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  • Writer's pictureJohn Pacheco

Our Lady of the Cape

The Story of the Two Miracles Previous to the mid-nineteenth century, the practice of the Catholic Faith in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec (“the Cape”) and the surrounding region was in decline for almost a century.  One day in 1867, the year of Canada’s confederation, the parish priest, Fr. Luc Désilets, was returning from the sacristy, where he had been hearing Confessions, and stopped in the church for a moment to pray.  Although the Church was empty, at one point the priest looked up and was astonished to see a pig with a Rosary between its teeth.

The priest then devoted the rest of his ministry to reviving the devotion to the Rosary, and as a result, enthusiasm among the people awakened such that a new Church had to be built to accommodate the greater numbers.  (The Rosary is a devotional prayer to Mary, the Mother of Jesus).  The Church was scheduled to be constructed in the Spring of 1879.  Although money was scarce, the greater challenge was to transport the building stone located on the opposite shore of the St. Lawrence River.  The stone was cut and dressed on the south shore, ready to be carted over the frozen river once winter set in.  However, the winter of 1878-79 was mild and the river did not freeze at the Cape, and because of lack of funds, the parish could not afford the luxury of having the stone ferried across the waters.  The priest then made a vow to the Blessed Virgin: “If you grant us solid ice on the river by the Feast of St. Joseph, we will not destroy your small church, and we will dedicate it to your Holy Rosary.” Sure enough, on March 14, the Blessed Mother delivered:  a miraculous ice bridge formed to allow the parishioners to transport the stones from across the river.  The bridge would later become famously known as “The Rosary Bridge”.

The new church was constructed and officially opened on October 3, 1880, while the original smaller church was restored and dedicated on June 22nd, 1888 to Our Lady of the Rosary, as Father Désilets vowed, and thus became the Notre-Dame-du-Cap Shrine.  For the dedication, the statue was moved from the side altar and placed on the high altar, but the miracles were not over.  That evening, a disabled man named Pierre Lacroix arrived at the Shrine to pray to the Blessed Virgin.  The following is his account:

“I went into the shrine at about seven o'clock in the evening. I was with Father Luc Désilets and Father Frederic... Well, I was praying, and then I took a look at the Holy Virgin, just in front of me. I could see clearly that the statue's eyes were wide open, but it looked natural, as if She was staring over our heads...I didn't say a word, just went on looking at the statue, when Father Désilets got up — he was on my right — and went over to Father Frederic. I heard him say: ‘Do you see it?’ — ‘Yes,’ Father Frederic answered, ‘the statue has opened its eyes, hasn't it?’ — ‘Yes, it has. But is this really taking place?’ So I said that I'd seen the same thing, that I'd been watching it for several minutes. And I'm making this solemn declaration because I believe in my heart and conscience that it is true, and I know that it has the same force and binding effect as if it had been made under oath.”

Father Frederic also provided his testimony, which was published on May 22, 1897 on the front page of the Montreal daily La Presse:

 “The statue of the Virgin had been sculptured with the eyes cast down. Now they were wide open, staring. The Virgin was looking straight ahead, Her eyes level. It could hardly be an optical illusion: Her face was clearly visible, illuminated by the sun which, shining through one of the windows, and filled the whole shrine with light. Her eyes were black, well-shaped, and in perfect harmony with the rest of her face. The Virgin's expression was that of a living person, at once stern and sad. This marvel lasted somewhere between five and ten minutes.”

Our Lady of Lansdowne At the 1945 Marian Congress, the then bishop of Ottawa, His Excellency, Bishop Alexandre Vachon, had the distinct honour of celebrating a Pontifical Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.   This shrine is famous for the conversion of 9 million indigenous Aztecs to the Catholic Faith within 10 years of the Virgin’s appearance to a local peasant in 1531.  While celebrating the Mass, Bishop Vachon, observing the miraculous image of Our Lady smiling at him, made the decision to host a Marian Congress in our Nation’s Capital to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the diocese of Ottawa.  Thus, in 1947, with the Pope’s approval and encouragement, Bishop Vachon’s vision of a Marian Congress became a reality at Lansdowne Park from June 18-22 of that year.

This Marian Congress attracted over two hundred thousand pilgrims, equalling the population of Ottawa at that time, and to this day represents the largest Marian congress in the history of North America.  The Congress’s impact and magnitude was so significant in the Marian world that the French bishop of Lyons declared:  “As Bishop of Lyons for eight years, I have seen magnificent celebrations; Ottawa has surpassed them all. … It will not be possible, from now on, to evoke feasts in honour of the Blessed Virgin without recalling the name of Ottawa.

The event was so significant that even LIFE magazine did a full story of the Congress in their July 14, 1947 edition (p.25-31) with some amazing pictures. Before the actual Congress, however, a replica statue of Our Lady of the Cape travelled 40 days from Cap-de-la-Madeleine to Ottawa.

Over one million people in Montreal alone came to venerate this statue and when she arrived in Ottawa, over 40,000 men escorted her from the Cathedral to Lansdowne Park for the beginning of the Congress.  Although there were no official Church investigations, reports of many healings and cures were attributed to the “pilgrim statue” during the journey. The significance for Catholics of this journey of the pilgrim statue to Ottawa is, for people of faith, not insignificant since it is symbolic of Our Lady’s desire to be welcomed by Canada as its mother to establish peace and unity among her Canadian children and to introduce them to her Son.  After 150 years since Canada’s founding, there has been an awakening in Canada to Our Lady’s desire among Catholics which was commemorated last year by Archbishop Prendergast and many of the country’s bishops with a reconsecration of the country to Our Lady on July 1, the country’s birth date.

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