Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

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


Franciscan Fathers in Canada


[This article was written in the 1930's and published in 1948. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Franciscan Fathers . The Franciscan Fathers, or Friars Minor, as they are officially called, were founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the year 1221. They were known in mediaeval times as the Grey Friars, and many cities of Europe still bear testimony to their former residence by such names as "Grey Friars Street", "Grey Friars Road", or "Grey Friars Alley". To-day, for uniformity's sake, the colour of their habit has been changed from the natural grey of the sheep's wool to a maroon brown. Hence, to-day, they receive the name of brown-robed Friars. The suffix O.F.M. appended to their name means "Ordinis Fratrum Minorum", anglicè "Order of Friars Minor".


The characteristic notes of the order have always been a great love of poverty and an ardent zeal for the salvation of souls. It is this zeal which drove the early Franciscans forth to carry the light of the Christian faith to unknown fields. Thus we have John of Monte Corvino, who in the thirteenth century penetrated to the very interior of IndoChino, and made for himself an almost legendary name under the title of Presbyter John. Later, St. Peter Baptist and his companions founded a flourishing Christian colony in Japan ; and still later it was a Franciscan friar, Father Juan Perez, who accompanied Columbus, and was the first missionary to come to America.


Franciscans in Canada.

It was in 1615 that the Franciscans first came to Canada. They arrived at Tadoussac on May 25, and were four in number: Father Denis Jamet, Father Jean Dolbeau, Father Joseph LeCaron, and Brother Pacificus Duplessis. Though these early friars, the first missionaries to set foot on Canadian soil, are sometime called "Recollects", one must not forget that "Recollect" was merely a special name given to a particular branch of the Friars Minor. No sooner had they landed on these shores than they set about the work of evangelizing the native Indians. Father Dolbeau went to the Montagnais; Father Jamet and Father LeCaron to the Hurons. In 1619 another band of Friars Minor from Aquitaine, France, opened a mission in Acadia. Six of these intrepid apostles traversed the whole of that country and had considerable success with their missionary work. In 1623 two other noted missionaries arrived in Canada. One was Brother Sagard, the future historian of those early days; and the other was Father Nicholas Viel, destined to become the first martyr of the Franciscans in Canada. In 1626, Father Joseph de la Roche d'Aillon visited the land of the Neutral Indians, and was perhaps the first white man to gaze on Niagara Falls. Later, in December, 1678, Father Louis Hennepin also passed that way, and was the first to describe the beauty of the Falls.


The "Recollect" missionaries were deported to France in 1629, when the English captured Quebec ; but in 1670, after forty years of absence, the Franciscans returned to Canada. They established missions at Quebec, Three Rivers, and Montreal. In 1701, they served a colony at Port Royal, and were the first pastors and missionaries in those parts. A few years later, in 1759, the British conquest again interfered with the work of the Franciscans. They were forbidden to receive novices, and thus the order in Canada died out again, with the death of the last priest, Father Louis Demers.


In 1890, however, for the third time the Franciscans returned to Canada. They were received by Mgr. Fabre, bishop of Montreal. Previously, however, as early as 1888, Father Frederick of Ghyvelde, had established a small convent which served as commissariat of the Holy Land in the town of Three Rivers, Quebec .


Since their third and final establishment in Canada, the Franciscans have developed and spread all over the Dominion. They form, at present, a special province in the order, and go by the name of "The Province of St. Joseph in Canada". The headquarters of the province and the residence of the Very Rev. Father Provincial are at the Franciscan Friary, Montreal.


The chief work of the Friars, besides the choral office of divine worship, consists in preaching missions and retreats; but there are many who are also occupied in parochial duties and in teaching. The following is a list of the monasteries of the present Canadian province of Franciscans :


Montreal - Monastery and Headquarters for the Provincial Administration and for the publication of the different Reviews.


Rosemount (Montreal East)-Monastery and Seminary of Theology for the Theological students of the Order.


Sherbrooke, Quebec-Monastery and Novitiate.


Sorel, Quebec-Monastery and School.


Chateauguay, Quebec-Monastery and house for private Retreats.


Three Rivers, Quebec--Monastery, Seraphic College, and Parish of Our Lady of the Seven Joys.


Quebec, Quebec-Monastery and Seminary of Philosophy for students of the Order.


Tobique, New Brunswick-Monastery, Mission of Maliseet Indians, and centre from which radiate the Missionary Fathers to many near-by local mission churches.


Ottawa, Ontario-Monastery and Commissariat of the Holy Land .


Regina, Saskatchewan-Monastery, and Diocesan Seminary.


Edmonton, Alberta-Monastery, Seraphic College, and Parish of St. Francis.


Vancouver, British Columbia-Monastery.


Unlike most other orders and congregations, the Franciscan Order has not yet founded a distinct Englishspeaking branch of its religious in the Dominion. The Canadian province is almost entirely French-speaking, though a movement is actually on foot to educate English-speaking boys in view of a distinct province. For this purpose a college has been built, and is now functioning at North Edmonton, Alberta.


The latest census of the Franciscan province in Canada gives 180 priests, 80 professed students, 26 novices, and 120 brothers. See R. P. Odoric-Marie Jouve, Les Franciscains et le Canada (Quebec, 1915).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 384-385.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College