Peter Novecosky, OSB

North America’s ‘mother parish’

The annual meeting of the bishops of Canada was kicked off with a special pontifical mass Sept. 14. Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of San Cristóbal de la Habana, presided, representing Pope Francis.

The celebration took place at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Québec City. This was the first parish established in North America north of the old Spanish colonies. This year marks the 350th anniversary of the parish and is an anniversary worth noting and highlighting across Canada. The parish is known as the “mother-parish” of all Catholic parishes of Canada and the United States.

Pope Francis recognized the historical role played by Notre-Dame de Québec last fall. On Dec. 8, 2013, he announced the beginning of a Jubilee Year during the Angelus in St. Peter Square in Rome. He granted the cathedral the privilege of having the seventh Holy Door in the world and the only one in North America. The door will remain open until Dec. 28, 2014. Then during a special celebration the door will be closed and sealed until the next Holy Year, around 2025. 

“Notre-Dame de Québec is at the centre of the Catholic Church expansion in North America,” a Salt + Light blog notes.

The parish became a part of the Diocese of Quebec that once was the largest in the world, covering much of North America. It included most of what is now Canada, much of upper New England and all the Mississippi Valley, extending to the Rocky Mountains.

Since its foundation, Notre-Dame de Québec has been a key element of French language survival in North America and a living testimonial of all the cultural mutations that shaped Canadian society. It has always encouraged artists and craftsmen, especially in the field of music. Guillaume Boulay, the young parish music director, composed the Grande Messe Notre-Dame de Québec, inspired by Quebéc folk music. This year’s anniversary celebrations have honoured different aspects of Quebec society: its faith, history, family, heritage, culture and lasting legacies for future generations.

The parish was established by Bishop François de Laval. He arrived in Québec City in 1659 as the vicar-apostolic of the pope. He signed the decree to establish the parish on Sept. 15, 1664, in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Laval is admired for his pastoral work among the Aboriginal peoples and the settlers of New France. He defended native people from exploitation by merchants and governors through the sale of alcohol. He was especially committed to education, founding both a major and a minor seminary. The Séminaire de Québec, which later established Laval University, has made major contributions in the intervening centuries to higher academic education not only in Quebec and the rest of Canada, but throughout North America. 

On April 3, 2014, Pope Francis proclaimed that the universal church recognizes Laval and Ursuline Mother Marie of the Incarnation as saints. Both were instrumental in protecting the rights of Aboriginal peoples and educating them.

In a message welcoming the pope’s announcement, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlighted the missionary zeal of the two new Canadian saints and their work promoting the dignity of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. “May our two new saints assist all of us, indigenous and non-indigenous, to build a better future that respects and reverences the contributions that each race and people brings to our country and to our world,” he added. 

This is the torch passed on to all Canadians. This task can hardly be greater than that faced by our pioneers in faith 350 years ago.

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