, but Bishop Laval found it impossible to pay the high costs of the creation of his diocese. Not having a personal fortune, he wrote one plea after another, requesting that his bulls be sent him free of charge. Having become anxious, he went to France in 1671 with the determination never to return to Canada unless the diocese was established. Rome finally agreed to reduce the costs. The bulls were not sent until 4 Oct. 1674. Bishop Laval took the oath of loyalty to the king and sailed for Canada at the end of May 1675.
From that time on the diocese of Quebec escaped completely from the claims of the archbishop of Rouen, but not yet from those of the archbishop of Paris, the same Harlay de Champvallon, who had been promoted from Rouen to Paris. This time Harlay tried to make Quebec subordinate to the “principal” diocese of France. But in 1679 he had to give up this project, to which Rome would never have given its approval.
Bishop Laval landed at Quebec at the beginning of September 1675, after an absence of four years. As titular bishop he took possession of his cathedral, renewed several of his ordinances, confirmed the creation of the officiality and the parish of Quebec, and formed a temporary chapter, since he could not establish it canonically. He drew his canons from the seminary; shortly before leaving Paris he had renewed the act of union of the seminary with the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères. Then in the spring of 1676 he set out to visit his parish.
At the moment when Bishop Laval was ensuring greater stability for his church, Louis XIV was reorganizing the Conseil Souverain of Quebec. On 5 June 1675 he raised the number of councillors to seven – in addition to the governor, the bishop, and the intendant – who would henceforth be appointed by the king for life. Bishop Laval got back the second place, which had been his before the arrival of Jean Talon. The state therefore maintained an important role for the church in civil affairs in Canada.
Bishop Laval was perfectly aware of the numerous quarrels which, during his absence from 1672 to 1675, had sorely tried the union of church and state and which were one of the reasons for the reorganization of the council. Now in 1676 two important questions still set the “authorities” against each other: the trade in spirits and the creation of parishes. The bishop considered it was necessary to assign to Paris a trusty and devoted representative who would defend the position of the church in Canada and reply to the attacks of Louis de Buade* de Frontenac and his allies. He chose Abbé Jean Dudouyt*.
The mission that was entrusted to M. Dudouyt was all the more necessary since the clergy in New France was no longer as united as it had been earlier. Indeed, in 1670 the Recollets had returned to Canada on Jean Talon’s instigation and had been commissioned by the state to counterbalance the authority and severity of the Jesuits and the secular clergy in Canada, who were accused of “tormenting people’s consciences.” These worthy religious, who from 1672 on were patronized by Frontenac, took their role seriously and became docile tools of the governor. On the trade in spirits, the creation of parishes, the tithe, they adopted and preached up Frontenac’s opinions, being moreover entirely at his orders rather than the bishop’s. Bishop Laval, who knew the reasons for their coming, had nevertheless received them charitably, had assigned them missionary fields, and continued to lavish marks of esteem upon them. It was to no avail. The Recollets surpassed Frontenac’s clan in the calumnies spread at court against the bishop and the Jesuits – who, it was said, had forbidden the trade in spirits simply to engage in it themselves on a greater scale and who were more interested in converting beaver skins than in converting souls.
Bishop Laval had taken advantage of his stay in Paris to consult the theologians of the Sorbonne again on the question of trafficking in spirits. He received from them an opinion favourable in every respect to his own thesis. In the hope of obtaining a contrary opinion, his adversaries applied to the theologians of the University of Toulouse. The reply differed entirely from that given by the Sorbonne: “The Bishop of Quebec cannot legally make a mortal sin, and even less a reserved sin, of the sale of spirits.” This conclusion was likely to harm Bishop Laval’s cause. Therefore, upon his arrival in Paris M. Dudouyt requested an interview with Colbert. On 27 April 1677 he explained to him the reasons for Bishop Laval’s attitude but did not convince him. A second audience on 11 May left some hope, as the minister had listened to him more patiently. He therefore recommended that the bishop prepare a complete report on the question; the court had sent a similar request to the intendant, Duchesneau*.
Obviously Louis XIV was determined to settle the dispute. He ordered Frontenac to convoke 20 of the leading inhabitants of Canada and collect their opinions on the trade in spirits. The Conseil Souverain chose these representatives, who met on 28 Oct. 1678. Since almost all of them were engaged in commerce, the majority declared themselves in favour of complete freedom for the trade in spirits. The council charged Messrs Nicolas Dupont and Jean-Baptiste de Peiras with taking the result of the consultation to the court. The situation was critical for the church in Canada. Despite infirmities which were becoming more and more overwhelming, Bishop Laval sailed immediately for France, in an ultimate effort to convince the king of the rightness of his cause.
Louis XIV entrusted to his confessor, Father La Chaise, and the archbishop of Paris the task of studying the reports received from Canada on the trafficking in alcoholic beverages. Then, on 24 May 1679 he published an ordinance forbidding trade in spirits outside the French settlements. Bishop Laval promised to bring the case of reserved sin into accord with the dispositions of the ordinance. This outcome of a struggle that had lasted 20 years was enough to disappoint the old bishop profoundly; he could, nonetheless, gather some solace from the fact that the traffickers in alcohol would no longer be able legally to seek out the Indians even in their most remote villages.
The question of the creation of parishes was likewise debated in France during the winter of 1678–79, in Bishop Laval’s presence. In confirming the founding of the seminary of Quebec in 1663 Louis XIV had approved the double principle of the removability of parish priests and the payment of tithes to the seminary, which assumed responsibility for redistributing them equitably to the officiating priests of the various parishes. Now, with time and, it seems, under the influence of Jean Talon, this system – the only one which could be applied to New France at that period – was criticized and then violently opposed. Bishop Laval was accused of not wanting to set up parishes. To that there were two replies: on the one hand, as long as he was vicar apostolic Bishop Laval did not have the necessary powers for setting up parishes – which he found out only after he had “erected” that of Quebec in 1664; on the other hand he could set up parishes only if the subsistence of the parish priests was assured. Around the period 1675–80 no “parish” was yet capable of keeping a parish priest, not to speak of building a church or a presbytery. To assure the necessary income it would have been necessary to increase considerably the number of parishioners by extending indefinitely the boundaries of the parishes, which would consequently have become mission territories again.
On the question of parishes, just as on that of the trade in spirits, Bishop Laval had to give in to the king’s will. In May 1679 Louis XIV signed an edict concerning “tithes and fixed parishes”: the tithes would in the future belong to the priest of the parish, “in which he would be established permanently, in place of the removable priest who ministered to it previously.” Bishop Laval carried this edict out without any bad grace. As early as 1678 he had consulted with Frontenac and Duchesneau on the manner of assuring the subsistence of the parish priests. Shortly afterwards he had created seven parishes. “In most of these parishes,” he wrote, “the settlers have not been willing to conform to the decision of the conference concerning the feeding and upkeep of their priests. No matter; I have sent my missionaries to spend the winter among them, binding myself to furnish them what they would need.” Working in conjunction with the intendant, Bishop Laval created six new parishes in 1684; again, not one of them was capable of providing for the upkeep of its priest. Help from the seminary and the state was necessary. This was abundant proof of Bishop Laval’s wisdom when he conceived his seminary in 1663; despite the new regime, which was instituted in principle by the edict of 1679, the seminary continued nevertheless to support the parishes.
Bishop Laval returned to Canada in the autumn of 1680, after being busy for more than a year with other questions concerning his church, in particular with the canonical union of the abbeys of Maubec and Lestrées with his bishopric – which, however, he was not able to bring about. In 1681 he visited his diocese.
The year 1681 saw the beginning of new difficulties between the bishop and the Recollets. The latter had just obtained from the king the site of the former seneschal’s court, with a view to building on it a hospice, which would serve as a retreat for them when they were staying in Quebec. Bishop Laval received this project favourably but specified, in conformity with the royal document, that this place of retreat was not to be transformed into a convent or used for public religious services. The religious nonetheless made a convent of it, topped it with a belfry [see Henri Le Roy], held services for the public, and openly disregarded the bishop’s instructions. The latter rescinded the authorization he had given them to build a hospice; in retaliation the Recollets gave up their missions. Bishop Laval was finally compelled to forbid them to exercise any ecclesiastical functions. Once more the king had to settle the dispute: he ordered the belfry to be destroyed, but the convent continued to exist. Conciliatory as usual, Bishop Laval had, at the beginning of this dispute, invited a Recollet, Father Adrian Ladan, to preach the Advent sermons at the cathedral. The religious took advantage of this to reprimand the intendant and Frontenac’s adversaries; Bishop Laval’s warnings had no effect on him. The Recollets were conscientiously playing the role that the state had entrusted them with. . . .
With the exception of the Recollets and, for a time, the Sulpicians, Bishop Laval’s relations with the various religious communities in his diocese were always excellent and were characterized by mutual esteem and respect. The prelate, it is true, was not always in agreement with the superiors of the different communities, but their harmony was never disturbed by that. For example, Bishop Laval was not very much in favour of the multiplication of religious orders in his diocese: he would have liked to join together the two communities of nuns hospitallers, just as he wanted to unite the nuns of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame with the Ursulines. In the meantime he helped each group as best he could and finally acknowledged the separate existence of each. From 1668 on he was on good terms with the Sulpicians, even making M. de Queylus, whom he had allowed to return to Montreal, his vicar general. His charity and humility left no room in Bishop Laval for rancour or shabby actions.
On his return from his pastoral visit in 1681 the prelate, who was exhausted, fell seriously ill: “Within two weeks all hope had been given up.” He would soon be 60, and his health was declining. He became convinced that a younger and more robust bishop would do more good than he from then on and that he had to present his resignation to the king. Before doing so he wanted to complete some aspects of his work. He saw to the founding of six new parishes, set his chapter up canonically in 1684, and entrusted to the seminary the executing of some projects, leaving 8,000 livres for the construction of the seminary chapel, foreseen in the plans for the building which had been started in 1678, 4,000 livres for the construction of a church at Saint-Joachim, and 8,000 livres for the upkeep of the priest who would minister to this parish and would direct the arts and crafts school that he had created there. In the autumn he sailed for France.
When his resignation had been accepted, Bishop Laval agreed to remain bishop of Quebec until the consecration of his successor, Abbé Saint-Vallier, whom he had chosen with the utmost care. However, as the strained relations existing at the time between Paris and Rome did not permit the bulls to be sent immediately, Abbé Saint-Vallier went to Canada in 1685 with the title of vicar general. On his return to Paris in January 1687 he had some disputes with Bishop Laval about the seminary of Quebec. At that point the old bishop realized that his successor intended to alter profoundly the organization of the church in Canada, of which his beloved seminary was the keystone. Only one solution was open to him to save his work: induce Abbé Saint-Vallier, who had not yet received his bulls, to renounce his see. Bishop Laval had the most influential personages intervene, but in vain; Abbé Saint-Vallier would not give in, but contented himself with explaining his attitude and promising to be moderate.
In the spring of 1687 Bishop Laval was preparing to leave for Canada, where he wanted to finish his days. The Marquis de Seignelay prevented him from doing so, fearing that his presence there would be a source of quarrels and division. Bishop Laval wrote to Father La Chaise, to Seignelay himself, but had no success in moving them. From then on he gave himself over to God’s will and wrote his priests an admirable letter full of resignation before this immense trial which he accepted “with a heart filled with joy and consolation.”
Abbé Saint-Vallier was consecrated bishop on 25 Jan. 1688. Bishop Laval became Monseigneur 1’Ancien. With the support of the new bishop and after promising not to cause him any difficulty, Bishop Laval received permission to return to Quebec. He arrived there on 3 June, and Bishop Saint-Vallier on 31 July.
Monseigneur l’Ancien’s return to the colony delighted not only his priests but the whole population, over which, according to the governor-general, Brisay de Denonville, he had “great influence because of his character and his reputation for saintliness.” Though certain representatives of the civil authority and most of the businessmen, who were interested in the trade in spirits, were opposed to him, the settlers, despite the difficulties caused by the establishment of tithes, sincerely loved and venerated this courageous bishop who was completely devoted to his church and whose piety, humility, and above all immense charity they were well acquainted with. People everywhere were conscious of the progress accomplished under Bishop Laval: from 5 in 1659 the number of parishes had become 35 in 1688; the number of priests had increased from 24 to 102 (36 Jesuits, 19 Sulpicians, 14 Recollets, and 33 secular priests), and from 32 the number of nuns had risen to about 97. Nor were people indifferent to the fact that 13 Canadian priests were already at work in Canada and that 50 Canadian nuns had pronounced their perpetual vows in the various communities at Quebec and Montreal. In addition to laying the bases of a national church, Bishop Laval had made a very successful start on its erection.
He went back to the seminary to live. A donné, Brother Hubert Houssart, was assigned to serve him. The prelate no longer gave thought to anything but prayer and mortification, limiting his outside activities entirely to acts of charity, a charity that was, moreover, very unobtrusive. He gave away everything he owned, asking for nothing that was not for his poor, for whom he even kept the greater part of his meals. When he had nothing left, he knew that his end was near. He attended all the parish services, being the first in the church every morning, well before sunrise and even in the coldest weather. He was completely withdrawn from church affairs and was no longer interested in anything but his beloved seminary, upon which he continued to lavish his counsels, and the seminarists, whose progress he followed closely, and with whom he was fond of chatting during their periods of relaxation. Bochart de Champigny, the intendant, described aptly the old bishop’s new existence in one short sentence: “He lived in his retirement in a saintly manner, concerning himself only with the direction of his seminary.”
His seminary! How much grief it was to cause him in his last years! At first, Bishop Saint-Vallier was violently opposed to the parishes being united with it, and finally, in 1692, he obtained from the king a complete separation, the seminary being reduced to nothing more than an institution for training future priests. This meant the destruction of Bishop Laval’s great work. It had to happen sooner or later, it is true; but who would think of reproaching the old bishop for his attachment to his life’s work – this seminary to which he had made over all his landed property – especially after Bishop Saint-Vallier’s severity towards him and his collaborators? At the height of the bishop’s quarrel with the seminary, Bishop Laval had prudently withdrawn to Saint-Joachim to avoid having to intervene and oppose his successor openly. In the attitude of Bishop Saint-Vallier, whose personal sincerity he recognized, he saw almost the action of some evil power bent upon destroying this new church. The prospect wrung cries of pain from him. But on learning the news of the re-formation of his seminary, he submitted as usual to the ways of providence, forgetting himself to console his priests and incite them to submission. Even though he was wounded to the depths of his soul, he preached reconciliation and peace: never had his virtue been more heroic.
The wounds caused by the re-formation of the seminary were not yet healed when a new disaster fell upon this institution. On 15 Nov. 1701 a fire destroyed in a few hours the seminary, the chapel, and the presbytery. This was a painful trial for Bishop Laval. As he was very old, would he see his seminary standing again? The rebuilding was done with great fervour; everything but the chapel was soon restored. But scarcely was the end of the work in sight when on 1 Oct. 1705 almost all the seminary was again destroyed by fire. His Excellency, wrote Brother Houssart, “did not lose for a single moment his peace, his joy, or his tranquillity, because these accidents were not matters capable of affecting his patience and his virtue, which were far above all that.” And the humble brother added that “only the interests of God, virtue, and religion were capable of moving him,” which illustrates perfectly this bishop’s whole life.
In the middle of these harsh trials Bishop Laval had to come out of his retreat somewhat to fulfil on occasion the episcopal functions of Bishop Saint-Vallier, who had left in 1700, not to return to the colony until 1713. Monseigneur 1’Ancien had, besides, always helped his bishop, without ever revealing in public his feelings on questions which were likely to set him against Saint-Vallier. In his successor’s absence he particularly insisted always upon attending services in the cathedral, to enhance them by a bishop’s presence. It was in so doing that during Holy Week of 1708 he contracted a chilblain on his heel which became worse and soon brought him to death’s door. He died on 6 May, at half past seven in the morning. His body lay in state in the cathedral.
“Immediately after his death the people canonized him, as it were,” wrote Intendant Raudot, “having had the same veneration for his body as for those of the saints, when they had come in crowds from all parts while he was exposed on his bed of state and in the church, to touch him with their chaplets and prayer-books. They even cut off pieces of his robe, which several have had enshrined in silver, and they treat them as relics.”
The funeral took place on 9 May. M. Glandelet pronounced the funeral oration. Then the first bishop of Quebec was buried under the cathedral.
It is impossible to list here in detail the thousands of documents concerning Bishop Laval’s long career; that would require an almost complete inventory of the archives of the 17th century preserved at the AAQ, the ASQ, and to a lesser degree at the AQ. Fortunately the principal documents of interest have been published in the following work: Quebecen. Beatificationis et Canonizationis Ven. Servi Dei. Francisci de Montmorency-Laval Episcopi Quebecencis (†1708). Altera Nova Positio Super Virtutibus Ex Officis Critice Disposita, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, MCMLVI. In this are to be found, in addition to the documents drawn from the archives mentioned above, long extracts from the JJ and JR, the correspondence of the governors, intendants, and Marie de l’Incarnation, the Jug. et délib., the Mandements des évêques de Québec (Têtu et Gagnon), I, the Annales de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec by Mother Juchereau, etc., as well as the earliest biography of this bishop, Mémoires sur la vie de M. de Laval, premier évêque de Québec, by Bertrand de Latour, published in 1761, and the useful letter from Brother Houssart on the last years and death of Laval.
Studies on Bishop Laval are also numerous. All the general histories devote much space to him; we shall not list them here, contenting ourselves with mentioning the following studies. Émile Bégin, François de Laval (Québec, 1959). [Faillon], Histoire de la colonie française. Auguste Gosselin, L’Église du Canada, I; Henri de Bernières, premier curé de Québec (Les Normands au Canada, Québec, 1902); Vie de Mgr de Laval. Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle, I, II, III. H. H. Walsh, The church in the French era (A history of the Christian church in Canada, ed. J. W. Grant, I, Toronto, 1966).
© 1969–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
André Vachon, “LAVAL, FRANÇOIS DE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/laval_francois_de_2E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||André Vachon|
|Title of Article:||LAVAL, FRANÇOIS DE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1969|
|Year of revision:||1982|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|