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Last revised:
23 August 2000

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

The Right to Practise Catholicism in French
Henri Bourassa

[The Archbishop of Westminster] has spoken on the issue of language. He paints an America entirely dedicated to the future use of the English language; in the name of the Catholic interests he has asked us to make this language the customary language in which the Gospel would be announced and preached to people.

In certain parts of Canada this prickly problem makes relations between Catholics of the English language and Catholics of the French language somewhat more difficult. Why not take it up frankly, tonight, at the feet of Christ, and search for a solution in the sublime heights of faith, hope and charity?

To those of you, my brothers in language, who occasionally speak harshly of your Irish compatriots, allow me to say that however powerful are the local quarrels, the entire Catholic Church owes to Ireland and the Irish race a debt which every Catholic has a duty to pay. For three centuries Ireland has, under violent persecution and in the face of the most insidious attempts in a time of peace, given us such an example of perseverance in morale and faith in demanding its rights that all Catholic people must envy it instead of reproaching it.

To those of you who say: "the Irishman his [sic] abandoned his language, he is a national renegade; he wants to avenge j this and to take away our language", I answer: no. Had we experienced the trials which the Irish have undergone, perhaps we would have lost our language a long time ago.

Be that as it may, the English language has become the language of the Irish as of the Scots. Let us grant to one and the other, to the German and the Ruthene, to the Catholics of all nations who land on this hospitable soil of Canada, the right to pray to God in the language of their race, their country, the blessed language of their father and mother. Do not tear from anyone, oh you priests of Christ, that which is the dearest to man after the God he adores.

Do not fear, venerable Archbishop of Westminster: on this Canadian soil and particularly on the French soil of Quebec, our pastors, as they have always done, will minister to the exiled sons of your noble Fatherland as to those of noble Ireland all the succour of religion in the language of their fathers, be certain of this.

But at the same time, allow me, Your Eminence, to claim the same right for my compatriots, for those who speak my language not only in this province but wherever there are French groups living under the shade of the British flag or the glorious Star Spangled Banner, and above all under the maternal wing of the Catholic Church -the Church of that Christ who died for all men and who imposed on no one the obligation of denying his race that he might remain faithful to Him.

I do not wish, through a narrow nationalism, to say that which is contrary to my thought -and do not say, my compatriots- that the Catholic Church should be French in Canada. No; but say with me that for three million Catholics, descendants of the first apostles of Christianity in America, the best safeguard of the faith is the preservation of the language in which, for three centuries, they have adored Christ.

Yes, when Christ was attacked by the Iroquois, when Christ was denied by the English, when Christ was attacked by the whole world, we have confessed and we have confessed in our language. . . .

Source: Henri BOURASSA, Religion, Langue, Nationalité, Montreal, 1910, pp. 13-15. From Joseph LEVITT, Henri Bourassa on Imperialism and Bi-culturalism, 1900-1918, Toronto, Copp Clark, 1970, 183p., 128-129 pp.