When I was studying to be a priest I remember experiencing a call within my call: I was not only called to be a priest, but to be a priest for the Church of Montreal. This was actually quite significant, since my family does not live in this city. A few times I recall asking the Lord, “Are you sure you want me to be in Montreal?” and the answer I always received in prayer was “Your place is in Montreal.”
This got me thinking: why Montreal? So I began to do some research into the living spiritual heritage of my city, and I came to see how remarkable this place really is. This is not merely another dot on the map: Montreal has, in its history, had a special place in God’s providential plan. It was originally founded based on inner locutions of the Blessed Virgin given to Servant of God Jerome le Royer, which is why the first name of the city was “Ville-Marie” (and the official name of the diocese is still Marianopolitana). It has found itself at the centre of the great issues of modernity, and made an important contribution to the Church in the world. Today it struggles against the waves of secularism and anti-clericalism, waves which sometimes seem so much more intense here, but the Holy Spirit continues to call the people to holiness. It is actually quite exciting to be a priest here — you feel you really are on the front lines of the Church’s mission.
One of my great pleasures is to welcome visitors to Montreal, and to share with them this spiritual heritage. When Secret Agent Man came to Montreal last year I had the honour of giving him a bit of a tour, and he encouraged me to broadcast even more widely the presence of our religious riches. So I’ve been working on preparing a list of things to see and do for people who would like to come to Montreal on pilgrimmage, to take a dip in our spiritual waters.
The four basilicas
Montreal is blessed with 4 major churches that have received the honourary title of “basilica” from the Vatican. These are:
- Mary Queen of the World Cathedral — a to-scale replica of St. Peter’s in Rome.
- Notre-Dame Basilica — which has repeatedly been called the most beautiful church in North America (ask SAM, he’ll confirm that).
- St. Joseph’s Oratory — the largest shrine to St. Joseph in the entire world.
- St. Patrick’s Basilica — the home parish of the Irish Catholics of Montreal.
Shrines of the saints
Montreal has a large number of local Saints and Blesseds buried in and around the city, as well as many centres devoted to promoting the causes of other Venerables and Servants of God. These include:
- St. Marguerite Bourgeoys — foundress of the Congregation Notre-Dame.
- St. Marguerite d’Youville — foundress of the Grey Nuns (Sisters of Charity).
- Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha — the first Native American to be beatified (web site for the shrine).
- Blessed Marie-Rose Durocher — foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
- Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin — foundress of the Sisters of Saint Anne.
- Blessed Emilie Gamelin — foundress of the Sisters of Providence.
- Blessed Brother Andre — much-beloved founder of St. Joseph’s Oratory.
- Venerable Delia Tetreault — foundress of the Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception.
- Servant of God Jeanne Leber — consecrated virgin, and the first hermit in North America (note: the web page incorrectly refers to her as “blessed”).
- Servant of God Jeanne Mance — lay woman who helped found the first hospital.
Other churches, museums, and sites of interest
- Grand Seminary of Montreal — many elements of historical and spiritual interest
- Museum of the Hotel-Dieu of Montreal
- Église La Visitation — the site of the first mass said on the island of Montreal.
- The Cross of Montreal — commemorating the planting of the cross by Paul Chomedy de Maisonneuve in 1643.
- Monastery of the Missionary Recluse Sisters
- Monastery of the Fraternité Monastique de Jérusalem
- Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes
- Shrine to Mary, Queen of Hearts (Marie-Reine-des-Coeurs)
- Church of the Gesu and shrine of Notre-Dame-de-Liesse
- La Réparation shrine (devoted to the Sacred Heart)
- Shrine of St. Peregrin, patron saint of those suffering from cancer
It would also be possible to visit many other stunning churches in the city, many of which are described on this website for Quebec’s religious patrimony. There are also many Eastern Catholics in Montreal, so a visitor could immerse himself in the various Eastern liturgies without having to go far at all! Heck, we even have a vibrant Congolese community — and the Zairian Rite is something to experience.
Day trips from Montreal
The above list is only for sites on the island of Montreal itself, or just across one of the bridges. But if you are willing to drive a bit, so much more opens up!
- Beauvoir: Shrine of the Sacred Heart
- Oka: Trappist Monastry Notre-Dame-du-Lac
- Ottawa/Hull: St. Patrick’s Basilica
- Ottawa/Hull: Notre-Dame Cathedral
- Ottawa/Hull: Servant of God Élisabeth Bruyère, foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa.
- Ottawa/Hull: Tombs of Servants of God Éléonore Potvin and Alexis-Louis Mangin, co-founders of the Servants of Jesus-Mary.
- Rigaud: Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes
- Rougemont: Cistercian Abbey Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth
- Sherbrooke: Tomb of Blessed Marie-Léonie Paradis, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family.
- St-Benoit-du-Lac: Benedictine Monastery St-Benoit-du-Lac
- St-Hyacinthe: Tomb of Blessed Louis-Zéphirin Moreau, 4th bishop of the diocese.
- St-Hyacinthe: Venerable Elisabeth Bergeron Centre, foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
- St-Hyacinthe: Tomb of Servant of God Catherine-Aurélie Caouette, foundress of the Adorers of the Precious Blood.
- Ste-Marthe-sur-le-lac: Benedictine convent Ste-Marie-des-Deux-Montagnes (web site not working)
- Trois-Rivières: Tomb of Blessed Frederic Jansoone
- Trois-Rivières: Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Canada’s national shrine
Quebec City is another treasure trove of Catholicism, and it is only 3 hours from Montreal. Generally, a visitor to Montreal would then take 2 or 3 days to visit Quebec and take in all the religious richness, which includes:
- Notre-Dame de Quebec Basilica-Cathedral, with tomb of Blessed François de Montmorency Laval, first bishop of Quebec
- Shrine of Blessed Catherine-de-Saint-Augustin
- Shrine of Blessed Marie de l’Incarnation
- Shrine of Blessed Dina Belanger
- Tomb of of Servant of God Marie Fitzbach, foundress of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd of Quebec
- Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré
A dream of mine would be to form a group of catechesis and spirituality that used these various shrines and centres as the basis for helping people grow in their Catholic faith. Visitors to Montreal, as well as residents, could visit these places guided by people trained in more than just the history: the visit would truly be a time of prayer and meditation, as well as formation in the Christian life.
In the meantime, though, I’m always happy to show people around! So many of these riches are still little known, and I’m always glad to share the wealth. Should any locals want to get a group together for a pilgrimmage, or if any of my readers should be visiting Montreal from elsewhere, let me know and we’ll see if we can’t set something up for you!