François de Laval, first bishop of Québec (b François-Xavier de Montmorency-Laval de Montigny at Montigny-sur-Avre, France 30 Apr 1623; d at Qué 6 May 1708). Destined for the church at age 8, a would-be missionary, Laval was initially a political pawn. For 10 years he studied with the Jesuits, who nominated him for bishop of Québec in opposition to a Sulpician candidate, de Queylus, who would have kept the Canadian church within the crown-controlled state church of France, and who wanted to control the Jesuit missionaries serving the European colonists. To preserve their independence, the Jesuits, supported by the queen-regent and other notables, promoted Laval.

"He Listens to No One"

In defiance of French bishops and the parlements of Rouen and Paris, a papal nuncio in 1658 consecrated Laval bishop of Petraea, a diocese in Muslim lands - there being no diocese of Québec yet. Although he swore allegiance to the French king, Laval was the pope's vicar-general. After his arrival at Québec in June 1659, Laval asserted his primacy over de Queylus and rejected the governor's claim to precedence in religious ceremonies. Before leaving Canada, Governor Voyer d' ARGENSON wrote of Laval's "adherence to his own opinions and ... zeal that bore him beyond his mandate ... that he listens to no one." On his authority and on morality, Laval was inflexibly single-minded. Although willing to compromise on some issues, such as the scale of tithes, he fought an unrelenting battle against the liquor trade with Indians. With the king's backing and by quiet determination, Laval outlasted vociferous opponents, including governors.

His goal was a diocese of Québec in which all religious were subject to the bishop. To reduce lay control of the clergy, Laval instituted a church court to judge cases involving clerics. In 1663 he founded the SÉMINAIRE DE QUÉBEC as a theological college and a mother house of all secular priests. Curates could be recalled at will and their parishioners' tithes went to the seminary. His reluctance to appoint permanent, resident curates - as was done in France - was criticized. He replied that, until he was bishop of Québec, he could not lawfully create new parishes for curates.

New Churches, Schools and Good Works

Louis XIV's aggressiveness towards the papacy made Rome delay creation of the Québec diocese. Laval left Canada in 1671 determined not to return except as Québec's bishop; his wish was granted in 1674. Although his faith was austere and self-denying, it was charitable and practical. It resulted in new churches, schools and good works. He resisted any multiplication of religious orders as a burden on the colonists and a threat to the centralized church structure. The king financed Laval's work while containing the bishop's ambitions. The bishop and the Jesuits were counterbalanced by royal protection for the Sulpicians and the reintroduction of the Franciscans, loyal crown agents.

In 1685 infirmity and advancing age prompted Laval to offer his resignation as bishop, although he agreed to remain until the consecration of his successor, Jean-Baptiste de La Croix de SAINT-VALLIER, which took place in 1688. Laval's church seemed firmly established. His headstrong, tactless and improvident successor was a disappointment. With pained and silent resignation, Laval watched the young bishop undo much of his work. In 1700 Saint-Vallier was detained in France, and thereafter Laval acted as bishop of Québec until his own death.

Laval's episcopacy had 2 great consequences. His seminary for colonial priests facilitated the "Canadianization" of the clergy so that, after the British Conquest, the Roman Catholic Church was the national church of French Canada. By keeping his diocese independent of any French see, but still linked to Rome, Laval prepared the way for the Ultramontane politics of 19th-century Québec.