HISTORICAL SUMMARY OF OUR LADY OF THE CAPE SHRINE
INTRODUCTION – THE EARLIER YEARS: Our Lady of the Cape Shrine is Canada’s National Shrine to Our Blessed Mother. It is located at Trois-Rivières, in the district of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, just off Highway 40. The city of Trois-Rivières is in the Province of Quebec, half-way between Montreal and Quebec City. The very first church of Cap-de-la-Madeleine was a small wooden structure built in 1659. Father Paul Vachon, its first resident pastor, instituted the Brotherhood of the Rosary in 1694. In 1714 began the construction of the second parish church that was opened for worship in 1720, replacing the first small wooden church. This second church, presently called the Old Shrine, and made with fieldstones, is still the oldest church in Canada in which Mass is celebrated daily.
Following Father Vachon’s death in 1729, there was a period of 115 years without a resident pastor. Consequently, without the guidance of a pastor and the more or less sporadic celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the parish was in great need of a spiritual renewal.
A RELIGIOUS AWAKENING - THE POWER OF THE ROSARY: In 1867 Father Luc Desilets, the pastor at Cap-de-la-Madeleine from 1864 until his death in 1888, had an astonishing experience. Upon investigating a noise he had heard in the church, he found a small pig chewing on a rosary. This was for him a shocking experience. He was saddened by the fact that people were no longer praying the rosary. He remembered the Confraternity of the Rosary that had been established in the parish in 1694. He then consecrated himself to the Blessed Mother and re-introduced the devotion of the rosary in the parish, praying the rosary after each Mass and encouraging his parishioners to pray the rosary at home. Soon more and more parishioners started coming to church; eventually the church was too small and a larger church was required.
THE ICE BRIDGE - THE FIRST MIRACLE: Permission was granted to build a third and larger church. The stones and building material required for the new church were purchased and were to be brought over in the winter across the frozen Saint Lawrence River. But 1879 happened to be one of those rare mild winters when the river did not freeze over. Parishioners prayed the Rosary all winter in their homes and in the church asking for the Blessed Mother‘s intercession for solid ice to form on the river. Father Desilets made a promise to the Blessed Mother that he would dedicate the small fieldstone church to her instead of demolishing it, if the building material could be obtained before springtime.
Miraculously, in the middle of March, thin pieces of ice floated down the river from Lake St-Pierre, 32 km away (20 miles) and stopped parallel to Cap-de-la-Madeleine. Father Louis-Eugene Duguay, the vicar of the parish and a few parishioners worked dangerously for two days and nights on these thin pieces of ice; by pouring water over them to thicken them, and also working with the snow that was falling heavily, they were able to convert this thin ice into a narrow mile-and-a-half long ice path. This ice-bridge, commonly called the Rosary Bridge, as it resulted from praying the Rosary, stayed on the Saint-Lawrence River for a solid week, from the feast of Saint Joseph to the feast of the Annunciation, long enough for the necessary stones and building material to be hauled on sleds by horses. During this time, the Saint-Lawrence River remained wide open on both sides of this ice path. With these stones, the third church was built, starting on June 18, 1879. It was blessed as Sainte-Marie-Madeleine church on October 3, 1880.
THE MIRACLE OF THE EYES - THE SECOND MIRACLE: On June 22, 1888 the dedication of the small fieldstone church to Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, took place: this was the inauguration of ‘Our Lady of the Cape Shrine’, (Le Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap). During the dedication, the statue that had been donated to the parish by a parishioner in 1854 was ceremoniously placed on the main altar. That evening Pierre Lacroix from Trois-Rivières, a handicapped man, came to pray and asked for the assistance of Father Frederic Janssoone O.F.M., and Father Luc Desilets to help him into the church. As the three men were praying, suddenly Father Desilets got up to ask Father Frederic if he could see the same thing he was seeing. Father Frederic answered that ‘Yes, the statue has opened its eyes, hasn’t it?’ Pierre Lacroix also had been noticing this. Both priests got up, moving about while still looking at the statue to make sure that they were really seeing this. Father Frederic often spoke of this event saying that the eyes of the statue were wide opened; that they stayed opened for about five to ten minutes; that her eyes were dark, well formed and in perfect harmony with the rest of her face; that she had the face of a living person; that her look changed his life forever, etc. He never stopped talking about this wonderful event of the Blessed Mother.
THE MISSIONARY OBLATES OF MARY IMMACULATE: Two months following the opening of the eyes of the statue, Father Desilets died suddenly and Father Eugene Duguay became the new pastor. As many pilgrims were coming to the Shrine, Father Frederic became its first pilgrimage director. For the next 14 years both priests worked very hard at providing for the parishioners and the many pilgrims. They asked the bishop for someone to take over the responsibilities of the Shrine. Finally, in 1902 the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate became the guardians of the Shrine. Much work was done following the arrival of the Oblates: landscaping, excavation of a lake, tree-planting, the addition of the monuments of the Rosary, the replacement of the wooden monuments of the Stations of the Cross, the construction of the Rosary Bridge and also the planning and construction of a basilica. For more information on the ‘Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate’ see: http://www.omiworld.org
Plans were being discussed to separate the ministry of the parish from that of the shrine. Consequently on June 21, 1951, began the construction of another church, off the Shrine’s grounds, at the corners of Sainte-Madeleine and Sanctuaire Streets. This church was inaugurated on Christmas Day 1952 and blessed as Sainte-Madeleine church on July 12, 1953. This church was and still is one of the parish churches for parishioners of Cap-de-la-Madeleine.
In early May 1953, the original Sainte-Marie-Madeleine church that was built with the stones brought over the St. Lawrence River was officially named ‘St. Madeleine Oratory’, (l’Oratoire Sainte-Madeleine). As of this date, May 1953, the shrine, that had been both a parish and a Shrine since 1888, was no longer a parish. In 1963, Sainte-Madeleine Oratory was demolished to make room for the new Basilica.
THE BASILICA, THE STAINED GLASS WINDOWS AND THE CASAVANT ORGAN: The construction of the Basilica began in 1955 and it was inaugurated in 1964. It can seat 1660 persons. Its dome rises up to 38 meters high (125 feet).
The Basilica is adorned with remarkable stained glass windows by Father Jan Tillemans, a Dutch Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate. They are mounted according to centuries old techniques and are an unequalled treasure in North America.
The Casavant organ is one of the largest in Canada. Its console is serviced by 5425 pipes. The casework is in the shape of a maple leaf covering the back wall of the Basilica.
BLESSED FATHER FREDERIC JANSSOONE O.F.M. - BEATIFICATION: Father Frederic Janssoone, a Franciscan friar was born on November 19th, 1838, in Guyvelde, in the Flemish flatlands of northern France. He entered the Franciscan Order and was ordained on August 17, 1870. He was in Holy Land for twelve years where he served ten years as Custos or the Franciscan Superior of the Holy Land. Starting in 1888 he established a commissariat of the Holy Land in Trois-Rivières and became the first director of pilgrimages at Our Lady of the Cap Shrine. A remarkable preacher and a prolific writer, he spread the devotion to Our Lady of the Cape and to the Passion of Our Lord throughout the province of Quebec and established the Third Order of St. Francis. After earning the reputation of being a saint, he died in Montreal on August 4th, 1916
His body rests at 860 St-Maurice Street in Trois-Rivières. Pope John Paul II declared him blessed on September 25th, 1988, one hundred years following his witnessing of the opening of the eyes of the statue of Our Lady of the Cape.
For more information on Blessed Father Frederic visit: