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Quebec city's Seminary

Quebec city's Seminary

The Seminary of Québec was founded on March 26, 1663 by Blessed François de Laval, first bishop of Québec, and is a home for Diocesan priests.

The priests of the Seminary have devoted themselves, first and foremost, to the service of parishioners and to the formation of future priests.

In 1668, by request of King Louis the 13th who wanted to convert the Amerindians to the French culture and language, the founder inaugurated a residence for students studying at the Jesuit College.  Seven young Canadians were the first group to live at this residence.  Six young Huron boys joined them a short time later and, on October 9, 1665, the entire group moved into the house of Madame Couillard, the ruins of which can be found in the courtyard of the Vieux Séminaire.  However, this Royal policy was not a success and the last young Huron boy left the Pétit Séminaire in 1673, at the request of his parents.  The Petit Séminaire de Québec remained a residence for young people who were preparing themselves to enter the Grand Séminaire.  After the English Conquest of 1759, it became a college that taught the humanities and philosophy, therefore replacing the Jesuit College that the English authorities had requisitioned as barracks.  The first classes began in the fall of 1765 and included 28 students, of which 13 where day pupils.  So, the Petit Séminaire de Québec, founded in 1668, was transformed into a college modeled after that of the Jesuits. Gradually withdrawing themselves from parish and mission work, the priests of the Seminary took on the role of educators.

The priests of the Seminary became researchers, men of science, administrators and scholars.  Many like Father Holmes greatly marked the evolution of Québec Society and French America.   In 1852, the Seminary of Québec, having become renown for its expertise in the field of education, extended its sphere of activity to higher education and founded Laval University thanks to the Royal Charter received from Queen Victoria on December 8 of that same year.  The priests of the Seminary were in charge of Laval University until a new corporation took over in 1970.  The Musée de l’Amerique française brings the collections of the Seminary of Québec together, collections that had been accumulated over the years to meet the particular needs associated with their mission.  This rich heritage vastly grew during the 19th century, when the Seminary founded Laval University as it put together numerous collections according to their own means and circumstances of the time.  Thus, the priests of the Seminary became intimately associated with the preservation and diffusion of the French culture under all its forms.  Today the Seminary, just as active as always, is once again involving itself in parish life.  It participates in the continuing education of priests and in the evangelisation of young adults, runs summer camps at Cap Tourment at Saint-Joachim, while all the time continuing to insure the formation of future priests at the Grand Séminaire de Québec.

The sign SME, which stands for “Séminaire des Missions-Étrangères”, is still used today and takes us back to the origins of the Seminary.  In 1663, Blessed François de Laval signed the request for the affiliation of the Seminary with the Seminaire des Missions-Étrangères de Paris.  He was granted his request in 1665.  This affiliation lasted until the English Conquest.  Eleven superiors were then appointed to the Seminary of Québec by the Séminaire des Missions-Étrangères de Paris.  Therefore, after the English Conquest, another chapter began in the Seminary’s history.  The monogram SME continues to be used today as a sign of inheritance but also as a reminder of the Seminary’s vocation amidst today’s new social and cultural contexts.  This monogram can still be seen at the top of the gate of the Vieux-Séminaire, located at 1, côte de la Fabrique in Old Québec.

The Seminary includes a vast number of buildings, some of which date back to the 17th century and are witnesses of the French occupation, while the others were constructed anywhere from the 18th to the 20th century.  The ensemble is made up of two groups of buildings: the Vieux-Séminaire constructed under the model of 17th century French colleges and whose inner court is absolutely remarkable and the second group of buildings that have been added over the years to meet the needs of Laval University, the Grand Séminaire and the Pétit Séminaire that has now become the Collège François de Laval, whose most important buildings are the Camille-Roy pavilion and the Jean-Olivier-Briand pavilion.  The Camille-Roy pavilion has several pinnacles on which continuously fly the flag of the coat of arms of its founder, Mgr. de Laval, and the Jean-Olivier-Briand pavilion houses the priest’s residence and the Grand Séminaire.

Blessed François de Laval (1623-1708)

François de Laval was born on April 30, 1623 in Montigny-sur-Avre in France, and is a descendant of the French nobility.  When he was eight years old, he began his studies with the Jesuits at Collège de la Flèche and, ten years later, continued at the Collège Clermont de Paris.  He was ordained a priest at 24 years of age.  The Jesuits, aware of his administrative aptitude and his desire to be a missionary worker, gave his name to Louis the 14th as the possible future bishop of Québec.  He was consecrated as bishop on December 8, 1658 at the St-Germain-des-Près de Paris Abbey and arrived in Québec City in June 1659, with the intention of organizing the Catholic Church of Canada.

Known as a dedicated pastor, François de Laval founded several important institutions throughout Québec City, such as the Seminary of Québec erected on March 26, 1663, the Petit Séminaire in 1668, and the école des Arts et Métiers des St. Joachim (Arts and Trade school).  He also founded the first parish of the colony, Notre-Dame-de-Québec, that became the see of the first cathedral after the official nomination of François de Laval as bishop of Québec in 1674.  In addition, he became head of the first form of government, the Sovereign Council.  François de Laval died in Québec City on May 6, 1708, at the age of 85 and was buried in the basement of the cathedral three days later.

Throughout his missionary and pastoral work, François de Laval was known as a man who was close to and cared for the people in the community: he visited the sick, helped the poor and travelled to meet the priests and parishioners of the different parishes throughout his diocese.  He was concerned with defending the interests of all people, no matter what their rank or background and therefore was strongly against the brandy trade that existed between the Amerindians and the settlers, which caused certain tensions with the governors and notables.  During the last twenty years of his life, Brother Houssart accompanied François de Laval in his missionary activities and moreover would eventually publish a memoir about the last years of his life.

In 1993, a new funeral chapel was built inside the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica Cathedral where the body of François de Laval now rests.  Four words sum up the life and works of François de Laval: appel, (calling), fondation (foundation), croissance (growth) and abandon (abandonment – the giving up of one’s will).With respect to the spiritual life of Québec’s first bishop, the word abandon summarizes the inner belief that François de Laval cultivated throughout his life by faithfully placing his trust in God and His salvation, as he himself emphasized in his writings on June 9, 1687: “ It is just that we live only by pure abandonment in everything that concerns us, both from within us and from around us.”

Due to his faith-filled life and his commitment to following Christ, at the time of his beatification by John Paul II on June 22, 1980, François de Laval was described as the “Father of New France”.  Due to his loyalty to evangelical values, François de Laval is proposed is a true example to the people of Québec and elsewhere. 

“Everything that the hand of God performs serves us most admirably. Providence has been guiding this Chruch for years now.  Provided that His holy will be done, nothing else should matter.”

Quebec city's Seminary

  • 1, Rue de Remparts
  • Québec, Québec
  • G1R 4R7
  • Phone: 418-692-3981
  • Fax:
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