Most of Quebec’s distinguished figures – Cartier, Champlain, Montcalm, etc. – have been honoured through its toponymic nomenclature. One man’s name, however, graces the greatest number of entities and indisputably outstrips them all: Bishop de Laval! This emblematic figure marks our history to this day.
This son of French nobility left behind a life of privilege and fortune at the age of 36, to board the ship «Le sacrifice d’Abraham», in order to help build New France. He was greeted in Quebec City – part of a still-embryonic country – on June 16, 1659.
François de Laval’s overriding aspiration was to serve as pastor. He was always willing to visit people in their homes. His goal of evangelizing the Amerindian population was as strong as his concern for their dignity.
This cleric was well versed in the new directions adopted by the Council of Trent and maintained his belief that the Church’s responsibility extended beyond simple evangelization. It encompassed responsibility for educational institutions, hospitals, and the needy. His arrival on these shores facilitated the realization of his vision of a renewed Church.
Unlike the governors and intendants who hoped to end their days in France, François de Laval sought permission from King Louis XIV to return to Canada. In recognition of the work he had done, his ninth – and last – ocean crossing was finally authorized. He took his last breath on May 6, 1708, at the age of 85, in a modest room in the Séminaire de Québec.
A half-century of hard work has earned François de Laval renown as one of the great builders of Quebec who left their mark throughout French America. His admiration for the courageous pioneers was tempered by his belief that colonization was not progressing as quickly as it should have. The colony was stagnating… and much remained to be done.
He quickly understood that the essential underpinnings of colonist settlements were the economic, educational and social infrastructure. The inhabitants were struggling to eke out a living from the land. Bishop de Laval met many representatives, as King Louis XIV, sought financing, imposed tithing, and invested all of his personal assets.
As bishop, he reformed his diocese. He was a priest of his time, a pastor serving his community.
François de Laval acquired many lands, a part of which was the Côte-de-Beaupré seigneury to erect buildings that would play an important role in the community’s economy and education. By commissioning the construction of various mills, including the colony’s first large-capacity mill at Château-Richer.
His education-related achievements include founding the Séminaire de Québec, for the training of future priests. This prestigious institution, which is still in existence today, has also trained writers, thinkers, educators and even political and religious leaders. This seminary was the driving force behind the spread of the Christian faith, and it spearheaded civil organization for one hundred or so villages. The pooling of property enabled priests to travel throughout the colony and speed up the implementation of various community services, thus helping parishes complete the faulty seigneurial system.
He also founded the Petit Séminaire de Québec, a college for young boys that was open to young Amerindians.
François de Laval also had a collection of buildings, called La Grande Ferme (The Big Farm), erected in Saint-Joachim, which comprised the Seminary’s granary. Carpenters, masons, wheelwrights and stonecutters were on site to teach the students various techniques. This newly established colony was finally able to benefit from the presence of local specialized manpower – another key strategy to boost development.
On April 3, 2014, Pope Francis proclaimed François de Laval a Saint.
Learn more on Bp. François de Laval