Quebec is the oldest diocese in North America, apart from Mexico. The early days of the Church in New France officially go back to 1615, when the Récollet Fathers, followed by the Jesuits in 1625, settled permanently in Quebec City to minister to the fledgling colony and evangelize the Aboriginal peoples.

France bringing the Faith to the Hurons of New France. Artist unknown. 17th century. Ursuline Monastery of Quebec City.

Originally a Mission Territory directly under the Holy See, Quebec was raised to the status of Apostolic Vicariat by a decree of the Congregation for Propagating the Faith, approved by Pope Alexander VII on April 11, 1658. The same decree appointed François de Laval Bishop of Petree and Apostolic Vicar for New France. The official letters or “Pontifical Bulls” of the new Bishop were issued in Rome on June 3rd of the same year.

Sixteen years later, the Apostolic Vicariat was raised to the rank of Diocese, directly under the Holy See. Pope Clement X signed the decree of establishment of the Bishop’s See on October 1, 1674. Monsignor de Laval became the first Bishop of Quebec, and his diocese, larger than Europe, included all the territory over which France had rights or claims, that is, all of North America except for the New England Colonies and Mexico.

Later, under British rule, the division of that immense diocese led to the establishment of the first Ecclesiastical Province of Canada. By a decision of Pope Pius VII, Monsignor Joseph-Octave Plessis received the title of Archbishop on January 12, 1819. However, because of hesitations in London, Quebec was not officially declared an Archdiocese until July 12, 1844, by Pope Gregory XVII. The Quebec Ecclesiastical Province then included Montreal, Kingston and Toronto as suffragan dioceses. Today, after successive subdivisions that led to the formation of over 150 dioceses, the Ecclesiastical Province of Quebec includes the suffragan dioceses of Trois-Rivières, Chicoutimi and Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière.

On June 25, 1956, Pope Pius XII conferred the title of primatial see of Canada to the metropolitan see of Quebec, and that of primate of Canada “pro tempore” to the Archbishop of Quebec.

© 2008 International Eucharistic Congress