the women of notre-dame basilica, montréal

I love to visit grand churches, and have visited many in my travels. I am quite easily impressed. I am no longer easily inspired. Most cathedrals and basilicas are awesome in their grandeur and magnificence. Not all move my heart and soul.

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a classic example. The jewel of the city’s landscape, it stood as a beacon of hope to the British people during the dark days of WWII bombings. When I first saw it, I had the lovely image of Mary Poppins and the woman feeding the birds on its steps. Inside the Cathedral, though, I was overpowered by the presence of monument after monument, memorial after memorial to military leaders and politicians. Rather than soaring with the glory of God, the mind was cluttered with extravagant attempts at glorifying men.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome still impresses me with its grandeur. No photo or film can do justice to its size. While I feel a connection to its history, it doesn’t inspire me.

St. John Lateran has a similar effect. Walking down the center aisle, the massive statuary depicting the twelve apostles doesn’t encourage affection for these men. Rather, the height and weight towering over you is oppressive.

This past weekend, I visited a Basilica that did impress and inspire me; the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montréal. We attended the 11:00 Mass, not knowing that a special celebration was taking place to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, the founder of Montréal. A military band marched up the street to the Basilica. The sanctuary was filled with bishops and priests. A long list of present dignitaries was read.

The Mass itself was well orchestrated with all the requisite protocol for such an auspicious occasion. While bishops and priests sat, the choir and organ soared. The glorious sounds filled the blue and gold interior. It was a spectacle to hearken and to behold. But the inspiration came after.

Walking around the now empty church, I was struck by the stained glass windows, paintings and statues. Rather than depicting biblical scenes, they told the history of Montreal. Numerous depictions of religious women showed to the world the central role they played in the founding of our country.

They included,

  • St. Marguerite d´Youville, founder of the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montréal, or the Grey Nuns.
  • Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montréal.
  • Blessed Mother Marie-Rose Durocher, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (the Sisters who educated me in high school)
  • Kateri Tekakwitha, the “Lily of the Mohawks” who will be canonized this October.

I tried to take as many pictures as I could, until I was stopped abruptly by a man who told me I was allowed to “go up and enjoy the pictures” but not to photograph them.

Ah, but I now have some photos.  I can remember them, and share the inspiration of countless women who built this great country by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the young, and healing the sick. God bless them and all the women who follow in their foot-steps to this day.