1. The arrival of the Oblates in 1853
  2. The name Saint-Sauveur
  3. Erection of the parish in 1867
  4. Parish life
  5. Oblate personnel
  6. Other religious families
  7. Missionaries and preachers
  8. Religious and ecclesiastical vocations
  9. The Oblates left their mark on the area

The church of Saint-Sauveur in Quebec City, together with Saint-Pierre in Montreal and Notre-Dame in Hull, is one of the large and beautiful Oblate parish churches built in the 19th century in the midst of heavily populated working class areas. Through the years the Oblates have made it a place of worship, a centre of prayer and apostolic action where a succession of outstanding pastors have left their mark in local history.

The arrival of the Oblates in 1853
The Oblates had been established in the Saguenay Region, in Saint-Alexis-de-la-Grande-Baie (afterwards Ville de la Baie and today Saguenay) since October 25, 1844. With the encouragement of their Founder they were only too glad to move to a place more in keeping with their vocation as missionary-preachers. Already on June 8, 1844, that is, some months before the arrival of the Oblates in Canada, Bishop de Mazenod had written to Archbishop Signay of Quebec: “The Missionary Oblates of Mary are essentially men of the bishops. They ought to be able to move the moment you signal them to do so, receive directions from you and act according to your wishes, which to me makes it desirable that bishops have them close at hand, as far as that is possible, in their Episcopal cities. In any case, my Lord Bishop, you can count on their devotedness and on the zeal that they will always show in seconding your pastoral solicitude in all the tasks that you will deem it proper to entrust to them,” It was not until nine years later that this desire would be realized. May we point out that, in the meantime, on two occasions, the question had been raised of an establishment at Pointe-Lévis, just across from Quebec City.

It was on October 14, 1853, that the Oblates, at the request of the archbishop of Quebec, came to minister in Boisseauville. That ministry was to be in the parish of Saint-Roch. In the aftermath of a destructive fire in 1845, a man named Pierre Boisseau had given land to the parish of Saint-Roch and, in doing so, gave his name to the area. It was on that occasion that Father Jacques Santoni, the provincial, and Father Ferdinand Grenier arrived from Montreal to establish the community of Saint-Sauveur. Father Flavien Durocher, who had been superior of the community in Saguenay, adopted the same position in Quebec, with Fathers Thomas Horace Pinet and Ferdinand Grenier as his assistants. Brother John O’Brien was the other member of this newborn community. October 16 was the day they officially took over responsibility for the service of the parish. Fathers Charles Arnaud and Louis Babel, itinerant missionaries, were also attached to this community.

The church was opened for worship in 1853, although work on the building itself and on the presbytery and dependencies continued until 1866. The borders of the parish extended for three miles in length and a little more than two miles in width. That means that it stretched from Sainte-Geneviève to Charlesbourg and from the Ancienne-Lorette to Sainte-Foy. That was a vast territory that was rapidly developing and would eventually be divided into several parishes.

The name Saint-Sauveur
Contrary to what is commonly believed, it was not the parish that gave its name to the area but rather the contrary. The name Saint-Sauveur (Holy Saviour) for this area goes back as far as 1649. At that time Mr. de Montmagny was governor of New France. He gave to Jean LeSueur, popularly known as Mr. Saint-Sauveur a plot of land stretching from the foot of the hill to the Saint-Charles River, that is, a part of the present-day Saint-Sauveur quarter. The aforesaid Mr. LeSueur was the first secular priest to come to live in the country. He had been pastor in Thury-Harcourt, in Normandy and he left the parish of Saint-Sauveur in his native land where he had been pastor for eleven years. He arrived in Quebec on August 8, 1634. The Canadians did not hesitate to give him the name Saint-Sauveur so that the plot of land that was part of his territory ended up by being given his name.

Erection of the parish in 1867
On October 14, 1866, about four o’clock in the morning, fire broke for a second time in the rue Saint-Valier. It continued to burn until four o’clock in the afternoon and destroyed the whole area, including the church, the presbytery, the Sisters’ convent and the Brothers’ school. Everything was reduced to ashes.

Quebec City St-Sauveur Church (AD)

That was very discouraging, but the people quickly got down to work. Reconstruction began immediately and within two months Saint-Sauveur was up and running again. From then onwards events happened quickly. On February 28, 1867, the parish was canonically erected by Bishop Baillargeon, under the title of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. From being a neglected area the mission became a parish. On May 16 of the same year, the civil authorities acknowledged the juridical status of this new entity.

At this point it is fitting that something should be said about the present church. It was built in 1867, because the fire that ravaged the area (once again) in1889 spared the church. It is the brainchild of the Quebec architect, Joseph Fernand Peachy (1830-1903). It is a vast temple with its side-aisles and galleries and is capable of holding 2,000 people. The pictures in the vault and in the transepts are the work of the Canadian artist, Charles Huot (1855-1930). They form an imposing ensemble and, later on, they were to earn the artist the prestigious order of painting the assembly rooms of the Quebec City Hall on which he worked from 1910 to 1930.

The bell-tower of the new church was not built until 1892. There are four bells made in Baltimore, United States. The chronicles of the time record that their transport from Baltimore to Levis cost $100.32 and from Levis the two horses of Mr. Dorval brought them to the church. The first organ dates from 1859. The present one was inaugurated in September 1873 and was refurbished by the house of Casavant from Saint-Hyacinthe in 1903. The church of Saint-Sauveur was refurbished in 1943 in preparation for its consecration that took place on October 21 of that year. Finally, let us take note that the monument of the Sacred Heart in the area in front of the church was erected on June 28, 1908.

Parish life
The parish of Saint-Sauveur was, before the present church crisis in Quebec, one of the parishes in Quebec where the religious manifestations were exceeded only by the faith of the people. We read in the pamphlet published in 1967 on the occasion of the centenary of the parish, that: “The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, whose Father Durocher and his worthy successors and their collaborators, the assistant helpers and preachers, have made no small contribution to maintaining respect for healthy traditions among the people: devotion to the Sacred Heart, filial devotion to Mary Immaculate, Mediatrix of all graces. Holy hours, First Fridays, parish exercises, annual retreats, have created a web of intense community and liturgical life.

Inside Saint-Sauveur Church (AD)

In a booklet published in 1978, Father Gabriel Bernier, o.m.i., gives the names of a whole network of Confraternities and brotherhoods whose purpose was to promote and stimulate piety: the Ladies of the Holy Family (1855); the Children of Mary (1864); the Congregation of young people (1874); the Men’s Congregation (1881); the Third Order of Franciscans (1882); the Confraternities of the Holy Rosary, of the Scapular etc. So much for the works of piety! Then come the works of formation: the Patro Laval, the Saint-Sauveur Youth Work of which the multiple activities provided a solid social and professional, patriotic and athletic formation for its members. In the years 1935 to 1940 the Catholic Action movement took over from the Youth movement and began new forms of commitment for the young people of the parish. The YCW, the LOC, the JIC and their feminine counterparts brought some wonderful experiences to Saint-Sauveur.

The summer camps: Saint-Albert camp (1933-1974), the Maria Goretti camp for the younger ones, the Saint-Gérard Majella camp for adolescents, the LOC family camp for adults, also rendered a service to the people of the area. Scouting, which was the most recent activity to be introduced, until a few years ago, provided for the young people of the area a formation that was much appreciated. The parish of Saint-Sauveur had its weekly newspaper: L’Étincelle du Sacré-Cœur, which was founded by Father Victor Lelièvre in 1916 and continued publishing until 1961. Then there was the parish library, begun in 1885 and containing about 8,000 books in 1947.

We must also mention the works of charity: the workers (providing the altar linen, lace making, sewing and house service), the Society of Saint-Vincent de Paul of which the men’s’ and women’s Conferences (once as many as five of them) brought help to the poor of the area. Mention must also be made of the different Societies like that of Saint John the Baptist, the Lacordaire and Saint Joan of Arc Circles, the Artisans’ Society, etc., nor must we forget the numerous activities of the Durocher Centre set up in 1950.

This impressive list could be made longer by adding the six parish choral societies which existed formerly and the Lambilotte Band founded in 1889 by Father Valiquette, the parish Salaberry Guard, a bugle and guard corps founded by Father Barette in 1903, the Marian hour of reparation on the first Saturday of each month and so many other works and services which show both the vitality of the parish and the zeal of its pastors.

In 1898, with the establishment of Saint-Malo’s parish, Saint-Sauveur is left with 15,130 parishioners. In 1917, its territory is again divided when Sacred Heart’s parish is created; Saint-Sauveur has at that time a total of 19,282 faithful, with between 850 and 900 baptisms early. In 1925, after two other dividing up, Saint-Sauveur has no more than 10,204 faithful. In 1960, this number will be of about 12,000.

Oblate personnel
It may be easily surmised that the multiplicity of services in the area and their variety could only be the work of an apostolic religious community, the Oblates, but it must immediately be added that they had the assistance of other religious families.

For the sake of history, we will list here the names of the pastors from the time of the foundation 1867: Flavien Durocher (1867-1876); Ferdinand Grenier (1876-1879; 1885-1894); Adolfe Tortel (1879-1883); Charles Bournigalle (1883-1885); Pierre-Marie Drouet (1894-1900); Ernest Tourangeau (1900-1904; 1919-1920); Wilfrid Valiquette (1904-1910); Hormidas Legault (1910-1916); Louis Beaupré (1916-1921); Dollard Francoeur (1921-1923); Médéric Magnan (1923-1932); Eugène Guérin (1932-1941); Azarie Ménard (1941-1946); Alzire Mathieu (1946-1947); Jean Leduc (1948-1954); Jean-Louis Arel (1954-1960); Émile Allie (1960-1963); Calixte Beaupré (1963-1968); Grégoire Gervais (1968-1974); Fernand Dufour (1974-1985); Jean-Eudes Boudrault (1985-1987); Denis Béland (1987-1992); Jean-Guy Roberge (1992-2001); Laval Tremblay (2001 – ).

These pastors always had the assistance of numerous personnel, at least in the years of plenty. Some statistics will help to illustrate that point. As we have seen, on the occasion of the establishment of the Oblate community in 1853, there were four Oblates (three priests and one brother). In 1880 there were ten Oblates (8 priests and two brothers); in 1900 there were fifteen in the community (11 priests and 4 brothers). From 1920 to 1930 the house in Saint-Sauveur normally had about twenty Oblates; in 1940 there were 25 (20 priests and 5 brothers). From 1975 onwards the personnel became somewhat less numerous and the “nature” of the house was changing. There were less Oblates involved in the parish ministry (either in Saint-Sauveur or in the neighbouring parishes for which the Saint-Sauveur priests were responsible). The community was increasingly composed of retired, semi-retired or sick Oblates. In 2004 there were 18 Oblates resident (12 priests and 6 brothers) of whom only one, the pastor, was working in the parish.

It must be said that the Quiet Revolution has left its mark on the parish of Saint-Sauveur, as it has elsewhere in Quebec. The decrease in religious practice has been noteworthy. Secularization and the lowering of the birth rate have done their job. The younger generation have gone away to the suburbs and their place has been taken by people on social welfare and immigrants from different countries (Vietnamese among others, among whom Father Léo Laplante, a former missionary in Vietnam, has been ministering actively for several years). Gradually the milieu has been changing so that, for some time now, we cannot avoid asking what will be the future of what was once a densely populated and prosperous area.

Other religious families
Throughout their history, the Oblates of Saint-Sauveur have been generously seconded by religious communities whom they have brought here and helped to become established in the area. First of all, mention must be made of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame. In 1856, already, they came to educate young girls. They started with three classes in a rented house near the church. In 1861 they took over a three-story brick building. In 1956, the centenary year of the foundation, the convent school had 742 pupils and a staff of 25 Sisters assisted by 14 lay teachers. In 1958, the reform of teaching in Quebec brought about the demolition of this convent and the building of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys secondary school on the site of the old building.

As a result of the pressure by Father Durocher on Bishop Baillargeon, administrator of the diocese of Quebec, six Brothers of the Christian Schools arrived in Saint-Sauveur on August 6, 1865. Five classes were entrusted to their care. However, on August 14, 1866, fire broke out in the area, reducing the school to ashes. A magnificent new school was then built to house the primary classes. On the occasion of the centenary of the parish, a teaching Brother, Edmond Gingras, wrote: “The revolution which is known as quiet, in 1959 brought requirements in the field of culture and adaptation which obliged the superiors of the Congregation … to close a number of their houses so as to send their Brothers back to study and to acquire university qualifications so as to be able to exercise their apostolate as educators in new sectors.” He added that it was with regret that the Brothers were obliged to withdraw from Saint-Sauveur after one hundred years of dedication among a much loved and sympathetic people.

Among the other works of the area, the Orphanage, run by the Sisters of Charity of Quebec deserves special mention. It was begun in 1907 in a former shop and the official blessing and opening of the new building was in 1909. Besides receiving the orphans of the area, and later some of the aged, this institution provided services in the community, which were much appreciated: anti tubercular dispensary, maternity help, dental clinic, etc. Destiny, however, was to bring an end to all that; the old building became too dangerous for older people and would be demolished in the 70s.

These three religious families acknowledge all the support they received from the Oblates of the parish, not only as chaplains, but also in the matter of reconstruction after the fires, of finding funds for extensions etc. We must also take note of the presence in the house of Saint-Sauveur of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family of Sherbrooke. They were there from 1923 until 1992. For seventy years they provided domestic service and accompanied the work of the Oblates in the parish with their prayers.

Missionaries and preachers
The house in Saint-Sauveur always had a number of missionary-preachers among its personnel. Missionaries set out from Saint-Sauveur to evangelize the diocese of Quebec and even dioceses further distant. The missionaries from the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence and Labrador often came there. There was a real missionary spirit in the parish and it is not surprising that a work of Oblate formation, the Sacred Heart Juniorate, received encouragement in its time from the Oblates and the faithful of Saint-Sauveur. At the present time, that is, in 2004, there are two missionary-preachers in the community.

Among the missionaries, it would be unbecoming not to mention one who was, perhaps, the most illustrious of them all, Father Victor Lelièvre. He left his stamp, not only on the parish but also on the city and even throughout the province of Quebec. Father Lelièvre came to Saint-Sauveur in 1903 and he at once began to devote himself body and soul to the service of the workers in the area. His holy hours on Fridays for the workers in overalls who crowded into the church, his processions on the feast of the Sacred Heart, which immobilized all the traffic in the city, are events remembered by that generation. The first fruit of his zeal and a foretaste of what was to come was the retreat preached in the college of the Brothers of Christian Education in Saint-Sauveur parish. Two years later, 1923, saw the beginning of the enclosed retreats of Jésus-Ouvrier (Jesus the Worker) with all the apostolic ramifications attached thereto: Royal Service of the Sacred Heart, Committee of the Sacred Heart, etc. The work was a dependency of Saint-Sauveur parish until 1930 when it became autonomous. Through time, Jésus-Ouvrier became a formation school for lay Christians. The work was animated by about ten Oblates and attracted a large clientele to its diversified activities and the collaboration of numerous volunteers.

Religious and ecclesiastical vocations
The zeal of the Oblates in Saint-Sauveur brought many religious and priestly vocations among the faithful. On the occasion of the parish centenary in 1967, the following statistics were published: Sisters in all communities: 475; Brothers in all communities: 65; priests religious: 70 of whom 55 were Oblates; diocesan priests: 50. All of these were from the parish of Saint-Sauveur. It seems like a dream.

The Oblates left their mark on the area
The Oblates left their mark, not only in the hearts of the people but also on the geography of the area. The inhabitants of Saint-Sauveur acknowledged their gratitude to their pastors by giving their names to a number of streets in the area. There is, first of all, the Avenue des Oblats, which that runs alongside the presbytery and church of Saint-Sauveur. The name was given to it in 1926, the centenary year of the foundation of the Congregation. In that same year the name was given to de Mazenod Street, which crosses the Avenue des Oblats at right angles. From 1891 there has been a street that bears the name Durocher, the first pastor of the parish. In 1912 the Society of Saint John the Baptist erected a monument in his honour in the park that bears his name. The leisure centre of the area has also been christened Centre Durocher.

There is also a street that bears the name of Père-Grenier, in memory of this apostle of the early years who was French born and who died in 1903 after having devoted forty years of his life to the service of Saint-Sauveur. Tourangeau Street is in memory of a pastor from the beginning of the twentieth century. It is now in the territory of Saint-Malo’s parish. There is also in the area a Lacombe Street in memory of a valiant Oblate who lived from 1827 to 1916 and who ministered in the Canadian West. Father Arnaud Street is in an area that formerly was part of Saint-Sauveur parish. The name of Charles Arnaud reminds us of the intrepid missionary of the 19th century in Temiscamingue, Hudson Bay, Saguenay and the North shores of the Saint Lawrence River.

Ville Vanier was once a part of the Saint-Sauveur parish and it has its boulevard Lelièvre, which runs alongside the Jésus-Ouvrier building. Finally, let us mention two Oblates, Fathers Jacques Crépeau and Clément Rousseau, who were assistant priests in Saint-Sauveur in 1943 and whose names were given to streets in the Sainte-Monique-des-Saules housing estate that they promoted.

Laurent Roy, o.m.i.