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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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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