Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > DECEMBER - 100-year-old letter to Rome

DECEMBER - 100-year-old letter to Rome


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LThe relations of Montreal's Catholic Church with the Holy See have always held a place of importance in our history. However, the distance separating our diocese from Rome and the means of transportation of the past could lead us to question the depth of the relationships existing between the Bishops of Montreal and the Popes over the centuries. Did our bishops personally know the successive popes who sat in the chair of Saint Peter?

Leafing through the register of letters of Bishop Paul Bruchési, former Archbishop of Montreal from 1897 to 1939, we discovered a fascinating document dated 20 December 1914. This unique letter was written less than four months after the election to the papacy of the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa. It reveals the familiarity that the Montreal prelate had with the newly elected Pope, Benedict XV.

Although the original letter signed by Archbishop Bruchési is kept in the Vatican archives, a transcription of the document was retained in Montreal. Until the 1940's, the secretariat of the Archbishop faithfully transcribed in large volumes the correspondence emerging from the bishopric. These registries constitute a real treasure for anyone interested in our history.

Reading this letter tells us much about both the former Archbishop of Montreal and Pope Benedict XV. Unlike most of the Roman correspondence sent from Montreal, this letter is written in French. Bishop Bruchési, of Italian origin, mastered the Italian language and occasionally used it in his correspondence. This allows us to assume that at their previous meeting, both men had conversed in French. We therefore discover in Benedict XV a Francophile Pope.

In addition, this letter tells us that the two prelates were ordained as priests together on 21 December 1878 in Saint John Lateran's Basilica. Bishop Bruchési was ordained in Rome, where he studied and obtained a doctorate in theology and a doctorate in canon law. In total, he spent nearly five years in Europe between 1874 and 1879.

But the greatest contribution of this letter is to shed light on the discussions occurring in Rome around the Manitoba Schools Question. In 1897, a real political crisis on the issue of denominational education in the schools of Manitoba shook the country. The Canadian bishops, concerned with the preservation of Catholic schools in this province, solicited an official intervention from Rome. This letter reveals that the two prelates played a key role in the Vatican intervention of December 1897 through the Encyclical Affari vos. This letter of Pope Leo XIII, addressed specifically to the Canadian clergy, insisted on the importance of Catholic religious education. The forty-two years old Bishop Bruchési, then newly ordained as bishop, had sent notes on the question to Pope Leo XIII to guide him in the writing of the Encyclical. Della Chiesa (the future Benedict XV), then assigned to the Secretariat of State, seems to have played a role in the drafting of the document.

The First World War that was raging would prevent Bishop Bruchési from returning to Rome before 1919. The two men will then have the chance to meet one last time on the occasion of Archbishop Bruchési's ad limina visit. In remembrance of their priestly ordination, Pope Benedict XV gave him the pastoral ring he wore as Archbishop of Bologna. This would be their last meeting. Shortly after his return, Bishop Bruchési fell seriously ill and was forced to forsake his pastoral responsibilities. 

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