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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Controversy Surrounding the Use of the French Language at the Eucharistic Congress of Montreal [1910]

Report on the Canadian Eucharistic Congress in the Canadian Annual Review (1910)

The Canadian meeting of this great Congress was of more than religious or local interest; it exercised an important influence upon National. Primarily and emphatically its object was of course, religious and its environment that of a world-wide Church ; locally it appealed vitally to one great Province of Canada and through its addresses touched public opinion in all the Provinces. The first of these Congresses had been held in 1873 at Paray-le-Monial, France, the second at Lille, France, in 1881, and the third at Avignon in 1882. Succeeding meetings were at Liege, Belgium, 1883; Fribourg, Switzerland, 1885 ; Toulouse, France, 1886 and Paris, 1888 ; Antwerp, Belgium, 1890 and Jerusalem 1893 ; Rheims 1894, and Paray-le-Monial 1897 ; Brussels 1898 and Lourdes 1899; Angers 1901 and Namur 1902 ; Angoulême 1904, Rome 1905 and Tournai, Belgium, 1906 ; Metz 1907, London 1908, and Cologne 1909. The greatest of ecclesiastical and Church gatherings in the world this Congress typified, and was intended to strengthen in its meetings at centres of population everywhere, the pivotal doctrine, to the Roman Catholic Church, of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

To the influence of Archbishop Bruchèsi [sic] at the London Congress was due the decision to meet in Montreal and to his succeeding tour in the United States was due the enthusiastic support of the Church there. During the weeks which preceded the opening ceremonies, on Sept. 3rd, great preparations were made. Subscriptions, which included $5,000 from Lord Strathcona, $5,000 from Mgr. Bruchèsi [sic], $5,000 from the Congregation of Notre-Dame, and $25,000 from the Gentlemen of St. Sulpice, with $5,000 from the City Council of Montreal, were received to the amount of $100,000 ; 16 arches were erected throughout the City embodying different incidents in the triumph or history of Christianity; streets were repaired, churches renovated, religious buildings and institutions improved and decorated, preparations made to have the Papal colours everywhere and the streets strewn with flowers on Sept. 11th for " the Solemn Procession of the Blessed Sacrament"; expenses were incurred in connection with clerical organizations, public bodies, and private individuals which were estimated at $1,000,000 ; an immense baldequin and altar were erected at Mount Royal Park for the open-air Mass of Sept. 5th; 100,000 visitors were expected and 200,000 were said afterwards to have attended. Cardinal Vincenzo Vannutelli was appointed by the Pope a special Legate to attend and preside over the Congress.

On Sept. 1 His Excellency the Papal Legate, accompanied by Cardinal Logue of Dublin and 300 prelates, clergy and lay delegates from many parts of the world, arrived at Quebec. There he was welcomed by Archbishop Bégin, Archbishop Bruchèsi [sic] and many Prelates from the United States and other parts of Canada; by Messrs. L. P. Brodeur and Charles Murphy of the Dominion Government; by Sir Louis Jetté on behalf of the Provincial Governor, Sir Lomer Gouin and his colleague for Quebec Province, and the leading citizens of Quebec itself. The streets were gay with flags and crowded with humanity and official addresses of welcome were presented at the Dufferin Terrace and received by the Legate seated on a dais draped in red. To His Excellency, the Archbishop of Quebec said in the course of his speech : " Our old City of Quebec, which saw the birth of the Canadian people, and was the cradle of its faith, claims with legitimate pride the honour of having given to the Host its first permanent dwelling in this country. Among the traditions dear to the Church of Quebec and which she guards with jealous care, none is more sacred than the traditions of fidelity to the God of the Eucharist." In reply the Cardinal conveyed his Message : " I know that the Catholics of Canada love the Holy Father and I wish to add that he who knows their noble origin, the magnificent religious and patriotic epic they have lived -who knows above all of their constancy in faith - has confided to me a mission which I hasten to fulfil - to tell you that the Holy Father has you very near to his heart, that he has a very special affection for French-Canadians, that he blesses you from the very depths of his heart."

To the press after the functions were over Bishop Heylan of Namur stated this was the first Congress at which the State authorities had joined in the welcome. In this connection Mr. Justice Girouard sent a Marconigram signed as Administrator of the Government to the Papal Legate - when the Empress of Ireland was coming up the River - which proffered " Ses Hommages " or, as it was published in the press : " The Administrator of the Government of Canada presents his homage to His Excellency and bids him welcome. Girouard." The meaning of the word " homage " in French and English was afterwards widely discussed in its special application to local conditions and the relation of Church and State. The Dominion Government steamer Lady Grey was placed at the disposal of the Legate and his party for the succeeding trip up the River to Montreal which was reached on Sept. 3rd after various ceremonies and Services had been carried through in Quebec by the visiting ecclesiastics. In the midst of pouring rain His Excellency came to the City, surrounded by a flotilla of yachts, and was welcomed at what the Mayor afterwards termed " the Rome of the New World," by an enormous crowd of priests and representatives of lay societies at the wharf or around the specially-built platform, and by the Mayor and Civic authorities. The latter, however, very quickly drove the distinguished visitors to the City Hall when it was found impossible to hold the public function out-of-doors.

There the Address presented by Mayor J. J. E. Guerin for the City of Montreal was a review of the religious, yet liberal spirit of the people, the harmony with which men and women of different nationalities, races and creeds lived together in Canada. In his reply the Papal Legate was most eloquent : " Washed by the blood of heroes who were its first conquerors, and of apostles who here preached the Gospel, permeated also by the traditions of attachment to the Holy See, Montreal on this day becomes the centre of the attention and admiration of the whole world. It continues to assure to the Catholics who live here the fruits of the sufferings and works of its glorious founders. With a constance which is invincible, it has preserved the faith and traditions centering around the Blessed Eucharist." An incident of this reception which was much discussed was the absence of any military honours. Preparations had been made for a guard of honour from the Militia but at the last moment Sir Frederick Borden had forbidden any uniformed attendance, as he was compelled to do, under the Militia regulations.

This 22nd Eucharistic Congress was opened on Sept. 6th in St. James Cathedral with 120 Bishops and Archbishops surrounding the Cardinal Legate and with the great building packed to the doors. The first proceeding was the reading of a Message from Pope Pius X. appointing Cardinal Vannutelli as his personal representative at the Congress : " The mission entrusted to you is in keeping with your piety and rank, and peculiarly calculated to advance the Christian cause. For by this public manifestation the Eucharistic Bread, unhampered by space and division, will bind together the lands which the seas divide, stimulate distant nations to vindicate and proclaim the glory of God the Saviour, and to honour with due loyalty and submission, the centre of Christianity, to wit, Christ's vicar on earth." The Cardinal delivered an address as did Archbishop Bruchèsi [sic] and then the following Cablegram was sent to His Majesty, the King : " The Catholics of the Empire, Bishops, Priests and laity, present at the International Eucharistic Congress in Montreal, pray Your Majesty to accept this respectful homage of unswerving loyalty and their expression of profound gratitude for the modification in the Royal Declaration and, with other visiting members of the Congress, hailing from all parts of the world, wish Your Majesty and the Royal family continued happiness and prosperity. Vincenzo Vannutelli, Cardinal." A Royal expression of appreciation came in due course. A despatch was also sent to His Holiness the Pope whose reply through Mgr. Merry del Val expressed profound appreciation of the event. ‘The Holy Father . . . learns with lively joy and emotion of the splendid manifestation of admirable piety, union, and devotion, of the Government, City and Canadian people. With the religious authorities he unites most cordially with the Congressists during these touching solemnities."

On the following day a Luncheon was given by the Government of Quebec, with Sir Lomer Gouin in the chair, to Cardinal Vannutelli - Cardinals Logue and Gibbons with 300 other distinguished guests being present. The Papal Legate first proposed the health of the King with a tribute to the liberties allowed the people under British rule and to the personal qualities of His Majesty; the Quebec Premier then proposed that of His Holiness the Pope " as head of the largest community of Christians on earth." His speech was an eloquent description of the historic continuity and greatness of the Church, of its spiritual and general power, of its place in the hearts of French-Canadians, of the personality and character of the Pontiff. In the evening a great and crowded Reception was given by the Government of Canada at the Windsor in honour of the Papal Legate with Hon. Charles Murphy, Secretary of State, as the principal host and Hon. Messrs. Brodeur, Fisher, Sir F. Borden and Sir R. Cartwright present. Every one of eminence in the life of Montreal, as well as the religious leaders from abroad and many prominent persons from other parts of Canada, were there. During the succeeding week a great programme of study, statement and religious effort was proceeded with. Briefly, the public portion was as follows :

Sept. 8. -Midnight mass at Notre Dame Church attended by thousands of priests and laity.

Sept. 9. -Procession of 15,000 children and their reception by the Cardinal Legate.

Sept. 9. -Remarkable gathering at Notre Dame addressed by Cardinals , Vannutelli and Logue, Sir Widfrid Laurier and Sir Lomer Gouin, the Bishops of Namur and Orleans, Archbishop Ireland of St. Paul.

Sept. 10. -Pontifical Mass and Address by Archbishop Glennon of St. .Louis at St. Patrick's Church.

Sept. 10. - Pontifical Mass at Mountain Park attended by immense crowds with Archbishop Farley of .New York as Celebrant and addressed by Archbishop O'Connell of Boston and Father Hage, head of the Dominican Fathers in Canada.

Sept. 10. - Meeting in Notre Dame Church addressed by Archbishop Bourne of Westminster, England, Hon. C. J. Doherty, M. P., Hon. T. Chapais, M.L.C., Judge O'Sullivan of New York, J. M. Tellier, M. L. A., and Henri Bourassa, M.L.A.

Sept. 11. - Pontifical Mass in St. James Cathedral with the Cardinal Legate as Celebrant and Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore as preacher.

Sept. 11. -"Solemn Procession of the Blessed Eucharist " through the streets of Montreal at 2 p.m. with 200,000 or 300,000 onlookers. In the procession were Mr. Justice Girouard, described as representing the governor-general, Sir Wi1frid Laurier, and other Federal Ministers, the Quebec Premier and his Ministers, with Mayor Guerin and the Alderman of Montreal, Mr. Justice Anglin of the Supreme Court and Mr. Speaker Marcil of the House of Commons in their robes of office, and many other distinguished personages.

Sept. 12.-The Papal Legate viewed and officially identified the remains of Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the great religious organization of Notre Dame, with a view to Canonization.

The parade was the last great event of the Congress. In it were not only those mentioned but the "hundred or more Archbishops and Bishops from many lands clad in gorgeous vestments; a hundred Zouaves in their picturesque uniforms; Cardinal Vannutelli walking beneath a large canopy, carrying the Host, and surrounded by a guard of the 65th Regiment, in uniform, with drawn swords; followed by many representatives of varied Church organizations and State interests. The Toronto Globe correspondent described the scene as follows: " Through flower-carpeted streets, lined by hundreds of thousands of reverent worshippers, with the houses ablaze with bunting and fluttering flags, preceded by tens of thousands of priests and members of religious societies, the Sacred Host was carried by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Vannutelli. From its resting place on the Altar in Notre Dame it was reverently transported for miles through streets packed with worshippers to nature's great altar at the foot of Mount Royal. The entire distance from Notre Dame to Fletcher's Field was a mass of colour. Flags fluttered in the breeze, pennants streamed from house-tops and window sills, bunting covered the fronts of the houses until scarcely a brick or stone could be seen. On the streets close to the sidewalk towers and Venetian masts were erected every few yards, and from these hung more pennants and bunting with wreaths of evergreens looped from mast to mast." Thus ended what the Cardinal Legate described as " one of the greatest events in modern times." It was probably the most spectacular week in the history of this country.

Amongst the most conspicuous of the multitude of prominent Delegates present at the Congress -not already mentioned- were Archbishops Redwood of New Zealand, Howley of Newfoundland, Keane of Dubuque, Ryan of Philadelphia, Riordan of San Francisco, Quigley of Chicago. Archbishops Gauthier of Kingston, McCarthy of Halifax, McEvay of Toronto and MacNeil of Vancouver were also present as, indeed, were most of the Hierarchy of Canada and the United States. Geographically there were Prelates at the Congress representing Lemberg in Poland, Port-au-Prince in Hayti [sic], Santa Fé in Texas, Birmingham in England, Luxembourg in Belgium, Angers in France, Aberdeen in Scotland, &c. The Papal Legate had in his Staff Mgr. Prince de Croy, Messrs. Thomas Hughes Kelly, Charles Le Moyne de Martigny, originally of a French-Canadian family, and others. Of Canadians taking part by means of papers and addresses before the Congress itself -at its regular meetings in Windsor Hall and Laval University -were Abbé Gosselin, Rector of Laval in Quebec, Mgr. Emard, Bishop of Valleyfield, Abbé Prudhomme of St. Boniface, Rev. Hugh Canning of Toronto, Rev. Dr. M. J. O'Brien of Peterborough, Rev. Louis Drumond, s.j., of Montreal Dr. Thomas O'Hagan, now of Chicago, Mgr. O. E. Mathieu of Quebec, Very Rev. A. Thompson of Glace Bay, Rev. J. L. Hand of Toronto, Miss Anna T. Sadlier of Ottawa, Bishop McDonald of Victoria and many others. Following the Sessions of the Congress Cardinal Vannutelli, accompanied by Cardinals Logue and Gibbons, Archbishop Bruchèsi [sic] and hundreds of priests, visited the historic Church of Oka where is enshrined a silver statue presented by Louis XIX of France and received great demonstrations of respect and welcome, on the way, at Lachine, St. Anne and other points, with an address from the Indians of Oka. His Eminence and suite were in Ottawa on Sept. l4th ; on the l8th he was in Winnipeg, where he laid the corner-stone of a new Seminary at St. Boniface, was banqueted [sic] by Archbishop Langevin, entertained at Government House, and shared in various other functions and religious duties. From Winnipeg the Cardinal went to St. Paul and thence to other points in the United States. Before leaving Winnipeg he telegraphed to Archbishop Bruchèsi [sic] that he had spent " days of Paradise " in Montreal. " I shall never forget the Congress ; the Eucharistic Procession was quite incomparable." Father Vaughan visited Toronto, where he addressed the Empire Club on Sept. l5th, and from there passed to Winnipeg where, on the l9th, he made a notable declaration : " I am proud to be an English Catholic today, standing on this platform, to tell you Canadians how dear is the English flag to Catholics, and to tell you that their patriotism is the fairest bloom that rises out of the tap-root of their religion. I hope that every Catholic will show himself to be true to the Mother Country and see that the British flag keeps flying in a clean atmosphere." Centres further west were also visited.

Archbishop Bourne had already toured the West from Winnipeg to the Coast just prior to the meeting of the Congress. Cardinal Logue spent some days in Toronto through which, also, 150 French, Belgian, and Irish dignitaries passed on the 13th en route to Niagara Falls. His Eminence preached twice on the l8th, visited Loretto Abbey and was entertained by the Knights of Columbus at a great Reception. On Oct. l6th Archbishop Bruchèsi [sic] in a Pastoral letter reviewed the religious work of the Congress and added these words : " Nowhere was there the slightest breach of order. Among our separated brethren, we saw but evidences of respect, often of admiration, and at all times cordial sympathy. There were no strangers among us. All were brothers and, as such, we received those who came, from near and far, to take part in our great religious festival." A month later he received an autograph letter of appreciation from His Holiness, the Pope. " Wonderful, indeed, was that spectacle of a people's faith and piety that you gave to the eyes of the world during those days."

The incidents of this great demonstration were many and varied. Perhaps the most conspicuous, in its effect upon opinion and discussion elsewhere in Canada, was the stand taken in several stirring and eloquent addresses by the Rev. Bernard Vaughan, the eminent English Jesuit, and brother of the late Cardinal Vaughan. His subject on each occasion was the Sacrifice of the Mass, his audiences were Roman Catholic in belief, the occasion was provocative of strong thoughts and phrases. The words which aroused special Protestant resentment and criticism were, however, those delivered in St. Patrick's Church on Sept. fifth when, after a reference to self centered materialism as the danger of the day, he described the Sacrifice of the Mass as " the soul of religion, the plentiful source of life to man on earth, the divine pledge of salvation. It was the so-called genius of Protestantism to invent a form of Christianity without sacrifice." This view and the summaries of the speech as calling Protestantism a " soulless religion " aroused a storm of criticism in pulpits throughout Canada which did not entirely die down for months afterwards.

At the two public meetings in Notre Dame some important speeches were made. Sir Wilfrid Laurier was introduced as the first Prime Minister of any country who had ever addressed a Eucharistic Congress. His address was a brief but fervid eulogy of religion. " Our faith is the first duty of our Government, the necessity of our homes. If those who labour, who struggle, who delve, lose their belief in God what will rest them?" Sir Lomer Gouin spoke in a similar strain. " In the family of the Church if all the tongues do not speak the same language a close fraternity nevertheless unites all the souls; the minds meet, the wills agree, the efforts are combined, the harmony is complete and the union perfect; when the Church teaches we believe; when she commands we obey; when she is attacked, we defend her." Archbishop Bourne, while recognizing the force of the past alliance between the Church and the French tongue in Canada, aroused some comment by referring to the growth of the West and declaring that " if Canada is to be won to the Catholic Church, it can only be done by making known to a vast number of Canadians the mysteries of our faith through the medium of the English tongue. The success of the Church in Canada will depend largely in the future upon the extent to which the English language can be allied with the Catholic Church." Mr. Bourassa took direct exception to this view: " I say that the best safeguard of our faith is the preservation of the idiom in which for three centuries, Catholics in America have worshipped." He also said that workingmen must beware of societies without religion. " We must have them recognize that the Catholic faith is their best safeguard, a better safeguard than the officers of Unions who are often only satisfying their appetites and obtaining their salaries."

There were many other incidents of perhaps minor importance in connection with the Congress -secular and national as well as religious. The speeches contained appreciative references to the change in the Accession Declaration to be taken by the King; Archbishop Bourne's references to the English tongue created considerable criticism in certain French circles ; Father Vaughan not only talked high Imperialism at Winnipeg and Toronto and strenuous Catholicism everywhere but he eulogized Joan of Arc in a Montreal address ( Sept. 13 ) greatly to the detriment of the British arms and British aims of those days ; the $5,000 voted by the City Council for the Congress was strongly denounced by the Orange Order in Quebec. The official order of the Procession announced a place for " the Administrator of Canada and his Staff " and this, coupled with Mr. Justice Girouard's expression. of " homage " to the Cardinal Legate aroused wide comment, and some extreme Protestant criticism; throughout Canada; so with the attendance under Government sanction of officers in uniform. at the Civic Reception to His Excellency and the appearance in the Procession of the 65th Regiment in full uniform under a tacit understanding that the Militia Department would not interfere further with what it had been compelled to point out was forbidden by the Regulations ; so also with the appearance in the same Procession of Mr. Speaker Marcil and Mr. Justice Anglin in their robes of office.

To these incidents a part of the Protestant press elsewhere - though a comparatively small portion -responded with violent denunciation of the Roman Catholic Church as historically and fundamentally opposed to human liberty. The Orange Sentinel and Toronto Telegram and Hamilton Spectator were, perhaps, the most strenuous in this line of attack. A more common argument was to draw attention to the difference in the attitude of the State authorities toward Cardinal Vannutelli attending this Congress and to the Lord Bishop of London attending the Anglican Congress at Halifax. A view in which Liberal papers such as the Winnipeg Free Press and the Toronto Star agreed was in deprecating the precedent thus set for the Militia in uniform taking part in Protestant processions and ceremonies. The almost inevitable flag question came up in connection with the City Hall decorations, in which it was claimed that the Union Jack was conspicuous by its absence or rarity, the Irish flags too numerous to please French-Canadians, and the Tri-colour too frequently displayed to please others in the population. In reply to an inquiry made at Ottawa as to this question Mr. Joseph Pope, Under-Secretary of State, replied : " What is commonly called the Dominion Flag is authorized for use only on the water by merchant vessels registered in Canada. Its use on land is never right. In my opinion the only flag that should properly be flown on land in Canada is the Union Jack." There were flags of many and varied nationalities to be seen in the Procession and streets on Sunday. Some of these incidents, however, were comparatively petty details in connection with what was undoubtedly a great event in the annals of Montreal and the religious life of the Province and a memorable one in the history of Canada itself.

Source: J. Castell HOPKINS, The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1910, Toronto 1911, pp. 351-358.