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The first missionaries that arrived in the New World belonged to European religious orders - the Recollects, the Capuchins, the Jesuits, the Pères Pénitents, to name a few. Between 1611-1646 North America, they carried on their ministry according to directions they received from their respective religious superiors in France.

Three religious orders who sent missionaries to New France are also known to have served on Cape Breton Island, both before and after it became Isle Royale. The following tells you a little bit about these three orders and their goals.

The Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, also known as Franciscans, was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century. His dream of how to live the gospel altered religious life forever. Friars would no longer live exclusively in monastery cloister. Instead, the world became the Franciscan cloister.

Yuri Koszarycz tells us in his Ecclesiology, A Study in Church History, that “the Papacy as an institution reached its zenith of power during the pontificate of Innocent III (1198 - 1216). Not surprisingly, the dominant model of Church in these centuries was that of Church as institution. It is interesting to note that a significant alternative model of Church, that of servant, began to develop at this time through the work of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis held up poverty, simplicity, chastity, humility and obedience as his ideals, often ministering to the poorest of the poor. The legends surrounding his charismatic personality attest to his simplicity of faith that was highly contemplative in nature and is expressed so wonderfully in the "Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon."

The Franciscan Friars rapidly increased in number and spread out all over Italy. In 1217, Francis appointed provincial ministers and sent his disciples to Hungary, France and Spain. Francis himself visited Egypt and the East.  Aside from the

St. Francis of Assisi

provincial ministers, Francis retained direction of the order he founded until his death in 1226.

However, as in any large institution, changing times and human frailty intervened and the order, at times, fell below its initial perfection. In some cases, liberality relaxed the bonds of religious discipline and order. Franciscan splinter groups began to operate within Europe, as well as independent reform groups. Nevertheless, the continuous reforms arising against many odds, has ever distinguished the order. And, the original Rule of St. Francis left plenty of room for various interpretations.

As part of a Franciscan reform movement in the early 16th century, two new monasteries were founded in Tuscany that served as places of recollection and spiritual refreshment for priests engaged in missionary work. At the beginning of the 17th century, France followed with “recollection” houses in their Franciscan provinces. French Franciscan friars, called the Récollets, were born of this movement.

The Récollects: In 1612, the Récollects, (Récollets) encouraged by Pope Clement VIII, were given permission to form two provinces from the French houses of recollection. One of these - St-Denis - was a very important province which undertook the missions in New France. These Friars gave importance to ascetical life, contemplation, study, preaching and missionary activity. Their interpretation of the Rule of St. Francis was said to be much stricter than others. These Friars were also the chaplains in the French army and renowned preachers. French Kings, beginning with Henry IV, held them in high esteem, but kept them dependent on the Throne.

The Récollects, one of the reformed branches of French Franciscans, are said to be the the first missionaries to arrive in North America, brought to Canada by Champlain in the very early 1600’s. They are described as austere in appearance, manner and attitude.

Recollect Missionaries welcome Jesuit
Missionaries, 1625

The best known of these was Gabriel Sagard, who made a voyage into the Upper Country, in 1623-1624. His account, Le Grand Voyage du pays des Hurons, became an indispensable work about the Huron people. Although Sagard's voyage did not contribute to the expansion of New France, the information that he gathered from the Native peoples helped other voyagers. Among other things, he wrote the first phrasebook of the Huron language.

The Récollects were in Quebec, Newfoundland and on Isle Royale from its inception in 1713. When Isle Royale became an English colony in 1763, the Récollects left the area. By 1771, the order had 11 provinces with 2534 cloisters in various countries, but all were supressed by the revolution and that diminished the order. The separate existence of the Récollect Friars ceased when they re-joined the Friars Minor in 1897.

The Capuchins:
During Franciscan reform another group of friars emerged. This group, wanting to return to a literal observance of the rule of St. Francis, separated from the Franciscan Friars in total. They formed a new order in 1528, still based on the ideals of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, but called the Capuchins.

The name derived from the word “cappuccio” (“cowl.”) Although found throughout Europe, they were particularly strong in Italy and France. The Capuchin brothers blended a life of simple living, preaching, contemplation and care of the poor. They are known as the chief order of Friars among the permanent offshoots of the Franciscans.

Capuchins were present in North America from the earliest days of European colonization. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they journeyed to this continent as missionaries or military chaplains. They ministered to Catholic settlers and soldiers and worked among Native Americans. Some, like many other settlers, were fleeing religious persecution in Europe.

From 1646-1655 three Capuchin friars from the Province of Paris made their headquarters in a small habitation at the fort established by Nicholas Denys at St-Pierre. One of the friars was fluent in native language and so together they worked to bring Christianity to the natives on Cape Breton Island. More than likely, they also administered to the needs of the visiting fishermen in the area. Destitution forced them to return to France in 1655. There were also Irish Capuchins and Capuchins from the province of Aquitaine in the New France domain during these early years. Today their goal is to be the guardians and renewers of the ideals of St. Francis and St. Clare.

St. Clare of Assisi

“The successful evangelization of early Canada is an achievement in which the Franciscans certainly had a major share.... Any hope of converting the native population depended on the ability of these friars to master the Indian languages. The evidence of their success is the innumerable Dictionaries, grammars, catechisms, sermons and spiritual writings in the native languages. By 1572 the Franciscans had written at least eighty works in native languages, an achievement unequalled by all other orders combined.” (Conrad L. Harkins, OFM, Franciscan Friars in the New World, Friar Lines, Vol. VI, No. 1, 1994, pp. 17-31.)

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola as “The Company of Jesus.” St. Ignatius was a Spanish Basque soldier who, with six other Spanish and French students from the University of Paris, started what has today become the largest religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. The term “Jesuit” was first applied to the Society in 1544 in reproach of those whom others felt too frequently appropriated the name of Jesus. The Order’s name was eventually changed to The Society of Jesus by Pope Paul III.

The objective of the Society was to strengthen the Catholic faith in all lands while counteracting the spread of Protestantism. The Jesuits became the main instruments of the counter-reformation movement. The preservation of the Catholic faith in France and other countries was largely due to their efforts.

St. Ignatius realized that his group of highly educated men would best perpetuate their mission through education - teaching in colleges and universities. And through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Jesuits became widely known as the schoolmasters of Europe, in part for their reputation as scholars and their demonstrated intellectual excellence as shown through the thousands of textbooks they authored.

The Jesuits came to North America with each group of Spanish, French and English colonists, and are reported to have been in Canso and Port Royal as early as 1611.

St. Ignatius Loyola

They first arrived in New France in 1625. Even though their main goal was evangelization, they also contributed in large measure to the exploration and map-making of North America.
From 1632 to 1673, these religious published Relation, a Jesuit work that brought together the reports of the missionaries' work in Canada. For 50 years, it was primarily the Jesuit missionaries who furthered knowledge about the Canadian territory. They kept colony administrators informed of events that occurred in other regions, especially in the areas around the Great Lakes and between the St. Lawrence River and Hudson Bay.

We know that the Jesuits were on Isle Royale by 1629, where in August they established the first Jesuit mission and chapel at Sipo, an Indian name for the place, later renamed Fort St. Ann. Later that year, a vessel left France carrying several more Jesuit missionaries. Unfortunately, it was shipwrecked somewhere in the vicinity of Canso and 14 persons lost their lives.

Between 1630-1632, the English were in possession of New France and the Jesuits were forced to abandon their work there. They returned to St. Ann in July 1632,

when the French regained control of the area. They continued serving both the Mi’kmaqs and probably European fishermen until September 1641, when the mission at St. Ann’s was closed.

Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in New France: In 1657, the Holy See placed all missionaries in New France under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Rouen. The Archbishop appointed the superior of the Quebec Jesuits as his Vicar General. This arrangement continued until June 1659 when Bishop François de Laval came to Quebec as the first Vicar Apostolic of New France, appointed by Pope Alexander VII. At that time, Canada was a typical frontier settlement with no more than 2200 souls all struggling to make a living but fearful of being destroyed at any moment by the Iroquois Indians.

Laval left the Indian missions in the care of the Jesuits, but later invited the Recollects to work in the local mission field. Laval remained in Quebec until 1662 when he returned to France. In 1663, the diocesan Seminary of Quebec was founded under the title “Foreign Missions.”
In 1674, Laval was named the first Bishop of Quebec by Pope Clement X. By 1677 the Seminary of St-Sulpice was founded at Montreal. And diocesan priests serving in the area became known as the Suplicans. There is no record of the Suplicans having served in Port Toulouse or anyplace on Isle Royale, but we know there were two priests from the Diocese of Quebec in Acadia between 1676-1694. One was the pastor at Port Royal and was also Vicar General of Acadie; and the other established missions among the Indians. The first Suplican priest became the pastor of Beaubassin in 1688. His assistant, also a Suplican, came to Beaubassin as his assistant the same year and served missions as far as Canseau and Newfoundland.

The new Diocese of Quebec encompassed all French possessions in North America - French Canada, Acadie, the adjacent islands, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland and, eventually Louisiana, but it did not extend into English-speaking colonies to the south.

The population of eastern Acadia was very sparse before 1713. The only residents in this area were the Mi’kmaq Indians and the few Europeans engaged in fishing in the neighborhoods of Canseau and Chedabucto (now called Guysborough.)
 The successful evangelization of the native populations in New France and Acadia is to the credit of these selfless missionaries of all orders. They worked under most difficult hardships and extreme deprivation to carry the word of the Gospel and promote the spread of Catholicism. It is to their credit that, to this day, the Mi’kmaqs call St. Ann their “grandmother!”

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