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Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General


Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General  suffragan of the Bishop of Quebec for the district of Montreal (1821 - 1836)

It was during this ten-month stay in Europe (August 14, 1819 - June 14, 1820) that Jean-Jacques Lartigue learned of his appointment as auxiliary bishop and vicar general; suffragan of the Bishop of Quebec, for the district of Montreal. It must be understood that this was an appointment to the same and vast diocese of Quebec, and that we use the civil term “district of Montreal” because it was not yet a new “diocese”.

Jean-Jacques Lartigue was very hesitant to accept this promotion and the heavy responsibilities it entailed. He anticipated the opposition of his colleagues, the French Sulpicians of Montreal, who had governed the territory for over a century.

Before accepting the episcopate, Jean-Jacques Lartigue consulted his general superior in Paris and his local superior in Montreal. The latter replied with an unsettling letter: he agreed to the project, provided that the chosen candidate did not reside at the Seminary, that he covered the costs of his office by accepting a parish outside the Island of Montreal (for example, south of the St. Lawrence River); that he be discreet, serving, and far from Montreal... The intervention of the Bishop of Quebec, Msgr. Joseph-Octave Plessis, and a formal order from Pope Gregory XVI, brought and end to the reluctance of Jean-Jacques Lartigue who ultimately gave his agreement. He would temporarily stay at the Seminary!

On January 21, 1921, Msgr. Plessis conferred upon him the episcopal ordination in the old church of Notre-Dame. For the time being, the Auxiliary Bishop of Quebec had neither a personal residence nor a cathedral. He soon moved to the Hôtel-Dieu on rue Saint-Paul, where the Religious Hospitallers of Saint-Joseph generously welcomed him and offered him a modest room and office. It has been said that the Hôtel-Dieu was the first bishopric of Montreal.

Jean-Jacques Lartigue's relations with several of his colleagues did not improve. Several diocesan priests, friends of the Sulpicians, also contested his authority; one of them even publicly affirmed that a bishop was useless in Montreal. Finally, the wardens of Notre-Dame told Msgr. Lartigue that he was not welcome in their church.

What kind of man was this bishop who aroused so much opposition? One can imagine that a certain coldness of character would explain this resistance towards him. Msgr. Lartigue was a man with a wholesome character; energetic and determined, a dynamic personality who did not lack warmth and attentiveness. Witnesses from this period can corroborate the presence in the prelate of the traits that are recognized here. Moreover, Msgr. Lartigue himself admits that he prefers above all “to be frank”, even with his opponents.

Let us return to the beginnings of Msgr. Lartigue's episcopate in Montreal without detailing all the known sources of resistance, such as those of Anglo-Protestant political power. Here, financial and moral support from many Montrealers was leveraged to allow the new bishop to gradually assert his authority. Thus, a committee was formed by the inhabitants of the Faubourg Saint-Laurent to build a house and a church for their bishop. On May 23, 1823, Msgr. Lartigue blessed the first stone of his church. The ceremony was attended by numerous faithful and clergy. The Sulpicians abstained. Two years later, on September 22, 1825, Msgr. Plessis came from Quebec City to preside over the blessing of the church and an adjoining house for the bishop; both located on Saint-Denis Street between Sainte-Catherine Street and today’s Boulevard de Maisonneuve where the main building of UQAM stands today. It was the first cathedral of Saint-Jacques (which a fire would destroy in 1852). This, again, was done in the presence of about fifty diocesan priests out of a hundred, yet no Sulpician.

After the death of Msgr. Plessis in December 1825, his successor, Msgr. Bernard Panet, reiterated his support for Msgr. Lartigue. Confirmed in his function, Lartigue got back to work. He established a school of theology for candidates to the priesthood which he entrusted his secretary and right-hand priest Ignace Bourget to direct. He had a keen interest in the cause of education in the conviction that it was an exclusive responsibility of the Church. He himself opened a school for boys in Santiago and then another for girls. He took a keen interest in the Collège de Saint-Hyacinthe, of which he was the director. He was concerned about the secularist tendencies of the Assemblée Nationale which, in the name of so-called liberal principles, tabled two bills: one on elementary schools, the other on parish fabriques. He saw "the current spirit of old France" in both of these bills... A showdown had begun between the Church and political leaders.

Fortunately, on the other hand, a rapprochement began in 1835 between Msgr. Lartigue and the Sulpicians. A happy event sealed this reconciliation. The celebration of the priestly jubilee of the Sulpician Roque and the renewal of the vows of priesthood by the venerable old man in the hands of his former pupil on September 24, 1835 brought the two parties closer together. The superior of the Seminary had warm words: “Everyone, without exception, was delighted with admiration and joy... we can even say that the bishop of Telmesse (the title worn by Msgr. Lartigue as auxiliary bishop) and the director of the Seminary are one.”

The situation had suddenly become favourable to the designation of a bishopric in Montreal; one distinct from that of Quebec. In November 1835, Lartigue addressed a request to Rome from the clergy of Montreal – one which the priests of the Seminary had signed – in favour of a bishopric in Montreal.