We did a little last minute shopping before we left Montreal and then drove to Trois-Rivières. “The country side is steeped with steeples”, Marie remarked. Everywhere we go in Quebec we see a steeple on the skyline, often more than one at a time. This is living evidence of the great religious hold the Catholic Church had on the people of Quebec. For the most part, these beautiful stone structures are still in good shape. Many though have already been closed, deconsecrated and turned into museums, concert halls or community centres.
Our goal in visiting Trois-Rivières was to see Canada’s national shrine to the Virgin Mary, Notre Dame du Cap. It is administered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate founded by St Eugene de Mazenod. As we drove into the eastern suburb, previously called Cap de la Madeleine, surprisingly there were no street signs directing us to the shrine. We passed a large boarded up church with gaping broken windows, not a good sign we thought. Finally we found Sanctuaire Notre Dame du Cap as it is called en francais. It consists of a large church, an historic stone chapel, outdoor Stations of the Cross, lovely gardens, pathways, an RV park and Oblate residences. They have thousands of pilgrims each year, ongoing youth rallies and special events year round.
We walked around the beautiful gardens and buildings and then met with Fr Bernard Menard, OMI for a little chat. He said there are at least a dozen Oblates working there. He is originally from Ottawa and had been very involved with Novalis and L’Arche in his long career. He told us about meeting Fr Jack Lau, OMI several years ago when Jack was considering coming to Canada from the U.S.. (It was Fr Jack who drew us to Galilee and Arnprior after we retired.) Then he blessed us. It was a special moment for us as Oblate lay Associates. Thank you again Fr. Bernard!
We then drove about an hour east looking for accommodation and suddenly saw a sign for Auberge du Manoir Dauth. The place initially looked deserted we thought but actually was quite busy. It was a magnificent, peaceful and comfortable place to stay which we thoroughly enjoyed. Hosts Bridgitte and Christian made us feel very welcome. They served us a great breakfast – gourmet porridge, crepes, fruit, eggs, bacon before warmly bidding us to come back. Wow! 5 star place, highly recommended.
Next day we drove to Québec City and found a parking spot right near the Chateau Frontenac. We walked around taking photos of everything in the warm sunshine. We went to the Anglican Cathedral and heard a short organ concert. A little shopping and then lunch in the shade. We got out of town quickly and continued on our way to Ste Anne de Beaupré.
Ste Anne de Beaupré is the national shrine for Ste Anne, Mary’s mother and the patron saint of Québec. It is administered by the Redemptorists Religious Order founded by St Alphonsus Ligouri. We caught the English Mass in one of the most beautiful churches we have ever been in. This shrine is a real pilgrimage attraction and well maintained. Still it was not crowded. We relaxed a bit outside as we gazed at the impressive exterior of the church. We decided to stay nearby and found a nice little motel, though the room was tiny. We had a nice steak dinner after a most enjoyable day.
Sadly many of these shrines and churches may not last much longer. There is a shortage of young priests and religious to animate them. There is a shortage of young parishioners to support them. The next 10 years will see thousands of such properties shuttered across Canada. We are so lucky to experience them now in all their glory. We can’t imagine the sacrifices our ancestors and religious community members made to build and maintain them. Thanks be to God for giving us a glimpse of his great glory through our pilgrimage to these great national shrines.