Nearly all that was distinctive in the life of old Canada links itself in one way or another with the Catholic religion. From first to last in the history of New France the most pervading trait was the loyalty of its people to the church of their fathers. Intendants might come and go; governors abode their destined hour and went their way; but the apostles of the ancient faith never for one moment released their grip upon the hearts and minds of the Canadians. During two centuries the political life of the colony ran its varied rounds; the habits of the people were transformed with the coming of material prosperity: but the Church went on unchanged, unchanging. One may praise the steadfastness with which the Church fought for what its bishops believed to be right, or one may, on the other hand, decry the arrogance of its pretensions to civil power and its hampering conservatism; but as the great central fact in the history of New France, the hegemony of Catholicism cannot be ignored.

When Frenchmen began the work of founding a dominion in the New World, their own land was convulsed with religious troubles. Not only were the Huguenots breaking from the trammels of the old religion, but within the Catholic Church, itself in France there were two great contending factions. One group strove for the preservation of the Galilean liberties, the special rights of the French King and the French bishops in the ecclesiastical government of the land, while the other claimed for the Pope a supremacy over all earthly rulers in matters of spiritual concern. It was not a difference on points of doctrine, for the Galileans did not question the headship of the Papacy in things of the spirit. What they insisted upon was the circumscribed nature of the papal power in temporal matters within the realm of France, particularly with regard to the right of appointment to ecclesiastical positions with endowed revenues. Bishops, priests, and religious orders ranged themselves on one side or the other, for it was a conflict in which there could be no neutrality. As the royal authorities were heart and soul with the Galileans, it was natural enough that priests of this group should gain the first religious foothold in the colony. The earliest priests brought to the colony were members of the Recollet Order. They came with Champlain in 1615, and made their headquarters in Quebec at the suggestion of the King's secretary. For ten years they labored in the colony, striving bravely to clear the way for a great missionary crusade.

But the day of the Recollets in New France was not long. In 1625 came the advance guard of another religious order, the militant Jesuits, bringing with them their traditions of unwavering loyalty to the Ultramontane cause. The work of the Recollets had, on the whole, been disappointing, for their numbers and their resources proved too small for effective progress. During ten years of devoted labor they had scarcely been able to make any impression upon the great wilderness of heathenism that lay on all sides. In view of the apparent futility of their efforts, the coming of the Jesuits - suggested, it may be, by Champlain - was probably not unwelcome to them. Richelieu, moreover, had now brought his Ultramontane sympathies close to the seat of royal power, so that the King no longer was in a position to oppose the project. At any rate the Jesuits sailed for Canada, and their arrival forms a notable landmark in the history of the colony. Their dogged zeal and iron persistence carried them to points which missionaries of no other religious order would have reached. For the Jesuits were, above all things else, the harbingers of a militant faith. Their organization and their methods admirably fitted them to be the pioneers of the Cross in new lands. They were men of action, seeking to win their crown of glory and their reward through intense physical and spiritual exertions, not through long seasons of prayer and meditation in cloistered seclusion. Loyola, the founder of the Order, gave to the world the nucleus of a crusading host, disciplined as no army ever was. If the Jesuits could not achieve the spiritual conquest of the New World, it was certain that no others could. And this conquest they did achieve. The whole course of Catholic missionary effort throughout the Western Hemisphere was shaped by members of the Jesuit Order.

Only four of these priests came to Quebec in 1625. Although it was intended that others should follow at once, their number was not substantially increased until seven years later, when the troubles with England were brought to an end and the colony was once more securely in the hands of the French. Then the Jesuits came steadily, a few arriving with almost every ship, and either singly or together they were sent off to the Indian settlements - to the Hurons around the Georgian Bay, to the Algonquins north of the Ottawa, and to the Iroquois south of the Lakes. The physical vigor, the moral heroism, and the unquenchable religious zeal of these missionaries were qualities exemplified in a measure and to a degree which are beyond the power of any pen to describe. Historians of all creeds have tendered homage to their self-sacrifice and zeal, and never has work of human hand or spirit been more worthy of tribute. The Jesuit went, often alone, where no others dared to go, and he faced unknown dangers which had all the possibilities of torture and martyrdom. Nor did this energy waste itself in flashes of isolated triumph. The Jesuit was a member of an efficient organization, skillfully guided by inspired leaders and carrying its extensive work of Christianization with machine-like thoroughness through the vastness of five continents. We are too apt to think only of the individual missionary's glowing spirit and rugged faith, his picturesque strivings against great odds, and to regard him as a guerilla warrior against the hosts of darkness. Had he been this, and nothing more, his efforts must have been altogether in vain. The great services which the Jesuit missionary rendered in the New World, both to his country and to his creed, were due not less to the matchless organization of the Order to which he belonged than to qualities of courage, patience, and fortitude which he himself showed as a missionary.

During the first few years of Jesuit effort among the Indians of New France the results were pitifully small. The Hurons, among whom the missionaries put forth their initial labors, were poor stock, even as red men went. The minds of these half-nomadic and dull-witted savages were filled with gross superstitions, and their senses had been brutalized by the incessant torments of their Iroquois enemies. Amid the toils and hazards and discomforts of so insecure and wandering a life the Jesuits found little opportunity for soundly instructing the Hurons in the faith. Hence there were but few neophytes in these early years. By 1640 the missionaries could count only a hundred converts in a population of many thousands, and even this little quota included many infants who had died soon after receiving the rites of baptism. More missionaries kept coming, however; the work steadily broadened; and the posts of service were multiplied. In due time the footprints of the Jesuits were everywhere, from the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi, from the tributaries of the Hudson to the regions north of the Ottawa. Le Jeune, Masse, Brebeuf, Lalemant, Ragueneau, Le Dablon, Jogues, Gamier, Raymbault, Peron, Moyne, Allouez, Druilletes, Chaumonot, Menard, Bressani, Daniel, Chabanel, and a hundred others, - they soon formed that legion whose works of courage and devotion stand forth so prominently in the early annals of New France.

Once at their stations in the upper country, the missionaries regularly sent down to the Superior of the Order at Quebec their full reports of progress, difficulties, and hopes, all mingled with interesting descriptions of Indian customs, folklore, and life. It is no wonder that these narratives, "jotted down hastily," as Le Jeune tells us, "now in one place, now in another, sometimes on water, sometimes on land," were often crude, or that they required careful editing before being sent home to France for publication. In their printed form, however, these Relations des Jesuites gained a wide circle of European readers; they inspired more missionaries to come, and they drew from well-to-do laymen large donations of money for carrying on the crusade.

The royal authorities also gave their earnest support, for they saw in the Jesuit missionary not merely a torchbearer of his faith or a servant of the Church. They appreciated his loyalty and remembered that he never forgot his King, nor shirked his duty to the cause of France among the tribes. Every mission post thus became an embassy, and every Jesuit an ambassador of his race, striving to strengthen the bonds of friendship between the people to whom he went and the people from whom he came. The French authorities at Quebec were not slow to recognize what an ever-present help the Jesuit could be in times of Indian trouble. One governor expressed the situation with fidelity when he wrote to the home authorities that, "although the interests of the Gospel do not require us to keep missionaries in all the Indian villages, the interests of the civil government for the advantage of trade must induce us to manage things so that we may always have at least one of them there." It must therefore be admitted that, when the civil authorities did encourage the missions, they did not always do so with a purely spiritual motive in mind.

As the political and commercial agent of his people, the Jesuit had great opportunities, and in this capacity he usually gave a full measure of service. After he had gained the confidence of the tribes, the missionary always succeeded in getting the first inkling of what was going on in the way of inter-tribal intrigues. He learned to fathom the Indian mind and to perceive the redskin's motives. He was thus able to communicate to Quebec the information and advice which so often helped the French to outwit their English rivals. As interpreters in the conduct of negotiations and the making of treaties the Jesuits were also invaluable. How much, indeed, these blackrobes achieved for the purely secular interests of the French colony, for its safety from sudden Indian attack, for the development of its trade, and for its general upbuilding, will never be known. The missionary did not put these things on paper, but he rendered services which in all probability were far greater than posterity will ever realize.

It was not, however, with the conversion of the Indians or with the service of French secular interests among the savages that the work of the Jesuits was wholly, or even chiefly, concerned. During the middle years of the seventeenth century, these services at the outposts of French territory may have been most significant, for the French population along the shores of the St. Lawrence remained small, the settlements were closely huddled together, and a few priests could serve their spiritual needs. The popular impression of Jesuit enterprises in the New World is connected almost wholly with work among the Indians. This pioneer phase of the Jesuit's work was picturesque, and historians have had a great deal to say about it. It was likewise of this service in the depths of the interior that the missionary himself wrote most frequently. But as the colony grew and broadened its bounds until its settlements stretched all the way from the Saguenay to Montreal and beyond, a far larger number of cures was needed. Before the old regime came to a close there were far more Frenchmen than Indians within the French sphere of influence in America, and they required by far the greater share of Jesuit ministration, and, long before the old dominion ended, the Indian missions had to take a subordinate place in the general program of Jesuit undertakings. The outposts in the Indian country were the chief scene of Jesuit labors from 1615 to about 1700, when the emphasis shifted to the St. Lawrence valley. Some of the mission fields held their own to the end, but in general they failed to make much headway during the last half-century of French rule. The Church in the settled portions of the colony, however, kept on with its steady progress in achievement and power.

New France was the child of missionary fervor. Even from the outset, in the scattered settlements along the St. Lawrence, the interests of religion were placed on a strictly missionary basis. There were so-called parishes in the colony almost from its beginning, but not until 1722 was the entire colony set off into recognized ecclesiastical parishes, each with a fixed cure in charge. Through all the preceding years each village or cote had been served by a missionary, by a movable cure, or by a priest sent out from the Seminary at Quebec. No priest was tied to any parish but was absolutely at the immediate beck and call of the bishop. Some reason for this unsettled arrangement might be found in the conditions under which the colony developed in its early years; with its sparse population ranging far and wide, with its lack of churches and of presbyteres in which the priest might reside. But the real explanation of its long continuance lies in the fact that, if regular cures were appointed, the seigneurs would lay claim to various rights of nomination or patronage, whereas the bishop could control absolutely the selection of missionary priests and could thus more easily carry through his policy of ecclesiastical centralization.

Not only in this particular, but in every other phase of religious life and organization during these crusading days in Canada, one must reckon not only with the logic of the situation, but also with the dominating personality of the first and greatest Ultramontane, Bishop Laval. Though not himself a Jesuit, for no member of the Order could be a bishop, Laval was in tune with their ideals and saw eye to eye with the Jesuits on every point of religious and civil policy.

Francois Xavier de Laval, Abbe de Montigny, was born in 1622, a scion of the great house of Montmorency. He was therefore of high nobility, the best-born of all the many thousands who came to New France throughout its history. As a youth his had come into close association with the Jesuits, and had spent four years in the famous Hermitage at Caen, that Jesuit stronghold which served so long as the nursery for the spiritual pioneers of early Canada. When he came to Quebec as Vicar-Apostolic in 1659, he was only thirty-seven years of age. His position in the colony at the time of his arrival was somewhat unusual, for although he was to be in command of the colony's spiritual forces. New France was not yet organized as a diocese and could not be so organized until the Pope and the King should agree upon the exact status of the Church in the French colonial dominions. Laval was nevertheless given his titular rank from the ancient see of Petraea in Arabia which had long since been in partibus infidelium and hence had no bishop within its bounds. From his first arrival in Canada his was Bishop Laval, but without a diocese over which he could actually hold sway. His commission as Vicar-Apostolic gave him power enough, however, and his responsibility was to the Pope alone.

For the tasks which, he was sent to perform, Laval had eminent qualifications. A haughty spirit went with the ultra-blue blood in his veins; he had a temperament that loved to lead and to govern, and that could not endure to yield or to lag behind. His intellectual talents were high beyond question, and to them he added the blessing of a rugged physical frame. No one ever came to a new land with more definite ideas of what he wanted to do or with a more unswerving determination to do it in his own way.

It was not long before the stamp of Laval's firm hand was laid upon the life of the colony. In due course, too, he found himself at odds with the governor. The dissensions smouldered at first, and then broke out into a blaze that warmed the passions of all elements in the colony. The exact origin of the feud is somewhat obscure, and it is not necessary to put down here the details of its development to the war a outrance which soon engaged the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in the colony. In the background was the question of the coureurs-de-bois and the liquor traffic which now became a definite issue and which remained the storm centre of colonial politics for many generations. The merchants insisted that if this traffic were extinguished it would involve the ruin of the French hold upon the Indian trade. The bishop and the priests, on the other hand, were ready to fight the liquor traffic to the end and to exorcise it as the greatest blight upon the New World. Quebec soon became a cockpit where the battle of these two factions raged. Each had its ups and downs, until in the end the traffic remained, but under a makeshift system of regulation.

To portray Laval and his associates as always in bitter conflict with the civil power, nevertheless, would be to paint a false picture. Church and state were not normally at variance in their views and aims. They clashed fiercely on many occasions, it is true, but after their duels they shook hands and went to work with a will at the task of making the colony stand upon its own feet. Historians have magnified these bickerings out of all proportion. Squabbles over matters of precedence at ceremonies, over the rate of the tithes, and over the curbing of the coureurs-de-bois did not take the major share of the Church's attention. For the greater part of two whole centuries it loyally aided the civil power in all things wherein the two could work together for good.

And these ways of assistance were many. For example the Church, through its various institutions and orders, rendered a great service to colonial agriculture. As the greatest landowner in New France, it set before the seigneurs and the habitants an example of what intelligent methods of farming and hard labor could accomplish in making the land yield its increase. The King was lavish in his grants of territory to the Church: the Jesuits received nearly a million arpents as their share of the royal bounty; the bishop and the Quebec Seminary, the Sulpicians, and the Ursulines, about as much more. Of the entire granted acreage of New France the Church controlled about one-quarter, so that its position as a great landowner was even stronger in the colony than at home. Nor did it fold its talents in a napkin. Colonists were brought from France, farms were prepared for them in the church seigneuries, and the new settlers were guided and encouraged through, the troublous years of pioneering. With both money and brains at its command, the Church was able to keep its own lands in the front line of agricultural progress.

When in 1722 the whole colony was marked off into definite ecclesiastical divisions, seventy-two parishes were established, and nearly one hundred cures were assigned to them. As time went on, both parishes and cures increased in number, so that every locality had its spiritual leader who was also a philosopher and guide in all secular matters. The priest thus became a part of the community and never lost touch with his people. The habitant of New France for his part never neglected his Church on week-days. The priest and the Church were with him at work and at play, the spirit and the life of every community. Though paid a meager stipend, the cure worked hard and always proved a laborer far more than worthy of his hire. The clergy of New France never became a caste, a privileged order; they did not live on the fruits of other men's labor, but gave to the colony far more than the colony ever gave to them.

As for the Church revenues, these came from several sources. The royal treasury contributed large sums, but, as it was not full to overflowing, the King preferred to give his benefactions in generous grants of land. Yet the royal subsidies amounted to many thousand livres each year. The diocese of Quebec was endowed with the revenues of three French abbeys. Wealthy laymen in France followed the royal example and sent contributions from time to time, frequently of large amount. While the Company of One Hundred Associates controlled the trade of the colony, it made from its treasury some provisions for the support of the missionaries. After 1663, a substantial source of ecclesiastical income was the tithe, an ecclesiastical tax levied annually upon all produce of the land, and fixed in 1663 at one-thirteenth. Four years later it was reduced to one-twenty-sixth, and Bishop Laval's strenuous efforts to have the old rate restored were never successful.

In education, yet another field of colonial life, the Church rendered some service. Here the civil authorities did nothing at all, and had it not been for the Church the whole colony would have grown up in absolute illiteracy. A school for boys was established at Quebec in Champlain's day, and during the next hundred and fifty years it was followed by about thirty others. More than a dozen elementary schools for girls were also established under ecclesiastical auspices. Yet the amount of secular education imparted by all these seminaries was astoundingly small, and they did but little to leaven the general illiteracy of the population. Only the children of the towns attended the schools, and the program of study was of the most elementary character. Religious instruction was given the first place and received so much attention that there was little time in school hours for anything else. The girls fared better than the boys on the whole, for the nuns taught them to sew and to knit as well as to read and to write.

So far as secular education was concerned, therefore, the English conquest found the colony in almost utter stagnation. Not one in five hundred among the habitants, it was said, could read or write. Outside the immediate circle of clergy, officials, and notaries, ignorance of even the rudiments of education was almost universal. There were no newspapers in the colony and very few books save those used in the services of worship. Greysolon Du Lhut, the king of the voyageurs, for example, was a man of means and education, but his entire library, as disclosed by his will, consisted of a world atlas and a set of Josephus. The priests did not encourage the reading of secular books, and La Hontan recounts the troubles which he had in keeping one militant cure from tearing his precious volumes to pieces. New France was at that period not a land where freedom dwelt with knowledge.

Intellectually, the people of New France comprised on the one hand a small elite and on the other a great unlettered mass. There was no middle class between. Yet the population of the colony always contained, especially among its officials and clergy, a sprinkling of educated and scholarly men. These have given us a literature of travel and description which is extensive and of high, quality. No other American colony of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries put so much, of its annals into print; the Relations of the Jesuits alone were sufficient to fill forty-one volumes, and they form but a small part of the entire literary output.