CHAPTER XV. 1636-1642. VILLEMARIE DE MONTREAL.
DAUVERSIERE AND THE VOICE FROM HEAVEN. - ABBE OLIER. - THEIR SCHEMES. -
THE SOCIETY OF NOTRE-DAME DE MONTREAL. - MAISONNEUVE. - DEVOUT LADIES. -
MADEMOISELLE MANCE. - MARGUERITE BOURGEOIS. - THE MONTREALISTS AT QUEBEC. -
JEALOUSY. - QUARRELS. - ROMANCE AND DEVOTION. - EMBARKATION. -
FOUNDATION OF MONTREAL.
We come now to an enterprise as singular in its character as it proved important in its results.
At La Fleche, in Anjou, dwelt one Jerome le Royer de la Dauversiere, receiver of taxes. His portrait shows us a round, bourgeois face, somewhat heavy perhaps, decorated with a slight moustache, and redeemed by bright and earnest eyes. On his head he wears a black skull-cap; and over his ample shoulders spreads a stiff white collar, of wide expanse and studious plainness. Though he belonged to the noblesse, his look is that of a grave burgher, of good renown and sage deportment. Dauversiere was, however, an enthusiastic devotee, of mystical tendencies, who whipped himself with a scourge of small chains till his shoulders were one wound, wore a belt with more than twelve hundred sharp points, and invented for himself other torments, which filled his confessor with admiration. [ Fancamp in Faillon, Vie de Mlle Mance, Introduction. ] One day, while at his devotions, he heard an inward voice commanding him to become the founder of a new Order of hospital nuns; and he was further ordered to establish, on the island called Montreal, in Canada, a hospital, or Hotel-Dieu, to be conducted by these nuns. But Montreal was a wilderness, and the hospital would have no patients. Therefore, in order to supply them, the island must first be colonized. Dauversiere was greatly perplexed. On the one hand, the voice of Heaven must be obeyed; on the other, he had a wife, six children, and a very moderate fortune. [ Faillon, Vie de Mlle Mance, Introduction; Dollier de Casson, Hist. de Montreal, MS.; Les Veritables Motifs des Messieurs et Dames de Montreal, 25; Juchereau, 33. ]
Again: there was at Paris a young priest, about twenty-eight years of age, - Jean Jacques Olier, afterwards widely known as founder of the Seminary of St. Sulpice. Judged by his engraved portrait, his countenance, though marked both with energy and intellect, was anything but prepossessing. Every lineament proclaims the priest. Yet the Abbe Olier has high titles to esteem. He signalized his piety, it is true, by the most disgusting exploits of self-mortification; but, at the same time, he was strenuous in his efforts to reform the people and the clergy. So zealous was he for good morals, that he drew upon himself the imputation of a leaning to the heresy of the Jansenists, - a suspicion strengthened by his opposition to certain priests, who, to secure the faithful in their allegiance, justified them in lives of licentiousness. [ Faillon, Vie de M. Olier, II. 188. ] Yet Olier's catholicity was past attaintment, and in his horror of Jansenists he yielded to the Jesuits alone.
He was praying in the ancient church of St. Germain des Pres, when, like Dauversiere, he thought he heard a voice from Heaven, saying that he was destined to be a light to the Gentiles. It is recorded as a mystic coincidence attending this miracle, that the choir was at that very time chanting the words, Lumen ad revelationem Gentium; [ 1 ] and it seems to have occurred neither to Olier nor to his biographer, that, falling on the ear of the rapt worshipper, they might have unconsciously suggested the supposed revelation. But there was a further miracle. An inward voice told Olier that he was to form a society of priests, and establish them on the island called Montreal, in Canada, for the propagation of the True Faith; and writers old and recent assert, that, while both he and Dauversiere were totally ignorant of Canadian geography, they suddenly found themselves in possession, they knew not how, of the most exact details concerning Montreal, its size, shape, situation, soil, climate, and productions.
[ 1 Memoires Autographes de M. Olier, cited by Faillon, in Histoire de la Colonie Francaise, I. 384. ]
The annual volumes of the Jesuit Relations, issuing from the renowned press of Cramoisy, were at this time spread broadcast throughout France; and, in the circles of haute devotion, Canada and its missions were everywhere the themes of enthusiastic discussion; while Champlain, in his published works, had long before pointed out Montreal as the proper site for a settlement. But we are entering a region of miracle, and it is superfluous to look far for explanations. The illusion, in these cases, is a part of the history.