This Week in History


Monsignor de Laval, Founder of the Québec Seminary

For the week of Monday March 24, 2003

On March 26, 1663, Monsignor de Laval, the first bishop of Québec, founded the Québec Seminary to provide for the education of clergy in New France. He later established a parish ministry and a missionary apostolate.

Seminary of Québec

Seminary of Québec
© Parks Canada

François-Xavier de Montmorecy-Laval was born in 1623 in Montigny-sur-Avre, France. He grew up in a family that was part of the French nobility and was very religious, which led him to the ecclesiastical life. After studying at the Jesuit College of La Flèche for 10 years, Laval settled in Paris to study for the priesthood and quickly advanced through the religious hierarchy. He became sub-deacon in 1646, was ordained a priest the following year and appointed archdeacon in 1648. In 1657, the Jesuits nominated him to the Assemblée du clergé as Bishop of Québec. However, a conflict ensued between the Pope and the Archbishop of Rouen about the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the colony. Eventually, the Pope decided to name Laval vicar apostolic.

He arrived in Québec in 1659 and became the true pioneer of the Church in New France. Although only a vicar apostolic, he exercised episcopal duties before being designated bishop and this caused long disputes about the recognition of his authority. In 1662, King Louis XIV of France appointed him to the bishopric of Québec. Known as Monsignor de Laval, he then began construction a seminary to train priests for the new Canadian Church. This project was completed in 1663. In 1668, he also founded the lower seminary, an educational institution for children to learn to read and count.

Monsignor de Laval 1623-1708

Monsignor de Laval 1623-1708
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-143044

In 1674, the Pope finally approved the appointment of Msgr de Laval, who officially became the first Bishop of Québec. As early as 1675, he began the creation of the Parish of Québec and made his pastoral visits with all of his heart and soul. Inevitably exhaustion and illness struck him and in 1681 he considered stepping down. He took great care in choosing his successor, the Reverend de Saint-Vallier, who was consecrated in France in 1688 and arrived in Québec the same year. In 1700, Msgr de Saint-Vallier made a trip back to France where he was detained. Msgr de Laval then replaced him until his own death on May 6, 1708.

Monsignor de Laval and the Québec Seminary, the oldest school for boys in Canada, are recognized as being of national historic significance.

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