Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia



Sulpician Order



[This article was written by Olivier Maurault in 1948. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]


The Sulpician Order (P.S.S.), known as the Company of St. Sulpice, was founded at Vaugirard, near Paris, in 1641, by Jean-Jacques Olier, for the training of candidates for the priesthood, in accordance with the directions of the Council of Trent. A few years previously, Jean-Jacques Olier, a zealous missionary, had, in cooperation with a layman of La Flèche named La Dauversière, laid the bases of another company, known as "La Compagnie des Messieurs et Dames de Notre-Dame de Montreal". In fact, towards the end of the year 1641, the latter organization had sent to New France a number of settlers under the command of Paul Chomedey de. Maisonneuve, in order to found a city on the island of Montreal consecrated to the Virgin Mary: This was done in May, 1642. For fifteen years the settlers at Ville-Marie were looked after, in so far as their spiritual needs were concerned, by the Jesuit Fathers. But in 1657, shortly before his death, Olier decided to send to Ville-Marie four priests of his modest order: Messrs. de Queylus, Sovart, d'Allet, and Galinier.


Their first task was to organize parochial life; and in course of time, the parish priests of Ville-Marie became the seigneurs of the island of Montreal . The seigniory, at first granted to Jean de Lauzon, had passed into the hands of the Compagnie de Notre-Dame de Montreal. Afterwards it was acquired, upon the dissolution of that company, by the superior of St. Sulpice. The new seigniors continued granting lands to settlers, a policy inaugurated by Maisonneuve. They caused mills to be built all around the island; they opened the main streets of the city, this work, being principally performed by Dollier de Casson; they started the construction of a canal to facilitate boat traffic between Montreal and Lachine; and, between the years 1670 and 1683, they erected on the top of the hill, on the street bearing the same name, the church of Notre Dame. Until 1829, this church, to which several additions and improvements were made, served as parochial church to the people of Montreal . Immediately after taking possession of the Notre Dame church ; the Sulpicians started the construction of their house, which is still standing, and is now the oldest building in Montreal .


As might be expected in a country where the population consisted mainly of Indians, the Sulpician Fathers also carried their activities in the missionary field. On their arrival at Ville- Marie, they found there Indians belonging to various tribes who allowed themselves to be instructed in the Gospel. The Fathers soon planned to group these Indians together. With this in view, the authorities of St. Sulpice set aside, in 1676, a substantial piece of land situated on the slope of the mountain, where they contemplated building a manoir for the missionaries, as well as a number of houses which would afford protection to those Indians who chose to come and live there. This plan was soon carried out, and a Sulpician Father was appointed to perform missionary work among the Indians of this reserve. He taught classes to the children, while the Sisters of "La Congrégation Notre-Dame" looked after the young Indian girls. In 1694, a drunken Indian set fire to the establishment. Vachon de Belmont, superior of the mission, rebuilt the manor and the walls in stone. The two round towers, which can still be seen in front of the seminary, on Sherbrooke street, date back to that period. The evil use of spirituous liquors, through which the whole fabric of the institution had already been imperilled, caused the Sulpicians to transfer the Indians, in 1696, to Sault-au-Récollet, where they remained until 1720.


At that time, the Seminary obtained from the French king a new seigniory on the shore of the lake of Two Mountains, with a view to establishing there the Indian mission, as it was thought to be still too near the city. In 1721, Oka was founded, and both Algonkin and Iroquois lived there peacefully under the paternal vigilance of the missionaries, most of whom went down in history as truly remarkable men for instance, to mention only one name, the great François Picquet, the "Father of the Five Nations", as Montcalm called him.


The Sulpician Fathers also preached the Gospel in a section of Ontario. In the year 1672, at the request of the Indians themselves, they established a missionary post somewhere in the Quinte peninsula. From there they covered the north shore of lake Ontario as far as the head of the lake. Nevertheless, in 1680, they were forced to abandon such missions, since the Indians continually moved their camps.


In the latter part of the seventeenth century, the Sulpician Order had also been requested to send missionaries in Acadia . The Sulpician Fathers covered the whole of the Maritime provinces, in St. John island ( Prince Edward Island ), Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. At the time of the dispersion of the Acadians, they shared the unfortunate fate of their flock.


The call of remote regions would have caused the Sulpician Fathers to travel to more distant parts had Providence not decided otherwise. In 1668, François Dollier de Casson left Montreal to preach the Gospel to the Indians along the shores of the Mississippi river . Going up lake Ontario, he reached, through Grand river, lake Erie, where he spent the winter at Port Dover. In the spring he resumed his journey; but one of his canoes was destroyed during a storm, and part of his baggage was lost. He was then forced to return to Montreal. Having been told by Joliet that a water route existed between lake Erie and Sault Ste. Marie, Dollier de Casson travelled up the river St. Clair and lake Huron, and reached the mission of Sault Ste. Marie. From there he returned to Montreal by way of the Nipissing and Ottawa rivers, after a year's absence. This fearless explorer, who was to write shortly afterwards the first history of Montreal, kept a record of his voyage; and this record, along with the maps drawn by Galinée, his companion, constitutes one of the most precious and invaluable sources of information on the early history of Canada.


Soon after their arrival at Ville-Marie, the Sulpicians organized classes at the Seminary, and a number of Sulpicians were proud to be known as school-teachers. After the year 1680, this educational work was carried on in a building on Notre Dame street which was given by the Sulpicians for that special purpose. Year after year the classes progressed until the number of pupils increased to such an extent that it became necessary in 1837 to call upon the Brothers of the Christian Schools for assistance.


In addition to providing primary education for their pupils, the Sulpicians also taught Latin, and this as early as the seventeenth century. The beginning of the Montreal College , or Seminary, must be traced back to that period. This educational system remained in force until the cession of New France to Great Britain. Afterwards, in the latter part of the year 1766, a Sulpician, Curateau de la Blaiserie, established a classical college in the rectory at Longue Pointe. In 1774, at the request of the citizens of Montreal, he came to that city and organized classes in the Château Vaudreuil. After the Château was burned in 1803, the Sulpicians erected, in 1806, a college on St. Paul street ; outside the McGill street walls. They remained there until 1860, when the building had to be given over to the garrison troops. The College was then transferred to the Theological Seminary situated on the mountain, where activities were carried on for a few years. Finally, in 1870, the College was built on its present site.


The Theological Seminary was opened in 1840, although plans for its establishment had been made in the seventeenth century. At first the seminarists received accommodation at the college situated on St. Paul street, and later, towards the year 1857, moved to the new building specially erected for them at the foot of the mountain, on the very spot where, in 1676, stood the Indian mission.


Since then, the activities of the Sulpician Fathers along educational lines have shown great progress, as can readily be seen by the numerous institutions which in the course of time came to life: such as the Canadian College at Rome, in 1888; the Seminary for the study of philosophy, on Côte-des-Neiges road, in 1896; the school of St. John the Evangelist, now the Externat Classique, in 1911; the St. Sulpice Library, in 1915; to say nothing of the important part the authorities of St. Sulpice have played in the establishment of a university in Montreal, in 1876 and in 1920.


A word about the parishes in charge of the Sulpicians might also be of interest. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, there was only one parish in Montreal, that of Notre Dame. To accommodate the ever increasing population, the authorities of St. Sulpice erected, between 1824 and 1829, the large church which can be seen on the Place d'Armes. Nevertheless, it soon became necessary to build throughout the city chapels which were annexed to the main church. Mgr. Bourget, second bishop of Montreal, changed these chapels into distinct parish churches. It remains true, however, that the Seminary of St. Sulpice was originally at the head of several parishes both inside and outside the city limits.


The Company of St. Sulpice, after struggling during three-quarters of a century for its very existence, was officially recognized as "an Incorporated and Ecclesiastical Community" by Lord Sydenham, in 1841. To-day the Sulpician Order carries on the work assigned to it by its founder - that is to say, teaching through the order's seminaries and colleges, parochial ministry at the churches of Notre Dame, St. James, and Oka, and missionary activities at Oka and in Japan. See H. Gauthier, Sulpitiana (Montreal, 1926); O. Maurault, Marges d'histoire, vol. iii (Montreal, 1930), and Jean Monval, Les Sulpiciens (Paris, 1934).


Source : Olivier MAURAULT, "Sulpicians", in W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. VI, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 398p., pp. 82-84.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College