Laval, Diocese of (VALLIS GUIDONIS) includes the Department of La Mayenne. Until 1855 the territory of this diocese was annexed to Le Mans. Since the seventeenth century the creation of a See of Laval had been under consideration. A constitutional bishopric existed there for a short time during the Revolution; and two titular incumbents, Vilar and Dorlodot, occupied the position. In 1846 the creation of the see was decided upon, but was not carried out until after the death of Bishop Bouvier of Le Mans in 1854. A Bull of Pius IX, June 30, 1855, established the See of Laval. The apologist Emile Bougaud (q.v.) was consecrated Bishop of Laval in February, 1888, and died a few months later. The request of the Holy See in 1904 for the resignation of Bishop Pierre Victor Geay (1896-1904) was one of the reasons assigned by the French Republic for breaking with the pope and preparing the separation of Church and State. During the French Revolution, Laval was captured by the Vendeans on October 22, 1793, after which the diocese became the seat of the “Chouannerie”, a movement similar to the Vendean but less aristocratic, the “Chouans” consisting almost entirely of peasants who wore a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on their arm or their breast and fought for the liberty of their priests and for the royalist cause, without, however, avoiding frequent acts of brigandage. They were organized into bands by a certain Jean Cottereau, called Jean Chouan (1757-1794) and after his death continued their adventurous resistance till 1796. For the principal saints venerated in the Diocese of Laval, see Diocese of Le Mans; only those whose memories are closely associated with the present confines of the diocese are here mentioned: St. Constantianus, a monk of Micy, who founded the monastery of Lassay, at the same time that St. Erneus, St. Bohemad, and St. Alveus, also monks of Micy, were founding the monasteries of Ceaulee, Saint-Bomer, Saint Auvieu in the forest of Passais, on the borders of the Departments of Mayenne and l’Orne (sixth century), the deacons Sts. Serenus and Serenic, hermits of Saulges, who belong to the seventh century. Blessed Merolus, a native of Evron and chorepiscopus of Saulges, later Bishop of Le Mans, is of the eighth century, and the hermit St. Simeon of Vauce of the ninth. Bernier (1764-1806), Bishop of Orleans, one of the negotiators of the concordat and Cardinal de Cheverus, Bishop of Boston, Mass. and Archbishop of Bordeaux (1768-1836), were natives of the diocese.
Two councils were held at Laval in 1207 and 1242 and four at Chateau Gontier in 1231, 1253, 1268 and 1336 for the restoration of discipline. The principal pilgrimages in the diocese are: Notre-Dame de Priz at Laval, a shrine of great antiquity; Notre-Dame de l’Epine at Evron. About 648 a pilgrim bearing a reliquary containing a relic of the Blessed Virgin stopped at a sanctuary which had been erected in her honor by St. Thuribius, second Bishop of Le Mans, and hung the reliquary on a hawthorn bush. Subsequent miracles, it is said, induced St. Hadouindus, Bishop of Le Mans, to build there a second shrine and a monastery. In the last half century more than 100,000 people visited Notre-Dame de l’Epine. Notre-Dame des Freux at Bellebranche, Notre-Dame d’Avenieres, and Notre-Dame de Courbefosse at Fougerolles date from the twelfth century. Notre-Dame des Bois at Contest dates from the fifteenth century. Notre-Dame de la Mariette at Beaumont, Notre-Dame de la Crue at St-Martin du Limet, and Notre-Dame du Chene at St-Martin de Connee, date from the sixteenth century. Notre-Dame de la Tremblaye at Daon (since 1660), Notre-Dame de Bon Secours at Craon Saint Nicholas (since 1709), and since 1871 two important pilgrimages, Notre-Dame Auxiliatrice de la Ducraie at Burest and Notre-Dame d’Esperance at Pontmain.
Before the application of the Associations Law of 1901, there were Jesuits, Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and various orders of teaching brothers in this diocese. The Trappists are still at the monastery of Notre Dame du Port Salut, at Entrammes. The principal communities of women originating in this diocese are: the Ursulines of Chateau Gontier, founded in 1630 for teaching; the Hospitaller nuns of the Mercy of Jesus founded at Chateau Gontier in 1674; the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, hospitaller nuns founded in 1816 by Therese Agathe Rondeau, a poor working woman known as “Good Mother Therese”; the Sisters of Charity of Notre-Dame, teachers and hospitallers, founded in 1682 by Madame Thulard. The motherhouse of this community established at Evron in 1901, counts 1700 members and 184 institutions in the Diocese of Laval and 137 outside the diocese. In 1908 there remained twenty communities of women in this see. At the close of the nineteenth century the religious orders maintained here 27 infant schools, 2 institutes for the deaf and dumb, 1 orphanage for boys and 6 for girls; 4 work rooms, 12 hospitals or alms houses; 6 houses whose members care for the sick in their homes and 4 houses for retreats. In 1908 the Diocese of Laval numbered 305,457 inhabitants; 31 parishes; 265 “succursales”; 210 vicariates, and 705 secular priests.