Catholic Church of Montreal > Publications > Info Archives > DECEMBER 2015 - The Inauguration of Montreal’s Church of the Gesù

DECEMBER 2015 - The Inauguration of Montreal’s Church of the Gesù


Source: ACAM
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On December 3, 1865, feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, a new church opened its doors in Montreal. 150 years later, the Church of the Gesù remains one of the most beautiful religious buildings of our diocese.

The history of the church of the Gesù is intimately connected to that of the Jesuits and of the St. Mary's College. In 1842, at Montreal's Bishop Ignace Bourget's initiative, the Jesuits returned to Canada. Bishop Bourget hoped that the religious order would open a college in his diocese. As a result, St. Mary's College was inaugurated in 1848 a few years after their arrival. The construction of a stone building was undertaken on Bleury Street to house the new institution. The work would be completed in 1851. However, the Jesuits also wanted to build a church for their order that would serve as the college chapel. It is on a land bequeathed by Antoine-Olivier Berthelet, immediately north of the college, that the church would finally be built. On March 19, 1864, feast day of Saint Joseph, the clearing work started on the future site of the Gesù.

In November 1864, while work continued according to the plans of architect Patrick C. Keely, Bishop Bourget left his diocese to travel to Rome. He asked to be kept informed of the work's progression during his absence. A letter from Father Georges Schneider, addressed to Bishop Bourget allows us to learn a few details on the new church. The document is dated April 9, 1865.

Firstly, we learn that the Jesuit church was to be dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, according to Father Schneider, would become the first Sacred Heart church in the Americas. This explains the presence in the church's ornamentation of many references to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque beatified shortly before in 1864. In addition, the Jesuits wanted to erect an archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart as mentioned in the letter. The text also reflects a few of the Jesuits' concerns. They hoped that their church would not only serve French-speaking Catholics but also Montreal's growing Catholic English-speaking community. Their concern for the conversion of Protestants, an important aspect of the religious revival of the second half of the 19th Century, is also manifest in this letter. As mentioned by Father Schneider, the Jesuits recognized the essential role of Bishop Bourget in the construction of their new church "qui est votre oeuvre plus que la nôtre". The bishop of Montreal had wanted that its architecture be inspired by Rome's Gesù, the mother church of the Company of Jesus, where he liked to stop and pray. Thus, the new Sacred Heart of Jesus church became for Montrealers the church of the Gesù.

Finally, the letter reveals the personal interest of Bishop Bourget for the construction of the new church. It was the bishop himself who had asked to be kept informed of the work's progress and blueprints of the facade and towers were sent to him in Rome. Unfortunately, due to a lack of financial resources, the originally planned steeples were never completed. 

The inauguration of Montreal's Gesù did not ultimately take place in October, as Father Schneider had first envisioned, but in December. In the absence of Bishop Bourget who was still in Rome, Montreal's Grand Vicar and diocesan administrator Alexis Frédéric Truteau blessed the new Church on December 3, 1865. It is this important moment in the life of our diocese that we remember this month.

On the agenda:

On December 6 at 11: 00, the Archbishop of Montreal will preside a Eucharistic celebration to mark the 150 anniversary of the church of the Gesù.

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