Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > APRIL 2015 - On April 19, 1840, Montreal Lost Its First Bishop

APRIL 2015 - On April 19, 1840, Montreal Lost Its First Bishop


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175 years ago, on Easter Sunday, Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue passed away after a long illness at Montreal's Hôtel-Dieu hospital. Titular Bishop of Montréal for less than four years, Bishop Lartigue had been auxiliary bishop of the Quebec diocese and in charge of the district of Montreal since his Episcopal ordination on January 21, 1821. It is therefore in reality for nearly 20 years that he carried the pastoral charge of this city. He is the founder of the diocese of Montreal which erection he solicited and laid the Foundation.

Only son, Jean-Jacques Lartigue was born in 1777, ten years after his parents' wedding. They understood his birth as an answer to their prayers and an unexpected gift. From an influential and wealthy family, son of a doctor, he was destined for a promising career. However, after studying civil law, and shortly before his admission to the bar, Jean-Jacques Lartigue decided suddenly to abandon his studies, feeling called by the Lord to the priesthood.

His training in law certainly prepared him to assume his function of Bishop and influenced in many ways his episcopate, which coincided with a difficult political period. At his death in 1840, he leaves to his successor a diocese with well-established structures that would cultivate the spiritual revival of the mid-19th century.

Bishop Lartigue's funeral service was an important event in Montreal's history. According to observers of the time, more than 10 000 people came for the occasion, or about a quarter of the population of the city. The Church of the time organized a large funeral, wishing to honor one who for nearly twenty years had been at her service.

It is difficult to imagine what the funeral of a bishop could be in the early 19th century. However, the Archives of the Archdiocese of Montreal have kept a letter of great value which allows us to perceive this historic event. The letter describes the ceremony which took place in the church of Notre-Dame. Addressed to Father François-Pascal Porlier, pastor of the Terrebonne parish from 1829 to 1846, the letter bears the signature of a certain J.M. Limgoges. It was likely written by Joseph-Magloire Limoges, a student of the Collège de Montréal native of Terrebonne, who was ordained priest in 1845. This letter has the particularity of depicting the rich ceremonial of the time. Limoges describes the funeral procession, the body carried by citizens and surmounted by a canopy, the dark church draped in black, the episcopal throne left empty and the insignia bearers carrying the miter and the crozier of the deceased. As indicated by Limoges, the deposition of the body took place the following day, in the Cathedral that Bishop Lartigue had built on Saint-Denis Street.

Bishop Ignace Bourget was, since 1837, bishop coadjutor with right of succession. On the death of Bishop Lartigue, he immediately became titular bishop of the diocese of Montreal. Limoges evokes in his letter the words of Mr. Quiblier, pastor of Notre-Dame, directed at the new Bishop and citing the words of saint Paul to Timothy: "O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care" (1Timothy 6:20). 36 years later, in his spiritual testament, Bishop Bourget certainly had these words in mind. Speaking to the faithful of his diocese in a pastoral letter announcing his resignation, he wrote: "My children, guard the sacred deposit of traditions".

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