Past And Future Meet in Caughnawa (1949) | Surnames: Beauvais, Bechard, Bernier, Jacobs, Karhaienton, Lalonde, Piche, Tekakwitha
Past And future Meet in Caughnawaga
by MARY BRANSWELL
Caughnawaga, Que. –
Nation-wide attention will be focussed on this little village on the banks of the St. Lawrence River later this month, when one of the most modern schools in Canada is officially opened here n the presence, it is hoped, of Prime Minter St. Laurent.
For the Indian boys and girls who fill its bright, attractive classrooms, however, school days began at Tekakwitha School in September, not later, or earlier, than in other schools throughout the Dominion.
Its name brings us to a second reason why Caughnawaga is of national interest. The spacious new building looking across the river to the Island of Montreal is named after Venerable Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, who died at Caughnawaga in 1680. The beatification of the 24-year-old Indian girl is being eagerly awaited by Catholics and non-Catholics in countries as far apart as Germany, England, the United States and Canada.
Latest step in promoting her cause is the appointment from Rome of Rev. Henri Bechard S.J., principal of the new School, as Vice-postulator here. Now everything that concerns Kateri, reports of favors, received or miracles obtained through her intercession, goes to Father Bechard, Postulator General of the cause is Rev. Charles Miccinelli, S.J. who has acted in a similar capacity for the beatification and canonization of all Jesuit saints (such as the Canadian Martyrs) for many years.
A STATUE BY BRUNET
Combining both his new capacities, American-born Father Becahard hopes to have enough money next Spring to commission sculptor Emile Brunet to make statue of Kateri for the front of the school.
To many who know little of the fascinating history of the Indian settlement just half an hour’s bus ride from Montreal, and who have never heard of the gentle Lilu of the Mohawks, Caughnawaga has still another meaning – its famous Iroquois mixed choir.
Beautiful music has become a distinctive mark at St. Francis Xavier Mission, the cultural and intellectual centre of Caughnawaga. The natural aptitude of the Iroquois people for music as for centuries been fostered by their spiritual guardians, until today the choir of some 35 voices is unique on the continent.
A privilege as old as the Mission concedes to the Indians the use of the vernacular at liturgical functions, even at Solemn Mass. Visitors to the Mission who have had the good fortune to hear Mass sung in their own language by the Iroquois coir will appreciate the reception accorded them last month in Quebec City where sand in the Basilica during the tercentennial ceremonies honoring the Jesuit Martyrs. Edouard Piche is their organist, Rev. Dr. Alfred Bernier, S.J., their maestro.
With a history as colorful as its natural background (the latter through courtesy of the Canadian Autumn) Caughnawaga was founded in 1668 as haven for Catholic Iroquois. Today it is governed by a Federal Agent representing the Department of Indian Affairs, and by a mayor and councillors elected by the Indians.
Harry Beauvais is beginning his second year in mayoralty office, with the evident approval of his 3,000 fellow citizens.
True to the ways of their ancestors, the vast majority of the 400 families are Catholics, whose children attend Caughnawaga schools staffed by the Sisters of St. Ann. Ten Sisters of the Order are teaching at the new school, as well as two lay professors, an Indian girl, graduate of Normal School, and two Jesuit teachers, Father Bechard and Rev. Albert Burns, S.J.
There are 12 classes in this modern school, besides domestic science courses for the girls, and, after Christmas, trades will be taught the boys. These youngsters will probably follow their older brothers into the steel and bridge building trades at which Indians excell, with their services demanded all over the contents.. Among Caughnawaga graduates today can be numbered men in the medical and law professions, and the Jesuit Father Michael Karhaienton Jacobs.
ENGLISH OTHER LANGUAGE
Non Catholic children have their own school. Under the system of education in the province of Quebec a compulsory attendance law affects children of all religions until the age of 16. The program in the Catholic schools here is the same as that of the English Catholic schools of Montreal, and English is the second language through the community.
But is is to France that the settlement owes its very existence, and a visit by pilgrim or tourist to the Mission buildings on the banks of the St Lawrence are a step into the pages of Canada’s earliest history.
The actual site of the Mission is Sault-St-Louis, while the grey stone church of St. Francis Xavier could be found in Normandy today, with its sloping roof, high spire topped by a cross and a French cock. But the proud roll of honor tablet outside belongs to 1949. One hundred and sixty-seven boys from Caughnawaga served in Canadian and American armed forces during the Second World War.
The centenary of the present church (built when the old one fell to pieces) was celebrated in 1945; the rectory is 200 years old. Rev. Real Lalonde, S.J. is pastor of the Mission, assisted by Father Bechard and Father Burns, Rev. O. Peloquin, S.J., and Rev. C. Drolet, S.J.
THE JESUITS RETURN
It was not always that the guardians of the Mission were Jesuits for 116 years the care of the Iroquois were entrusted to the Oblates and secular clergy. But i 1902 they came back, to continue the work that was begun in 1668.
The site of the Mission is superb, with Fort St. Louis (erected in 1725 by the King of France to “protect the Iroquois who make the sign of the Cross”) on its left; to the right as one faces the swiftly running St Lawrence, lie the Mercier and Canadian Pacific bridges. Beyond the water is Lachine, with the dome of St Joseph’s Oratory and the clean-cut modern lines of the University of Montreal in the background.
TREASURES AND RELICS
Among the “Jesuit treasures” Canadian and American pilgrims and visitors are shown in the church and rectory are the Iroquois-French and French-Iroquois dictionaries, the grammar, Indian prayer book and translation of the Life of Christ which are the work of the remarkable Father Joseph Marcoux, whose picture hangs in the Mission parlor.
The late Archbishop William Forbes of Ottawa who spent 14 years at St. Francis Xavier Mission compiled an invaluable genealogical dictionary of the Iroquois families of Caughnawaga” which is also carefully preserved. Precious relics include those of the True Cross, St. Francis Xavier the Canadian Martyrs, the Cure d’Ars and above all of Kateri.
Priceless are the treasured wampum belt, oldest and largest in existence, given in 1676 by the Hurons to baptized Iroquois and the Parisian-made silver gilt monstrance before which the Lily of the Mohawks most probably adored.
Too numerous to mention are the paintings, sculpture and frescoes of the lovely little church, too striking to ignore is the life size Cristus which hangs over the high altar, the gift of the bereaved families of 35 men of Caughnawaga who were accidentally killed in 1907 while working on the Quebec bridge.
Source: The Manitoba Ensign, Nov 12, 1949