THE WHITE AND THE GOLD
The Embattled "Angel of Heaven"
Bishop Laval fought the flow of brandy to the Indians and fought a succession of governors lor greater powers lor the Church. He didn t always win hut he did huild a powerful legacy that has lasted to our day
THOMAS B. COSTAIN
IN JUNE 1659 there came to Canada François Xavier de Laval-Montmorency, Abbé de Montigny, who was destined to become one of the outstanding figures of early Canadian history; a controversial figure who was both feared and loved, a man of iron determination in his public acts and of deep humility in his private life.
Seeds of dissension had been sown before Bishop Laval’s arrival. In 1657, the Company of Montreal, the private concern which had been trying to rule the second largest settlement of New France from Paris, was forced to surrender its charter. The original founders of Montreal were no longer capable of providing satisfactorily for the needs of the growing town and a more direct form of control had become desirable. The newly created Seminary of St. Sulpice was invited to assume the task.
The transfer of Montreal Island to the Sulpicians was not to be brought about without difficulty. The first contingent, consisting of four members, found itself involved at once in a sharp flare-up of the strained feelings between Quebec and Montreal. There had been a growing realization of the need for a permanent head of the church in Canada. The vows of the Jesuits, who had arrived much earlier, precluded any of them from accepting a bishopric, and it occurred to the Sulpicians that one of their number might reasonably be selected. They moved quickly to secure for one of the original four, the Abbé de Queylus, the approval of the Assembly of the French Clergy. The Jesuits had not been concerned prior to this but they began now to see the disadvantages of a bishopric vested in another order; particularly in view of their great services in the colony and the extent of their sacrifices. They started quietly to use their enormous interest at court. They used it to such good advantage that Cardinal Mazarin temporized and delayed his sanction of the appointment of the Abbé de Queylus.
Queylus was a man of high character and undoubted capacity. But he proceeded to demonstrate that he was both aggressive and ambitious and quite lacking in discretion. He paid a visit to Quebec soon after his arrival and preached twö inflammatory sermons. While in Quebec he received letters from the Archbishop of Rouen appointing him vicar-general for all of Canada. The archbishop had been taking the position that Canada was under his jurisdiction because most of the ships bound for the colony sailed from ports in his diocese, and his appointment of Queylus was his first move to have this recognized. The latter now considered himself safely seated in the saddle and he lashed out at the Jesuits so vigorously from the pulpit that they retaliated in kind, declaring that the ahbé was warring on them more savagely than the Iroquois.
In the meantime there had been a stirring under the surface in France. Largely due to the influence of Anne of Austria, Pope Alexander VII conferred the new post of Vicar-Apostolic of Canada on Laval. He was a relatively young man of thirty-six and, although his family was both wealthy and great (“as noble as a Montmorency” was a common saying in France), he had devoted himself to good works and had lived an extremely ascetic life. The
Queen Mother was delighted with the appointment. She set aside for him from her own funds a pension of one thousand livres annually and she wrote personally to Governor d’Argenson in Quebec, “I wish to join this letter to that of the King, my son, to let you know that, according to his inclination and to mine, you must have the Bishop of Petraea acknowledged as vicar-apostolic all over f he country of Canada.”
Her son, the twenty-one-year-old Louis XIV, was somewhat less enthusiastic. For in making (his appointment the Pope had shrewdly kept in mind a conflict which was sharply dividing the church in France into two camps, the Gallican parly which believed that, all temporal power belonged to the King and the papal party which considered the Pope supreme in everything. The Jesuit order was strongly committed to the latter view. In appointing Laval vicar-apostolic instead of Bishop of Quebec the Pope placed him directly under papal supervision. The bishopric of Petraea was a nominal title.
It was six in the afternoon when Laval’s ship warped into its moorings at Quebec and a rosy stream of sunlight from the west fell on the battlements of the citadel and the metal roofs of the episcopal buildings along the crest. The little city had already gained an atmosphere of its own. It looked old, as though memories and traditions clung to its crooked streets. The vicar-apostolic, realizing the need to make an impression, had arrayed himself in his pontifical vestments and Father Jerome Lalemant, who stood beside him, wrote later in one of his letters, “He looked as an angel of heaven.”
It is possible, however, that young Governor d’Argenson, who had come down to the moorings to extend an official greeting, felt some misgivings when he observed the stern and exacting dark eyes of the new head of the church, the strong and somewhat massive nose protruding from the pale face with more than a hint of the masterful nature of its owner, the forehead which combined intelligence with nobility, the thin lips which told of an unbending will. It was inevitable that this inflexible cleric would clash on points of authority with the soldierly aristocrat who represented the King.
The immediate arrangements made by the newcomer were an indication of the character of the man. He showed no inclination to set himself up in state. After staying for a short time with the Jesuit fathers, he rented from the Ursulines a small house. The tiny two-story stone dwelling was no more than thirty by twenty feet. The bishop fell heir to two plain wooden bedsteads with straw mattresses, two worn quilts, a few yards of fustian serving as bed curtains, a plain wooden table with two hooks, The Kpistles and Gospels and a Selection of Meditations, a straw-bottomed chair, a stool, and a crucifix painted on wood. The new head of the church shared the inadequate space with three priests and two male servants, a valetcook and a gardener.
Another immediate demonstration was given of the character of Laval. In Montreal the aggressive Queylus was continuing to display belief that his appointment as
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The White and the Gold
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vicar-general by the Archbishop of Rouen made him the clerical head of all New France. This was a state of affairs which Laval could not tolerate. A believer in action, he was not content to leave any doubt as to where he stood. Receiving no response after summoning the recalcitrant abbé to Quebec, he persuaded the governor to take a squad of soldiers to Montreal and bring Queylus back willy-nilly. Such at least is the story that one school of historians tells. Others say that Queylus went to Quebec of his own free will, having an equal desire to discuss the rival claims.
It is certain that there were stormy scenes between the two men, a bitter clash of wills; but Laval, armed with authority from both Pope and King, was the winner. The protesting abbé took the next ship hack to France.
The incident created a storm on both sides of the Atlantic. The Sulpicians protested bitterly. Queylus proceeded to unite the anti-papal Gallican party behind him, with the tacit support, at least, of the Archbishop of Rouen. The hand of Laval reached back across the Atlantic, however, and shattered the efforts of the dissentients. The King was persuaded to write a letter to Queylus: “My will is that you re-
main in my kingdom, enjoining you
not to leave it without my express permission.”
Queylus disregarded the royal command and set out for Rome, hoping to win the Pope over to his side. He received a decidedly cool reception when he reached Rome, but the militant abbé was a fighter and gradually he won some support for his claims and was given bulls from the Congregation of the Daterie, an office of the Curia, confirming the independence of the Sulpicians in Montreal. Armed with these, he took passage for Canada and on Aug. 3, 1661, he arrived at Quebec, triumphant and belligerent.
It would be an understatement to say that Laval was angry when he discovered that Queylus had returned to New France. An order was issued that the abbé was to remain in Quebec until the authorities in France had been notified of his illegal entry. Laval demanded that Governor d’Argenson place the abbé in confinement pending the disposition of his case, but the young governor, caught between two fires and having divided sympathies, temporized. Before Argenson could make up his mind, the turbulent Queylus took matters into his own hands. His servants obtained a canoe and during the hours of darkness he started off on his way up the river to Montreal.
Laval’s ire now reached extreme heights. He suspended the abbé from the exercise of all priestly duties. This order overtook the runaway Sulpician before he reached Montreal, and in
course of time Argenson had from the King a command to give his full support to Laval. The governor brought Queylus to Quebec and sent him back to France on the first ship. Laval had won a complete victory.
Even had his ecclesiastical rival, Queylus, never appeared on the scene, the first, few years of Laval’s rule in New France would have been contentious and quarrelsome. The determined priest, who was to prove himself a powerful and effective head of the church and to become in time so mellow and gentle that his memory continued over the centuries like a benediction, considered himself at first under the necessity of fighting with the temporal officers over the duties and privileges of his office. He was breaking new ground and as vicar of the Pope he felt that he took precedence over any state official. The two governors who served in this period considered for their part that the dignity of the kingship lay in their hands and that they must not yield.
The unbending Laval will asserted itself in every clash. What may seem like minor points of etiquette today were major issues to him and equally to his gubernatorial opponents. There was, first of all, the question as to where they should be seated in phurch. Argenson contended that he should be in the sanctuary, that section of church close to the altar. Laval did not agree. They finally called in the Sieur D’Ailleboust, to act as arbitrator. After much consideration, D’Ailleboust gave the decision to the head of the church: the bishop would sit inside the rail, the governor outside.
An Open Dispute
A hitter incident occurred during midnight Mass on Christmas Eve when the deacon sent a subordinate incense carrier to the governor. In this instance Laval, realizing that his officer had gone too far, ruled that in future the deacon must do the honors personally. He was adamant, however,
in the matter of Argenson’s desire to be an honorary churchwarden. This could not be allowed.
One dispute flared up openly and on Palm Sunday there was no procession. The governor had demanded that he and certain other gentlemen of temporal office should precede the churchwardens. To this the young bishop would not agree.
The bickering did not stop with matters concerning church observance. During February a public catechism was held in the school and, as both governor and bishop were to be present, it was decided the pupils would disregard them. It was rather solemnly engaged that the infant hands would be kept too busy for a salute to either man. This was carefully explained to the children and it was believed that the difficulty over precedence could be skirted successfully. Two of the boys, however, got out of hand. Charles Couillard and Ignace de Repentigny, scions of two of the best families, had either been secretly coached by their
parents (as was later contended by the church officers) or they were carried away by the arrival of the governor in all the glory of plumed hat and velvet doublet and the sparkling of jewels on his sword hilt. They stood up and saluted the governor with a brisk flourish.
The sequel is thus dealt with in the Jesuit Journal: “This greatly offended Monseigneur the Bishop. We tried to appease him; and the two children were whipped on the following morning for having disobeyed.”
This far from flattering incident from an early phase of Bishop Laval’s life was to find many contrasts in his later years. When the bishop had become an old man and was so badly crippled that walking was a matter of great difficulty, he found himself one night unable to sleep. Muffling himself up in his threadbare cloak, he hobbled out on the silent streets. It was in the middle of winter and a cold wind was blowing down from the battlements. He encountered on his walk a small boy who had been turned out of his home. The child was thinly clad and was shivering with the cold. The old man took him back at once to his own quarters at the seminary where he gave him a warm bath. Then, while the boy slept in the bishop’s own bed, the latter found in the supply of wearing apparel which he kept for charitable distribution a suit of clothes, as well as stockings and shoes. All through the night the gentle old man sat by the bedside while the boy slept and the next day he made arrangements for his permanent care.
The difference between the two ranking officers of the colony did not end with small matters. There was above everything else the question of supplying liquor to the Indians. From the first moment of his arrival Bishop Laval found it necessary to protest on this point. In spite of the willingness of the governors to assist him, the traffic continued and the Indians were reduced to ever lower depths of degradation.
Laval finally announced that all Frenchmen convicted of sharing in the profits of this nefarious trade would be excommunicated. This at first had the desired effect. It is recorded in the Relations that “one of the most remarkable occurrences is the almost complete suppression of drunkenness among our savages . . . After the King’s orders and the governor’s decree had proved ineffectual, he (Laval), by excommunicating all the French who shall give liquor to the savages suppressed all these disorders.”
This was taking too rosy a view of the situation. The suppression proved to be temporary only. The traffic was deep-seated and most of the colonial merchants were concerned in it in some degree. The traffic, accordingly, went on in spite of civil ordinances and ecclesiastical thunderings. Death and violence followed in the wake of the canoes of the white men.
Matters came to a head after the arrival of Baron Dubois d’Avagour to succeed Argenson as governor. He was an old soldier, blunt of speech and hasty of temper but honest and sin1 cerely anxious to fulfill his oaths of office. He had heard all about the difficulties his predecessor had experienced with the unbending head of the church and he came to his post with
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his guard raised. They got along well enough for a time but in due course the major issue of the liquor traffic came up to place them in open antagonism.
The excommunication threat having failed to stop the liquor trade, Laval did not hesitate to demand the death penalty. Avagour hesitated and temporized. Finally, however, he was overborne; he gave in and authorized the decree.
In the Jesuit Journal the results were briefly recorded as follows: “On the
7th (of October) Daniel Will was hanged—or rather shot—and on the 11th another named La Violette.” The brevity of this announcement bears no relation to the feeling which had developed in the colony. The good citizens were uneasy. Where, they asked themselves, would such severity end?
Then a woman was brought in for illicit selling of brandy. The death penalty was not exacted in this case but she was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. There were extenuating circumstances—she was a widow with a family to support—and Father Lalemant went to the governor with a plea for clemency. This was too much for the blunt soldier. He had been harried into confirming the decree in the first place and now he was being asked to discriminate in carrying it out. He listened to the kindly Jesuit with an impatience which culminated in an indignant outburst. No longer, he declared, would he be subjected to such contradictions.
“Since it is not a crime for this woman,” he exclaimed, “it shall not be a crime for anybody.”
The governor stuck to his word and refused to allow any further punishments. As a result the sale of brandy was carried on openly and reached proportions greater than ever before. The bishop thundered from the pulpit but to no avail. Avagour obstinately refused to listen. Finally Laval took the drastic step of returning to France and demanding the recall of the governor.
The sins of the colony were popularly believed to have been the cause of the great earthquake which shook the whole country on the night of Feb. 3, 1663. It seems to have been a most violent one although many of the reports recorded were obviously the result of inflamed imaginations. The clay beds of the St. Lawrence were disrupted and earthslides occurred everywhere. Streams were diverted from their courses, new waterfalls appeared in the most unexpected places, houses rocked and the bells in church spires were set to ringing madly. Fissures opening in the earth sent people running for their lives, believing that the devil with a mighty pickaxe was opening new gateways to the fires of hell. No one seems to have been killed in spite of all the violence, but people flocked to the churches, crying out that the end of the world was at hand and begging divine forgiveness for their sins.
The deep and passionate voice of Laval had been at work in France in the meantime. Not only was Avagour recalled but the young bishop was granted the right of selecting his successor.
The man Laval selected was Saffray de Mézy, commander of the citadel at Caen and an acquaintance whom Laval knew to be of deeply religious feeling. The appointment was to prove a failure, from Laval’s viewpoint at least. Indeed, it was one of the uncompromising churchman’s abiding difficulties to find men who could match his own high standards.
But if Laval had returned to France chiefly to state his own side of a quarrel, he stayed to initiate and to help plan
a course of action for New France which was to prove an important step in promoting it from the preserve of private adventurers into a valued part of the French domain.
It had become painfully apparent by this time that the Company of One Hundred Associates had been a failure. The company still functioned in a restricted way. The monopoly of the fur trade had been transferred to the leading citizens of New France with the stipulation that the Associates receive a certain proportion of the profits. In return for this they were doing nothing at all. No settlers were being sent out. No supply ships were provided. Even while they brushed aside their obligations, the greedy Associates were striving to increase the return they received. An agent of the company named Peronne Dumesnil had been sent out to the colony in 1660 to investigate conditions there. A great deal of trouble resulted from the agent’s activities. Charges and countercharges had been brought. Arrests had been made, including one episode when Dumesnil himself was laid by the heels.
Laval placed these facts before the King and his council, asking that the life of the company be terminated once and for all.
By royal edict in April 1663 the Company of New France was dissolved, and never after were the heavy hands of the Hundred Associates felt in Canadian affairs. To replace the absentee control of the investors, a council was to be set up, consisting of the
governor and Laval as head of the church, who were to select five councilors from among the leading citizens of the colony and a new civil official who was to carry the title of intendant. Armed with the necessary authority, Laval and Mézy sailed for New France on Sept. 15 to set the new wheels turning.
But Laval had met bitter failure in one objective of his mission. He had made to the King a vigorous appeal to be appointed Bishop of Quebec, contending that the purely nominal title of Bishop of Petraea did not lend him the prestige he needed. The young monarch was willing to accede but the question was still a prickly ard controversial one. Would a Bishop of Quebec be under the Archbishop of Rouen or under the direct supervision of the Pope? It was the old controversy reborn, the French church divided again into rival camps. Tongues clacked about the throne, voices were raised high in violent disputation. The King discovered that to find the solution to an ecclesiastical problem was a far different matter from resolving the disputes which came up in his council. He could not put his foot down and say simply, “This is my will.” There was also the will of the
Pope to be considered and the wills of many proud and powerful churchmen. The dispute went on and on.
It was to go on, in fact, for ten years more before Quebec would he made an episcopal see with Laval as the first bishop.
It is a more pleasant task to write of the private life of François Xavier de Laval-Montmorency than to deal with the constant struggle he waged to maintain the dignity of his office on the level he deemed necessary. Even his greatest admirers are inclined to say that he sometimes erred in his official demands hut there can be nothing but praise for the exemplary life he led.
He has often been compared to Thomas Recket who strove in the same cause against an arbitrary and very able king and who came to his death as a result. Rut there was one great difference between them. Recket had been the king’s chancellor and a man of mighty pride before he was made Archbishop of Canterbury. Laval was destined for the church from the start and was only nine years old when he received the tonsure. At the age of fifteen, when he was already known for his devoutness, he was appointed canon of the cathedral of Evreux. When his two older brothers were killed in battle, his mother begged him to abandon his clerical intentions and take his place as head of the family. The prospect of so much wealth and power would have been irresistible to almost any other young man of his age. He not only refused but he surrendered his titles to the seigneuries of Montigny and Montbeaudry to his younger brother JeanLouis. When he was given his appointment in Canada, he depended entirely on the small pension paid out of the funds of the Queen Mother.
He rose always at two o’clock in the morning. .Such an early start was particularly trying in the winter, because then the fires had burned out in the inadequate braziers and a frigid cold gripped the houses. After dressing he would rekindle his fire—a very small one, for he was frugal even in the matter of fuel for his personal use—and then pray until four. Promptly at that hour he went out into the dark and the cold, lantern in hand, and walked to the cathedral. Here he opened the doors and rang the bells himself for the first Mass of the day at 4.30. These
were duties which devolved ordinarily on minor servants of the church hut to assume them was a matter of personal satisfaction to the bishop. For the remainder of the day, in addition to the work of his office which he administered with ability and dispatch, he ranged far afield to find menial and dangerous tasks for his ready hands, making beds in the hospitals, washing the feet and bandaging the sores of the patients, visiting the ships in harbor and tending the ill members of the crew. So determined was he to lose as little time as possible in the luxury of sleep that he would fend off drowsiness until late at night by walking up and down as he talked to those about him or told his beads.
“There is no village priest in France,” wrote one of his most fervent admirers, “who is not better nourished, better clad and better lodged than was the bishop of New France.”
This was no exaggeration. He had two frugal meals a day only, never indulging in breakfast, in spite of the I early hour of his rising. He subsisted largely on soups but the favorite bouillons of the colony were never found on his table. The plainest of broths were served to him and, when they seemed too rich, he diluted them with hot water. He drank the thinnest of wines. He refused desserts and even on feast days or special occasions he | would thrust aside (lie gâteau d'unis, the aniseed cake which was the pride of the French-Canadian housewife.
He Slept on Boards
The bishop laid on himself a stern injunction never to spend a sou on his own comfort. Although over the years ! he became shabby and threadbare, he did not buy clothes. All his small income went for alms and so he depended on the stores of his seminary as much as the poorest novice. His faithful servant Houssard, who was with him through his final days, wrote that in the course of twenty years the good old man had possessed only two winter cassocks and that when he came to die the last one was mended and ragged from long wear. Always, however, he had a supply of clothing on hand for distribution to the poor, purchased out of his inadequate income.
A straw mattress spread on hard boards was his couch and he never allowed himself the luxury of sheets. The furnishings of his room were plain and cheap and practical. His supply of books was too small to warrant the designation of library. He refused to have a carriage and so he was, perhaps, the only bishop in the world who walked about his rounds.
In spite of his personal austerity he ! believed in maintaining to the full the splendor of the church. In the vessels of worship he wanted the glow of gold j and the lustre of silver, rich coverings and the deep colors of stained glass.
He contended that when men gathered to worship God they should do so with proper majesty and opulence.
Fie had brought to his new post a conviction that the rigidity into which the mother church had settled over the centuries would not serve in this strange new land. The practice in France, to quote one of the major points, was to allow a curé to remain a full lifetime in the parish to which he was first assigned, and to remove him only if his unfitness were unmistakably revealed; with the result that a slothful or indifferent priest could chill the spiritual zeal of his flock into | an enduring apathy. Laval was deterj mined to keep in his hands the power | to remove a priest from any post where j he was failing to function with zeal and j understanding. He wanted also to have
supervision over the selection and training of the priests who were to carry on the work in the colony. All this pointed to the need for a seminary where young men born or reared in Canada could be trained for holy orders under his own stern eye.
This was the first major change which the vicar-apostolic brought into effect. Flaving no funds, he raised money among his kinsmen and friends in France and he strove, not too successfully, to impose a tithe on the settlers. In later years, when the seminary was firmly grounded and was
fulfilling its function to his satisfaction, he put himself in the way of receiving land grants which he turned over in perpetuity to the institution. In this way the valuable acres of Beaupré, the Island of Jesus and what was once the seigneury of the Petite Nation remain today among the possessions of the school.
This institution of his own founding was to be not only a school but a sanctuary to which the clergy of Canada could turn in sickness or weariness of spirit and where they could spend their last years. Around
it he gradually created subsidiary establishments; a school for the elementary education of boys who might elect to join the priesthood, which was started in 1668 in the Couillard house, and a farm school for manual training. Out of this system of schools came in time Laval University, which stands as proof of the farsightedness of one of the most remarkable Canadians of any age.
In 1680 Laval departed for another visit to France. It was in triumph he returned, for he had been granted finally the right for which he had fought so long, and it was as Bishop
of Quebec that he stepped off the ship. But now he was a frail and bent figure, seeming much older than his sixty years. He hobbled rather than walked, his face was grey and gaunt, his hair had thinned to white whisps.
But if his eye betokened the haste of the passing years, it was with no diminution of intensity that it rested on the ashes of Lower Town, which had been burned to the ground a short time before. The old man knew that he would have to struggle hard to get. the Lower Town rebuilt on a better, sounder basis. He knew also that the
hardest fight of his career lay ahead of him with Frontenac, the stormy governor who now occupied the chateau.
The King, on promptings from Frontenac without a doubt, had promulgated a decree the year before which had cut much of the ground from beneath the feet of the clerical leader. It had provided that the tithes should be paid to the parish priests, who were established in perpetuity, and no longer to removable priests, who came and went at the bidding of the bishop. This was an old controversy on which the King and Laval had taken opposite
sides for so many years. The bishop finally had lost. He had taken his defeat philosophically, it appeared, but those who knew the intensity of his conviction of the need to keep the clergy of Canada under close control instead of allowing them to settle down in lifetime inertia in one parish were certain he was no more than biding his time.
Bishop Laval did not long enjoy the title which had come to him after so much delay. On Aug. 28, 1685, the old bishop attended the meeting of the Sovereign Council in Quebec with a
light in his eye which would have been familiar to the governors who had faced him in earlier years. Frontenac had meanwhile been recalled and Laval had hopes of revoking the edict which secured the parish priests in their posts.
The citizen members of the council were all appointees of the King and submissive to his ideas. And once again the verdict was in favor of the edict. Disappointed, saddened, secretly bitter no doubt, Laval realized that he must bow to the inevitable. The defeat thus sustained in his final stand against the will of the King made it clear to the old bishop that his days of usefulness were over. He decided to resign. More, to present, his resignation personally, although he might have spared himself the adventure of an Atlantic crossing by sending his resignation by letter. He took himself aboard the year’s last packet, fully aware that he might never again set eyes on his beloved land.
Appreciating the importance of having the right successor, Laval addressed himself on reaching France to men whose opinions he valued. From each of them he received the highest encomiums of the King’s almoner, the Abbé Saint-Vallier. He was young, gifted and zealous. He was, moreover, generous to a fault and almost as free in his personal charities as Laval himself. The post that Saint-Vallier was filling at the royal court was pleasant and easy and one which could be converted into a springboard to eminence and power by an ambitious man. The bishopric of Quebec, on the other hand, offered nothing but hardships, disappointments, worries, and dangers. Any man willing to trade the one for the other would be eminently worthy. When Saint-Vallier unhesitatingly expressed his eagerness to accept, Laval was certain that he had found the man he sought.
There must have been some hesitation in the King’s mind about accepting the resignation of the bishop. Laval had become a legend and he seemed essential to the spiritual life of the colony. Nevertheless, the monarch expressed his willingness to have the old man step aside and conferred on him the privilege of nominating a successor. Laval spoke up for SaintVallier, and in due course the appointment was made.
It had been in the old man’s mind that, when freed of his duties, he would retire into the seminary at Quebec for the balance of his life and spend his time in encouraging the young priests. To his dismay he found that he would not be allowed to return to Canada. The King felt the new incumbent should have a free hand. Disappointed, and no doubt a little shocked at this unexpected turn of events, the old man bowed to the monarchial will.
But Quebec had not seen the last of the iron-willed yet beloved old bishop. He was to return; he was even to play, in great old age, his ecclesiastical role.
Once again, a man of Laval’s own choosing proved unequal to the high standards the bishop set for his associates. Laval had been so sure of the fitness of the Abbé Saint-Vallier that it had come as a shock to find that the new bishop did not share his convictions at all on certain points. Saint-Vallier was not inclined to place much importance in the seminary which he, Laval, had founded with so much enthusiasm and which he felt should be the very heart and core of spiritual life in the colony. A decree had been passed which limited the institution to the education of priests and the number of directors had been reduced casually to five. The new bishop had accepted fifteen thousand francs from the King for the erection of an episcopal palace,
so that now Laval in his bare little corner of the seminary could see the tall windows and fine glass of his successor. Saint-Vallier had been an ardent supporter of Denonville, even when the mistakes of that well-meaning but weak governor had brought Canada to the brink of ruin.
Troubles had multiplied on the head of the old man since his return from France. A scourge had carried off a quarter of the inhabitants of Quebec. The seminary had been burned down, and Laval, desperately ill at the time, had been carried half clad from his
bed. It had been necessary for him to accept the hospitality of the episcopal palace; when the walls of the new seminary were halfway up, another fire swept the neighborhood and the work had to be started over again.
Fortunately, because two such men could not have lived in peace together, Saint-Vallier had now been absent from Canada for the better part of ten years. The King, who generally had a shrewd grasp of the situation in his favorite colony, which was also his pet extravagance, had realized the danger in the open lack of unity between the two
men. Perhaps he also had been disappointed in Saint-Vallier. At any rate, he had summoned the new bishop back to France in 1700 and kept him there on various pretexts. In 1705 permission was granted him to return, and he set sail for Quebec in a ship which was captured by an English vessel. Saint-Vallier had been a prisoner of war ever since. In his absence two of his assistants attended to the executive duties, but for spiritual guidance the people had turned back to Laval. He ordained the new priests, he presided at confirmation, he visited the sick and
attended the dying. His face, wrinkled with age and reduced to boniness by the rigor of his fasting, was seen everywhere in spite of the infirmities which had gripped him.
The old prelate’s asceticism had increased rather than diminished with the years. A tendency to varicose veins had become worse with the years, and it had become necessary to bind them every day. Stooping with great difficulty in the dark (for the use of candles was an extravagance) and groaning from the pain he was inflicting on himself, he took a long time at the -j task. But at 4 a.m. he would be ready ! to set out for the cathedral.
He could no longer venture out alone. Houssard, his servant, his eyes heavy with sleep, would escort his master through the darkness of the streets. Sometimes the bishop was too weak to walk and Houssard would take him on his back. They must have cast a curious shadow when the servant, carrying the thin figure pickaback, emerged on stumbling feet from the twisting and narrow streets into the full light of the moon.
The prelate spared neither himself nor the back of the devoted Houssard, for always he must return to the cathedral for later services on Sundays and saints’ days. He must attend all funerals and respond to every request for his presence. The people of the town had become well accustomed to the sight of the old man being thus carried wherever duty called him. Nothing could convince him that the time had come for him to rest. He even spoke much of the future and of all the things he intended to do.
“Thy Will Be Done”
The spring of 1708 was late in coming. On Good Friday Houssard j carried the aged prelate to the caÍ thedral. There was still ice on the j streets and a bitter and unseasonable j wind twirled the snow about the eaves I of the houses. It was not surprising j that the bishop’s feet were frozen j before they reached the comparative warmth of the cathedral. The old man j said nothing about it until it was too late to take the necessary steps. Gangrene set in and he suffered terribly I during his last few days on earth.
He did not complain, but the intensity ; of the pain wrung exclamations from him. “O God have pity on me!” he cried. “O God of mercy, let Thy will be done!”
He had no thought that his accomplishments had set him apart. The humility he had shown in his later years seemed to accelerate, in fact, as the end drew near. Someone made the suggestion that he do as the saints had so often done and voice a last mess ige ! for the people he was leaving.
The dying man shook his head slowly from side to side.
“They were saints,” he whispered. “I am a sinner.”
He died early in the morning of May 6, 1708. There had been no gaiety in Quebec for many days, nor would there be for a long time thereafter. The spiritual father of the colony had been taken away and with bowed heads the people prayed long and earnestly that his benign influence would not be lost to them. +