Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > April 2016 - The division of Montreal’s Notre-Dame parish

April 2016 - The division of Montreal’s Notre-Dame parish


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Ignace Bourget, second Bishop of Montreal, was at the head of our diocese for more than 35 years. During his long episcopacy, he implemented many initiatives and took important decisions with consequences extending to our own days. One of the major structural changes of his episcopacy was the division of the territory of Notre-Dame parish. This crucial decision was taken 150 years ago.

In 1678, Bishop de Laval canonically erected Montreal's Notre-Dame Parish under the name of Saint-Nom-de-Marie. He then entrusted the new parish in perpetuity to the priests of Saint-Sulpice. From 1694 onwards, the superior of the Saint-Sulpice Seminary would also become the pastor of the city's parish. Although other parishes existed on the island of Montreal, Notre-Dame remained the only parish of the city of Montreal and of its immediate suburb. As such, Notre-Dame was also the only church to keep parish records. All of the city's inhabitants were therefore required to go there to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and matrimony. If this situation did not cause any real difficulty in the 17th Century, it became increasingly problematic as the city grew both in size and in population. Despite these changes, the Sulpicians strongly opposed the creation of other parishes in the city. At most, they had consented to open chapels where one could attend Mass but where no parish records were kept. Consequently, there was no baptism, no confirmation, no marriage and no funeral held in Montreal anywhere else than in Notre-Dame. This explains why the Notre-Dame parish records constitute a valuable source of information to anyone interested in genealogy. The names of almost all Catholics living in Montreal before 1866 can be found there.

In order to better serve the Catholics of his diocese, Bishop Bourget considered the division of Notre-Dame and the formation of new parishes essential. To him, it was inconceivable that there only be a single parish to meet the needs of what he believed to be nearly 80 000 faithful. After lengthy discussions between Rome, the Bishopric and the Sulpicians, the Apostolic Decree of the 22 of December 1865 authorized the Bishop of Montreal to divide Notre-Dame in as many parishes as he would deem it necessary. On the 26 of April 1866, Bishop Bourget announced in a pastoral letter addressed to all the faithful of his diocese the division of the Notre-Dame parish. He then proceeded to the canonical erection of ten new parishes between 1866 and 1867. The Apostolic decree was drafted in the hope of solving definitely a problem that Bishop Bourget had faced since his accession to the episcopate but it did not bring the expected peace. The letter found at the bottom of this page reveals how soon after the announcement of the partition, many voices rose to vigorously oppose the bishop's plan. The following ten years witnessed petitions to civil courts, appeals to Rome and public controversies. Sir George-Étienne Cartier, the Seminar's lawyer, opposed Notre-Dame's partition by arguing that the canonical erections of new parishes were illegal. At the end of a decade of internal rifts, the canonically erected parishes were finally granted civil recognition. Saint-Sulpice had to admit the division of the Notre-Dame parish and the face of the diocese was permanently altered.


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