François de Laval was the first bishop of New France. He arrived at Québec in 1659, and was the head of the Catholic Church in the colony. His territory encompassed all of New France.
Being the first bishop was not easy. First he had to ensure that the priests who were already settled in the country would obey him. He also had to play a political role in the colony, which sometimes put him in conflict with the governor. For example, he banned the sale of brandy (alcohol) because he believed it was destroying the Native peoples. The governor did not agree with him because he felt alcohol was necessary for trade. When the governor asked the king to intervene and reinstate the sale of alcohol, the king agreed, reversing Msgr. Laval’s decision.
Monseigneur de Laval went on to lay the foundations of the Catholic Church in Canada. Upon his arrival in 1659, there were only 27 priests for 2000 inhabitants. In 1663, he founded the Seminary of Québec to train more priests. To ensure an income for the clergy, that same year he introduced the tithe, the payment farmers had to make in the form of a part of their harvest. He initially set the tithe at one-thirteenth of the harvest, but later reduced it to one twenty-sixth at the request of the habitants.
Msgr. de Laval also delayed the creation of parishes because he felt the rural inhabitants were too poor to support a priest. He eventually created a dozen parishes after 1684, but the Seminary had to pay a portion of the priests’ expenses. Msgr. de Laval was a pious, humble and charitable man, and was generally well-liked by the habitants.
Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social
Video narration available in French video at http://primaire.recitus.qc.ca/sujets/7/personnages-marquants/140
See also: Traces of the past: