This Week in History


St. Patrick's Basilica

For the week of Monday March 13, 2006

March 17, 1847 was an important day in the history of Montréal’s Irish Catholic community; it marked the opening of the first English-speaking Roman catholic church in Montréal. St. Patrick’s Church was specifically designed to accommodate the ever-growing population of Irish Catholics in the city and, in 1989, the church would be raised to the level of Basilica.

St. Patrick's Church, Montréal, 1910
© Notman & Son/ Library and Archives Canada / C-07894
The 19th century was difficult for Ireland. The industrial revolution made little to no impact on this largely agrarian society. Potatoes were the primary source of food and income for many. Between 1816 and 1842, the potato crops partially or completely failed 14 times. They would again fail in 1845, 1846 and 1848 as a result of a destructive fungus. These years became known as the Irish Potato Famine and exponentially increased migration out of the over-populated and under-nourished island.

By 1817, Montréal was home to many of these Irish immigrants and the need for a Catholic Church of their own was recognized. Temporary accommodations were found first at Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours and then at the old Récollet Church. But as the Irish population continued to grow, so did attendance at mass and by the 1830s people were listening from the streets. At this time the congregants requested a church of their own. In 1843 land was purchased for this purpose.

St. Patrick's Basilica, Montréal
© Sean O'Neil
Designed by Pierre-Louis Morin and Father Felix Martin, the building is an example of the French Gothic Revival style, and provided a beautiful home for this congregation. Construction began in 1843 and continued until 1847. On March 17 of that year the first mass was celebrated, coinciding with the religious day associated with the church’s namesake, St. Patrick. Almost immediately following its opening, the clergy of St. Patrick’s Church began caring for the masses of Irish immigrants who were suffering the effects of a typhoid fever epidemic. This was only the beginning of the charitable accomplishments of the church. In the years following its inception St. Patrick’s would sponsor or influence the opening of several charitable and education institutions.

For its architectural merit and its continuing contribution to the Irish community in Montréal, St. Patrick’s Basilica was designated a National Historic Place in 1990. Click here to find more information about St. Patrick's Basilica.

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