Sr. Eleonora, who has served the parish for decades, is flanked by longtime parishioners Elio De Lauri (left) and Giuseppe Decobellis. (Photo: courtesy of Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense Parish)

The Catholic Church of Montreal marked the 100th anniversary of Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense Parish, in the heart of Little Italy, with its consecration, May 15.

Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte presided. The 800-seat church was bursting at the seams; an estimated 1,000 people attended.

The parish, located at 6800 Henri-Julien Ave., was founded in 1910. Also known by its Italian name, Madonna della Difesa, it is the first Italian parish in Canada. It is symbolic of Canada’s oldest and second-largest Italian community, which first settled in Montreal in 1860. Toronto houses the country’s largest Italian population.

Italian immigrants built Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense church in 1919. They wanted to commemorate the apparition of the Virgin Mary in La Difesa, an area in Campobasso, Italy, where the Virgin Mary appeared in 1898.

Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte consecrates the church. (Photo: courtesy of Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense Parish)

The late Guido Nincheri, a well-known fresco artist, who emigrated from Italy to Montreal in 1915, designed the Romanesque style church and painted its interior. 

Nincheri’s famed fresco on the church’s ceiling of Benito Mussolini riding a horse commemorates the Lateran Accord, which sealed the Vatican’s political sovereignty from Italy. 


The church, Little Italy’s distinguishing landmark, received national recognition in 2002, when it was designated a national historic site of Canada.

In his homily, the cardinal spoke about the parish’s mission. “Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense parish and its church exist so that Jesus Christ continues to be talked about in our diocese and particularly among Italians turned Quebecers,” said the cardinal.

The cardinal went on to explain the church’s significance in Montreal’s Italian community.

“Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense church has always been and will always be the church with which the Italian community identifies, which they hold dearly; a church that they like to attend and to which they like to return for significant events: a baptism, a marriage, a funeral. In short, a church which they carry in their hearts,” said the cardinal.

Cardinal Turcotte greets longtime parishioner Ida Mauri, who participated in the offertory procession. (Photo: courtesy of Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense Parish)Msgr. Igino Incantalupo has been pastor at Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense Parish since last June. The 61-year-old priest says the church performs 60 marriages and 250 funerals per year.


Msgr. Incantalupo says the growing multiculturalism in the Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie borough isn’t that alarming for the future of the parish. 

“The parish is a point of reference for Italians,” he said.  “Also, there are still many Italians living in the borough. Even those who move to another borough remain attached to this church."

Msgr. Incantalupo also says the many businesses in Little Italy, owned by Italians, help generate traffic to the church.

Jennifer De Freitas







Go back


What is the sum of 9 and 1?*