By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
“I prevailed on a few people to gather stone and M. de Maisonneuve had some wood cut for the framework and he helped them to drag it in from the woods. I used to ask several days’ work for the chapel from those for whom I could do some work. They carted some sand and the masons offered to work there. Father Pijart named it Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours.”
The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (“Our Lady of Good Help”) is the oldest chapel in Montreal, built in 1771 over the ruins of the first stone chapel whose foundations were recently uncovered. St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, the first teacher in the colony of Ville-Marie and the founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame, rallied the colonists in 1655 to build a chapel. In 1673, returning from France, Bourgeoys brought a wooden image of Our Lady of Good Help, which can be seen in the reliquary on the left side-altar. In 1675, a stone chapel was erected on land donated by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, founder of Montreal. Along with the chapel, the little statue has an interesting history. Possibly the most spectacular moment for both
was that fateful day in 1754 when fire ravaged the first chapel, and the statue and its reliquary were found intact among the smoldering embers.
After Montreal was conquered by British forces during the French and Indian War, church services were attended by Irish and Scottish troops and their families. From this community the money was raised to begin construction of Saint Patrick’s Church, Montreal’s first parish for the English-speaking Catholic community.
In the 19th century, the chapel came to be a pilgrimage site for the sailors who arrived in the Port of Montreal; they would make offerings to the Virgin in gratitude for her “good help” for safe sea voyages. In 1849, Mgr. Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, donated a statue by Charles Dauphin called ”Star of the Sea”, which was placed atop the church overlooking the harbour. As the port grew in importance in the 19th century, the chapel became a favourite place of prayer for sailors. Carved replicas of sailing ships hang from the vault of the chapel as a reminder of their faith in Our Lady of Good Help. The chapel is often called the Sailors’ Church.
The chapel also houses the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum, dedicated to the life of St.Marguerite Bourgeoys and to the early history of Montreal and the chapel site. Below the chapel is the crypt, excavated as an archeological site, which visitors can see. First Nations and French colonial artifacts have been discovered, along with the foundations of the first chapel and the fortifications of the colony.
The church’s prominent spire can also be climbed, offering great views of the Old Port and Saint Lawrence River. In 2005, the 350th anniversary of the chapel was especially joyful when St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, the “mother of the colony” returned to the chapel. Her remains were placed in the left side-altar below the statue of Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours. A few weeks later, the remains of Jeanne Le Ber, the recluse of Montreal, were interred in the east wall of the chapel. She was the daughter of Jacques Le Ber, a wealthy Montreal merchant, and of
Jeanne LeMoyne. She was also the goddaughter of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, and of Jeanne Mance, foundress and administrator of the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital.
Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours chapel is located at 400 Saint Paul Street East ,corner of Bonsecours Street.