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Notre-Dame Des Anges

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                   


Opposite Quebec lies the tongue of land called Point Levi. One who, in the summer of the year 1634, stood on its margin and looked northward, across the St. Lawrence, would have seen, at the distance of a mile or more, a range of lofty cliffs, rising on the left into the bold heights of Cape Diamond, and on the right sinking abruptly to the bed of the tributary river St. Charles. Beneath these cliffs, at the brink of the St. Lawrence, he would have descried a cluster of warehouses, sheds, and wooden tenements. Immediately above, along the verge of the precipice, he could have traced the outlines of a fortified work, with a flagstaff, and a few small cannon to command the river; while, at the only point where Nature had made the heights accessible, a zigzag path connected the warehouses and the fort.

Now, embarked in the canoe of some Montagnais Indian, let him cross the St. Lawrence, land at the pier, and, passing the cluster of buildings, climb the pathway up the cliff. Pausing for rest and breath, he might see, ascending and descending, the tenants of this outpost of the wilderness: a soldier of the fort, or an officer in slouched hat and plume; a factor of the fur company, owner and sovereign lord of all Canada; a party of Indians; a trader from the upper country, one of the precursors of that hardy race of coureurs de bois, destined to form a conspicuous and striking feature of the Canadian population: next, perhaps, would appear a figure widely different. The close, black cassock, the rosary hanging from the waist, and the wide, black hat, looped up at the sides, proclaimed the Jesuit,--Father Le Jeune, Superior of the Residence of Quebec.

And now, that we may better know the aspect and condition of the infant colony and incipient mission, we will follow the priest on his way. Mounting the steep path, he reached the top of the cliff, some two hundred feet above the river and the warehouses. On the left lay the fort built by Champlain, covering a part of the ground now forming Durham Terrace and the Place d'Armes. Its ramparts were of logs and earth, and within was a turreted building of stone, used as a barrack, as officers' quarters, and for other purposes. [Compare the various notices in Champlain (1632) with that of Du Creux, Historia Canadensis, 204.] Near the fort stood a small chapel, newly built. The surrounding country was cleared and partially cultivated; yet only one dwelling-house worthy the name appeared. It was a substantial cottage, where lived Madame Hébert, widow of the first settler of Canada, with her daughter, her son-in-law Couillard, and their children, good Catholics all, who, two years before, when Quebec was evacuated by the English,1 wept for joy at beholding Le Jeune, and his brother Jesuit, De Nouë, crossing their threshold to offer beneath their roof the long-forbidden sacrifice of the Mass. There were enclosures with cattle near at hand; and the house, with its surroundings, betokened industry and thrift.

Thence Le Jeune walked on, across the site of the modern market-place, and still onward, near the line of the cliffs which sank abruptly on his right. Beneath lay the mouth of the St. Charles; and, beyond, the wilderness shore of Beauport swept in a wide curve eastward, to where, far in the distance, the Gulf of Montmorenci yawned on the great river. [The settlement of Beauport was begun this year, or the year following, by the Sieur Giffard, to whom a large tract had been granted here--Langevin, Notes sur les Archives de N. D. de Beauport, 5.] The priest soon passed the clearings, and entered the woods which covered the site of the present suburb of St. John. Thence he descended to a lower plateau, where now lies the suburb of St. Roch, and, still advancing, reached a pleasant spot at the extremity of the Pointe-aux-Lièvres, a tract of meadow land nearly enclosed by a sudden bend of the St. Charles. Here lay a canoe or skiff; and, paddling across the narrow stream, Le Jeune saw on the meadow, two hundred yards from the bank, a square enclosure formed of palisades, like a modern picket fort of the Indian frontier.2 Within this enclosure were two buildings, one of which had been half burned by the English, and was not yet repaired. It served as storehouse, stable, workshop, and bakery. Opposite stood the principal building, a structure of planks, plastered with mud, and thatched with long grass from the meadows. It consisted of one story, a garret, and a cellar, and contained four principal rooms, of which one served as chapel, another as refectory, another as kitchen, and the fourth as a lodging for workmen. The furniture of all was plain in the extreme. Until the preceding year, the chapel had had no other ornament than a sheet on which were glued two coarse engravings; but the priests had now decorated their altar with an image of a dove representing the Holy Ghost, an image of Loyola, another of Xavier, and three images of the Virgin. Four cells opened from the refectory, the largest of which was eight feet square. In these lodged six priests, while two lay brothers found shelter in the garret. The house had been hastily built, eight years before, and now leaked in all parts. Such was the Residence of Notre-Dame des Anges. Here was nourished the germ of a vast enterprise, and this was the cradle of the great mission of New France.3

Of the six Jesuits gathered in the refectory for the evening meal, one was conspicuous among the rest,--a tall, strong man, with features that seemed carved by Nature for a soldier, but which the mental habits of years had stamped with the visible impress of the priesthood. This was Jean de Brébeuf, descendant of a noble family of Normandy, and one of the ablest and most devoted zealots whose names stand on the missionary rolls of his Order. His companions were Masse, Daniel, Davost, De Nouë, and the Father Superior, Le Jeune. Masse was the same priest who had been the companion of Father Biard in the abortive mission of Acadia. [See "Pioneers of France in the New World."] By reason of his useful qualities, Le Jeune nicknamed him "le Père Utile." At present, his special function was the care of the pigs and cows, which he kept in the enclosure around the buildings, lest they should ravage the neighboring fields of rye, barley, wheat, and maize.4 De Nouë had charge of the eight or ten workmen employed by the mission, who gave him at times no little trouble by their repinings and complaints.5 They were forced to hear mass every morning and prayers every evening, besides an exhortation on Sunday. Some of them were for returning home, while two or three, of a different complexion, wished to be Jesuits themselves. The Fathers, in their intervals of leisure, worked with their men, spade in hand. For the rest, they were busied in preaching, singing vespers, saying mass and hearing confessions at the fort of Quebec, catechizing a few Indians, and striving to master the enormous difficulties of the Huron and Algonquin languages.

Well might Father Le Jeune write to his Superior, "The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers few." These men aimed at the conversion of a continent. From their hovel on the St. Charles they surveyed a field of labor whose vastness might tire the wings of thought itself; a scene repellent and appalling, darkened with omens of peril and woe. They were an advance-guard of the great army of Loyola, strong in a discipline that controlled not alone the body and the will, but the intellect, the heart, the soul, and the inmost consciousness. The lives of these early Canadian Jesuits attest the earnestness of their faith and the intensity of their zeal; but it was a zeal bridled, curbed, and ruled by a guiding hand. Their marvelous training in equal measure kindled enthusiasm and controlled it, roused into action a mighty power, and made it as subservient as those great material forces which modern science has learned to awaken and to govern. They were drilled to a factitious humility, prone to find utterance in expressions of self-depreciation and self-scorn, which one may often judge unwisely, when he condemns them as insincere. They were devoted believers, not only in the fundamental dogmas of Rome, but in those lesser matters of faith which heresy despises as idle and puerile superstitions. One great aim engrossed their lives. "For the greater glory of God"--ad majorem Dei gloriam--they would act or wait, dare, suffer, or die, yet all in unquestioning subjection to the authority of the Superiors, in whom they recognized the agents of Divine authority itself.

1 See "Pioneers of France in the New World." Hébert's cottage seems to have stood between Ste.-Famille and Couillard Streets, as appears by a contract of 1634, cited by M. Ferland.

2 This must have been very near the point where the streamlet called the River Lairet enters the St. Charles. The place has a triple historic interest. The wintering-place of Cartier in 1535-6 (see "Pioneers of France") seems to have been here. Here, too, in 1759, Montcalm's bridge of boats crossed the St. Charles; and in a large intrenchment, which probably included the site of the Jesuit mission-house, the remnants of his shattered army rallied, after their defeat on the Plains of Abraham.--See the very curious Narrative of the Chevalier Johnstone, published by the Historical Society of Quebec.

3 The above particulars are gathered from the Relations of 1626 (Lalemant), and 1632, 1633, 1634, 1635 (Le Jeune), but chiefly from a long letter of the Father Superior to the Provincial of the Jesuits at Paris, containing a curiously minute report of the state of the mission. It was sent from Quebec by the returning ships in the summer of 1634, and will be found in Carayon, Première Mission des Jésuites au Canada, 122. The original is in the archives of the Order at Rome.

4 "Le P. Masse, que je nomme quelquefois en riant le Père Utile, est bien cognu de V. R. Il a soin des choses domestiques et du bestail que nous avons, en quoy il a très-bien reussy."--Lettre du P. Paul le Jeune au R. P. Provincial, in Carayon, 122.--Le Jeune does not fail to send an inventory of the "bestail" to his Superior, namely: "Deux grosses truies qui nourissent chacune quatre petits cochons, deux vaches, deux petites genisses, et un petit taureau."

5 The methodical Le Jeune sets down the causes of their discontent under six different heads, each duly numbered. Thus:--"1. C'est le naturel des artisans de se plaindre et de gronder." "2. La diversité des gages les fait murmurer," etc.

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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America


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