Taken from the Booklet,
Welcome to Notre Dame

by Thomas F. Murphy
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1963

The Beginning of the Cape

The history of Cap-de-la-Madeleine can be said to have begun with the colonization of Canada, and to have entwined itself in the ups and downs of this colony. On October 7th, 1535, Jacques Cartier had planted the Cross on one of the islands at Three Rivers and had claimed the country in the name of Christ. Here he had found what seemed to be three rivers flowing into the mighty St. Lawrence and he had called the place "Three Rivers". Then in 1634, Laviolette came to this spot and founded there a trading post and mission center. It was to this post that the Indians brought their goods to sell to the traders. Here came the friendly Algonquins from the North; from the West the Hurons, the friends of the Franciscans; from the southwest, now known as the middle of New York State, came the Iroquois. It was from this post that Father Jogues and Rene Goupil left to further the mission work but were instead captured by the Mohawks and were eventually Martyred at Auriesville, N.Y.

History tells us that there was always a certain amount of dispute about who owned the land on which the mission-cum-trading post stood and Father Buteux, S.J., had been for years trying to have this matter settled. In 1651, there arrived in Canada a deed which gave this place and the land to the Jesuits. This deed came from the parish of Sainte Madeleine at Chateaudun, in France, and so this spot became known as Cap-de-la-Madeleine or the Cape of the Magdalen.

Now came the building of the first church at the mission post and here we find some very interesting facts that connect the present day Shrine Church right back to those golden days of growth. Just think of it
------right here where you are now sitting or walking was once a wilderness around a small trading post. Right over there near the road where the Public Service bus stops, was where the first wooden church was built and this wooden church was to serve as a link between the start of Cap-de-la-Madeleine and its present state. This was unintentional but factual because it was written into the contract for the new stone church that the hand hewn beams in this old wooden church were to be used in the construction of the new stone church. Recent inspection of these beams proved that they were as stout and as strong as when they were hewn in 1659. The mission post grew and prospered and from here the Faith was spread in all directions. This period is referred to as the Period of Growth in the history of the Shrine.
The Long Night Begins

But now came the long night of darkness when it seemed as if the glory of the Cape would never shine forth again. The Thirty Years War began in Europe and life in the colonies was patterned after that of the parent country, France, as is usual in times of war. France was so stricken at home that not much thought was given to her Colonies in the New World. Moral laxity, which follows wars, wrought havoc in Canada and we read that Cap-de-la-Madeleine grew lax and declined with the rest of the country. In 1713, after the end of the Anglo-French Wars, the priest at the Cape was Father Paul Vachon, who was certainly a gem in Our Lady's crown. Despite the war and the neglect, this priest had worked very hard to keep the Cape a place of glory. He became almost a legend with his saintly zeal and his mark has been left on the Shrine even to this present day. Despite the war and the neglect, despite the apathy of the people, despite the apparent neglect of the mother country, Father Paul Vachon succeeded in forging two of the strongest links in the chain of events which unite the glorious beginnings with the scintillating present. The first of these links forged by Father Vachon was the establishing of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary at Cap de la Madeleine. This can be done only by permission of the Master General or Superior of the Dominican Order and has a very simple set of rules laid down which have been and are followed all over the world in every country and in every language. Permission for the formation of this Confraternity was received in 1694 and the original document of Charter is still in existence today, zealously guarded by the Oblate Fathers in the Shrine's archives. The second link with Father Vachon and the present time is the little stone church that stands in the center of Mary's domain. This church was started in 1714 and finished six years later. But it was a church built on poverty and sacrifice. In fact, were it not for the support of almost all of Canada as it was then, it would not have been possible for the church to have been built. Today, this church is the focal point of the Shrine and truly all Canada has knelt inside the church and prayed to Our Blessed Mother.

Now as you move through the shrine grounds, look closely at this church and dwell upon the sacrifices which made it possible. As you look at it, notice the pointed roof with its small spire and see how it has withstood the test of time. And as the church has withstood the years and the storms so, too, the Cape has survived the years of darkness and indifference and the apathy which were to hamper it during the course of its history. Then go inside the church and see how small it is but notice how close you are to Our Lady's feet. Here you feel the aura of sanctity that those pioneers left behind when they built this precious relic. Then, as you kneel, remember that here beneath the Sanctuary of this church lie the remains of Canon Paul Vachon whose work tied in the beginning of the Cape with its splendour of to-day. Canon Vachon died in 1729 and with his death the twilight era and the night settled down on the Cape. He was the last priest to live in the parish until the middle of the 19th century, and now for 115 years there was to be no Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle, no Sanctuary lamp lighting the church, and no resident priest to keep the blood stream of Faith flowing among the people of the parish.

The Dark Night of the Cape

We must remember that this was the same period when rank materialism had taken over in almost all of Europe and God was becoming an outcast among the freethinkers and ideologists. This was the age that bred the warped and obscene revolutions in France and the Continent; that saw churches desecrated, the religious orders proscribed and death handed down to anyone and to all clergy and religious who dared defy the new era of disbelief. It would seem that the dark night of materialism had descended forever and that the persecuted Church must suffer for many years in its agony. It is very hard to think that anyone would turn against his mother, her who helped his early steps, who guided him through his formative years and helped him achieve his ideals, who cared for him in sickness and suffered with him in his sorrows. And yet men did this to our Blessed Mother during this night of darkness. Science, as formulated by the intellectuals of the revolutions, took the place of God and man boasted that he no longer needed God. The revolution failed but the anti-religious spirit lived on and on and even spread to the thoughts of the ordinary man. But now the night was ending and the dawn was breaking on a new era, an era that can be said to be the Era of Mary.

Origin of the Statue

So, too, at Cap-de-la-Madeleine, the dawn of the new era broke and though liberalism was still rampant, the dormant parish started to awake from its slumber. The parish was reopened in 1844 but there was very little success in this effort and the ecclesiastical authorities were very discouraged with the results. The people seemed to be almost impregnable in their cloak of materialism and apathy. But about now the next link in the chain of events was formed, a link that joined the stone church and Confraternity of the Rosary to the magnificence of Our Lady's Shrine today. This link was the statue of Our Lady which was donated by a parishioner, M. Zepherin Dorval, who was about to leave for the gold fields to seek his fortune there. M. Dorval wanted to have Our Lady's protection during his journey and trials and so he donated this statue which portrays Our Lady as She appeared to Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830. Here, too, we can see some remarkable coincidences. Our Lady had appeared to Catherine Laboure in 1830 and to the children at La Salette in 1846. The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated in 1854 and Lourdes was the scene of Her visits in 1858. Is it too much to conjecture that as Our Holy Mother had already begun Her campaign in Europe to win back the world to Her side, now She was preparing to win back the New World in a similar manner? Is it wrong to think that there was a purposeful inspiration behind the donating of the statue that later was to become the focal point of the Shrine? The statue has remained in the Shrine ever since except for a very special occasion when a visit was made to nearby Three Rivers in 1954. St. Joseph's Altar is erected on the very spot where Our Lady had Her first statue and Altar in the church up to June 22, 1888.