350 Years of History

Introduction: Unique Foundation in the New World

Ville-Marie, the tiny settlement from which would grow the city of Montreal, had its origins in the desire to communicate the Christian faith to the Native Peoples of New France. The Jesuits began their missionary work in what is now Canada in 1611; their written reports on that work soon began to circulate in France and to awaken a response especially among some of their former students. Among these was Jérôme Le Royer de la Dauversière, a layman, husband and father, who had already founded a community of nursing nuns in his native La Flèche and Jean-Jacques Olier de Verneuil, a young secular priest. They gathered with them a group that included lay people and clerics, men and women, single and married, nobles, middle-class and working people to form the Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal. They believed that, as their ancestors had received the Christian faith through missionaries who had come to northern Europe in the early Christian centuries, so it was now their responsibility to share that faith with the Native Peoples of America. To realize this, they planned and financed the establishment of a settlement that would itself be a model of a Christian community. The site chosen for this settlement was the island of Montreal at the junction of the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence rivers. Colonists were recruited and two leaders were appointed to make the foundation, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, a young soldier, and Jeanne Mance, who became bursar of the expedition and was entrusted with the task of founding a hospital. Despite many difficulties, that foundation was made in mid-May 1642 by a group of about forty persons.