A Child Saved Because of Bishop’s Arthritis

François de Laval, first bishop of New France ...
François de Laval, first bishop of New France (1659-1684). François de Laval. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Visitors to Quebec City are always intrigued by the huge statue of Bishop Laval, standing with arms outstretched in welcome and blessing on top of the cliff.  He was officially named Bishop of Quebec on October 1, 1674, by Pope Clement X, although he had acted as such since June 1659.

François de Laval was a part of a great and wealthy family, but he gave his share of the family estate to his brother and joined an order that went through the country barefoot and lived on food supplied by the people.  He was in the thick of dispute from the beginning – when he was appointed there was a struggle for power between his order, the Jesuits, and the Sulpicians.  His appointment was a triumph for the Jesuits.

The Pope appointed Laval “vicar-apostolic” of Canada and not Bishop, because he would have come under the king if he had been bishop of Canada, while a vicar-apostolic came under the Pope.  So Laval was in the middle of another controversy between Church and State.

Laval insisted on absolute equality between the governor and himself.  On one occasion the governor and the bishop were present at a catechism in a school.  When the governor entered, resplendent in plumed hat, velvet doublet and jewelled sword, two boys stood up and saluted, which they did not do for Laval.  They were whipped the next morning.

However, on the other side of the ledger, when Laval was in his eighties he was suffering from arthritis and could not sleep.  One cold, winter night he hobbled out for a walk and found a small boy who had been turned out of his home.  The youngster was shivering, not being dressed for cold weather.  Laval took him back to his own quarters, gave him a warm bath, put him in his own bed and sat there watching him while he slept.  The next day he made arrangements for his permanent care.

During his career at Quebec, from 1659 to 1706, Laval was given crown lands that became very valuable.  He made arrangements secretly that when he died the revenue from them was to be used for education.  Laval University is one of the many memorials to his service.

For more details about Bishop Laval, I would recommend the Corporation du patrimoine et du tourisme religieux de Québec (English), and then the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, then the Val de l’Indre Brenne (here you will find many articles about different histories). You might want to extend your reading at the Francois de Laval where you will find a .pdf copy of a booklet about his life.


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