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Last revised:
23 August 2000

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

Mgr Bourne’s Explanations in the Interview with Le Devoir

It is doubtless (o)wing to the condensed form in which I presented my subject, that some misunderstanding has arisen as to my meaning. But if it be carefully read, it will be seen that every word was weighed and chosen so that offence might be given to no one. And my expressions, whatever associations of ideas they may have aroused in some of my hearers, do not in themselves convey any other meaning than one to which no Catholic could take exception.

Briefly my thesis was this: there is a problem before the Church in Canada, and at the same time a great opportunity, both arising out of the rapid development of the West. Heretofore the language of the country has been mainly French, and entirely on the side of the Church. While this remains the ease in the East, the immense influx of immigrants is forming a great English speaking people in the West. And their language is not on the side of the Church, but for 300 years has made for discord on religious matters.

Leaving local and political questions to those who have the right and the knowledge to deal with them, and looking at the matter from the higher ground of the interests of religion and the Church at large, as well as of the spiritual welfare of the Dominion as a whole, I invited the sympathy of a great international gathering for a scheme of uniting the whole catholic world in prayer that the English speaking peoples may speedily return to the bosom of the Church.

I think no Catholic can quarrel with the end desired, or fail to realise its great importance. I seized the occasion of making my appeal in Montreal, first because French Canada with its splendid faith and the position that faith holds, has a greater opportunity than exists elsewhere of furthering the cause of' the Church in this respect, and secondly because I knew that the missionary zeal bequeathed to them by their ancestors still lived in the heart of French Canadians.

As to the French language, added the Archbishop, I think it would be a calamity if it should lose any portion of the position it holds. But it might prove a greater calamity that an immense English speaking people should grow up in the Dominion, if that people should be wholly non-Catholic. Such a people is growing up, and the Catholic faith has somehow to be presented to them and maintained among them in their own tongue. The details of how that is to be done are in no way my business, but that of your own ecclesiastical authorities. But holding tho position I do I thought that from no one could the suggestion of united prayer come with better grace; and I felt and still feel that to no one could such a suggestion be made with greater assurance of success than to French Canadians.

Here you have the problem and the opportunity of which I have spoken. Both are yours, not mine, and I hope I have made it clear that I have offered the best help that lay within my power to aid you in dealing with both, by the suggestion that the Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Compassion should extend its benefits, hitherto reserved to England, to the whole world. I think I may claim that it is an act of generosity rather than an offence.

Source: Henri BOURASSA, Religion, Langue, Nationalité, Montreal, Le Devoir, 1910, 30p., pp. 24-25. The brochure presents the text of the interview in both French and English.