Our Lady of the Cape

The following is an excerpt on the chapter about Our Lady of the Cap from our book,”The Many Faces of Mary book II.”

Build a new church!
What could Father Désilets do? In 1873, the villagers of Cap-de-la-Madeleine swelled to 1300! Through the Mother of God, there was a new, deeper awareness of Church and its treasures. Word spread past their borders to neighboring parishes. In 1878, hearing of this success, the Bishop sent Father Désilets an associate, Father Louis Eugène Duquay. Well, now all he had to do was build a larger church!
As his parishioners were poor and the soil was sandy, the only solution was to demolish the old church and use its stones, and transport additional stones from the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in Sainte Angèle. Parishioners prepared the stone for transportation the following winter. In those days, boats did not travel in the winter on the St. Lawrence; but they would be able to cross the river, and transport the stones on horse-drawn sleighs, if it was solidly frozen. It had always worked in the past. This was man’s plan! But it seems God had something else in mind. Things were not going to be that easy. The winter of 1878-79 was very mild. The weather was so unusually balmy, the river had not frozen over, nor was it showing any promise of doing so.
Father called all the parishioners into the church and asked them to plead with Our Lady to form a bridge of ice for the sleighs, carrying the stones, to cross over. Every Sunday, after Mass, they prayed the Rosary, petitioning Our Lady to intercede, with the Lord. Each day, Father Duquay prayed the Rosary at the Altar of the Confraternity of the Rosary. Father Désilets promised Our Lady, if She would grant them this favor, they would dedicate the small church to Her.
Months slowly passed by, with no hope in sight. Before they knew it, it was March; and with March – Spring! Spring, and no ice in sight! But suddenly a high wind began to break up ice blocking the mouth of the St. Maurice River to the south and the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. The ice began to drift downstream to the Cap-de-la-Madeleine, covering the river several hundred feet from the church.
On March the 17th, Father Duquay asked parishioners to attend the High Mass he would be celebrating in honor of St. Joseph, on his Feast Day, March 19th. They would petition him, as foster father, to intercede with his Son Jesus, to form a bridge of ice for the stones to cross over. Then he invited some of the men to survey the situation. At the river’s edge, they saw the river covered by a thin layer of ice floating among drifts of snow. They went from place to place, with no success, covering one thousand feet. Then they spotted two guides heading upriver to the south shore. Only Fathers Désilets and Duquay dared join the guides, the ice was so dangerously thin.
Having arrived at the south shore, one of the guides crawled forward, feeling his way along the icy water for a piece of ice that could carry his weight. Some men joined him and together they formed 1600 ft of ice along the river, wide enough to allow two carts, carrying stones, to pass one another. The men returned to the sacristy. It was 11 p.m. They considered the possibilities, slim as they were, and decided the best course was to pour water on the thin bridge of ice that had formed. As it continued to freeze, they would pour more water on it, with the hope it would result in the ice becoming thicker and thicker. Then when the ice bridge was thick enough for carts carrying stones to cross it, the transport of the stones would begin.
March 18th, day before St. Joseph’s Feast Day, the men were walking on the thin ice bridge, throwing water on it. Now, considering it was March and the very balmy weather they were facing, it was a miracle in itself that the men could walk on the thin ice. They kept pouring water, until a layer of six inches formed on the ice. Seeing that, they continued pouring water, with the holy stubbornness of the French Canadians that helped them survive, over the centuries.
March 19th, the first cart crossed over, carrying stones. Other carts followed, until by Sunday 175 carts had crossed, carrying enough stones to build the new church. Father Duquay ordered the work to cease. It was Sunday! The Lord had answered their prayers. It was time for them to offer thanksgiving to the Lord for, indeed, He had performed a miracle on their behalf. All were of one mind and one spirit in proclaiming this was indeed through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. That day, the bridge was dedicated with the name it carries till this day – The Bridge of the Rosary. Fifteen days later Father Désilets received a letter from his Bishop: “The Good Lord really made possible the transportation of the stone for your church. It shows once again what faith can do, even provide a way to carry 300 meters[1] of stone from one side of the St. Lawrence River to the other.”
[1] Each meter measures 39.37 inches. Consequently he is talking about approximately 1000 feet of stone.
For more information on our book “The Many Faces of Mary and the dvd on Our Lady of the Cap click here.”
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