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Ignace Bourget

Bishop of Montreal (1799-1885)

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Bourget, IGNACE.—first Bishop of Montreal, P. Q., Canada, and titular Archbishop of Martianopolis, b. at Point Levis, Province of Quebec, October 30, 1799; d. at Sault-au-Recollet, near Montreal, June 8, 1885. Remarkable for his piety and learning, he played throughout sixty years a potent part in the religious, and even in the civil, life of Canada. Monseigneur Bourget was the eleventh of thirteen children born to Pierre Bourget and Therese Paradis. Sixty-two years of his life were spent in the priesthood, almost fifty in the episcopate, and for nearly thirty-six years he administered the then extensive Diocese of Montreal. He received his elementary instruction at home and at the Point Levis school and afterwards took the regular course of studies at the Seminary of Quebec, where he was distinguished for his strength of character and brilliant intellect. Here, also, he studied theology for two years, subsequently entering Nicollet College, where he received the sub-diaconate, May 21, 1821, being chosen that same year by Archbishop Plessis of Quebec to act as secretary to Bishop Lartigue of Montreal. Thus, even before receiving Holy orders, Ignace Bourget was launched upon an active life. On November 23, 1821, he was made deacon and on November 30, 1822, was ordained priest in the chapel of the Hotel-Dieu where he said his first Mass. The young priest soon won the entire confidence of his bishop, who, in 1836, named him vicar-general of the diocese. On March 10, 1837, Pope Gregory XVI appointed him coadjutor to Bishop Lartigue, and on July 25 of the same year he was consecrated titular Bishop of Telemessa in Lycia. He took possession, on April 23, 1840, of the See of Montreal, made vacant some two weeks previously by the death of Bishop Lartigue.

Bishop Bourget inaugurated a retreat for the clergy of his diocese, August 4, 1840; in the same year he carried out the desire of his predecessor by creating a chapter of canons, the installation taking place January 31, 1841. In December, 1841, after his return from France and Rome, where he had visited many religious communities, he brought the Oblate Fathers to Montreal and in January, 1842, founded the Petit Seminaire de Sainte-Therese and canonically established the Temperance Society. The community of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, now flourishing in Canada and the United States, was founded under his patronage in 1843, and about the same time the Sisters of Providence. The Providence Asylum was established March 29, 1844. On July 11, 1844, Bishop Bourget installed the Sisters of the Good Shepherd from Angers. In a pastoral letter, June, 1845, he commended the work of the Jesuit Fathers whose first establishment he blessed July 31, 1851. On his return from Rome in 1847, he introduced the Fathers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the Clerics of St. Viator, and the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and, a little later, placed the orphans under the care of the Dames de Charite. In 1848 he installed the Sisters of Misericorde; and on August 30, 1850, was begun an institute for deaf-mutes known as the Hospice of the Holy Child Jesus. In the same year he founded the teaching order of the Sisters of Sainte Anne who have now several missions in the United States, one even in Alaska. All these religious orders have since attained notable proportions.

After the fire of 1852 which destroyed the cathedral, the episcopal palace, and one of the most beautiful sections of Montreal, Bishop Bourget made his home in the Hospice Saint-Joseph until August 31, 1855, when he removed to Mont Saint-Joseph, the episcopal residence. In 1854 he went to Rome on the invitation of the Holy Father to assist at the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and in 1857 he instituted the Forty Hours’ Devotion in his diocese, and organized the Conferences Ecclesiastiques. He returned to Rome in 1862 to represent the Province of Quebec at the canonization of the Japanese martyrs and was made a Roman Count and Assistant at the Papal Throne. During the same year he established the Third Order of St. Francis, and on October 15 organized the confraternity for perpetual devotion to St. Joseph. In 1864 he entrusted the deaf-mutes to the care of the Sisters of Providence. Believing that the people would benefit by the division of the parish of Montreal, he began the change in 1866-67, and after a lapse of forty years the increase to more than forty new parishes shows the wisdom of the step. In 1869 Bishop Bourget went to Rome to attend the Vatican Council. In 1870 he laid the foundation-stone of the Montreal Cathedral and in 1872 celebrated his golden jubilee. He tendered his resignation as Bishop of Montreal in 1876, was named titular Archbishop of Martianopolis, and withdrew to the St. Janvier residence at Sault-au-Recollet. In 1879, at the age of eighty, he made his last journey to Rome; five years later he heroically set out upon a tour of his former diocese with a view to reestablishing its badly compromised finances.

The remains of Bishop Lartigue and those of Archbishop Bourget were interred together in a vault under one of the pillars (the southwest) that support the dome of the cathedral. After the services held at Notre Dame at which the Very Rev. Father Collin, Superior of St. Sulpice, delivered the funeral oration over the body of Archbishop Bourget, another service was conducted at the pro-cathedral for the two deceased prelates whose eulogy was pronounced by Archbishop Tache of St. Boniface. In June, 1903, a handsome monument was dedicated to the memory of Archbishop Bourget. This work of art, by the sculptor Hebert, stands in front of the cathedral. It was erected by both clergy and faithful, who contributed $25,000, and is a testimony of affection to a great bishop who was at the same time a great citizen. The published works of Archbishop Bourget comprise eight volumes of pastoral letters.


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