Saint Patrick’s Basilica | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Saint Patrick’s Basilica

Saint Patrick’s Basilica is a minor basilica located in Montreal. It was constructed between 1843–47 as a parish church for Montreal’s growing Irish Catholic population (see Irish Canadians; Catholicism in Canada). The church was elevated to the status of a minor basilica in 1989. In addition to playing a significant religious and cultural role for the city of Montreal’s Irish community, Saint Patrick’s Basilica is recognized as the mother church for English-speaking Catholics in the city (see Canadian English; Languages in use in Canada).

Saint Patrick’s Church, St. Alexander Street, Montreal, Quebec, c. 1895.


During the first half of the 19th century, Irish immigration to British North America increased (see Irish Canadians). In turn, Montreal’s Irish community grew. Saint Patrick’s Church was constructed to accommodate a growing number of English-speaking Irish Catholics who had outgrown churches located in present-day Old Montreal (see Catholicism in Canada; Languages in use in Canada). Sources estimate that this cohort of the population numbered 6,500 by 1841.

The community’s repeated requests for a church of their own were answered by the Sulpicians, a religious order that managed the construction of churches in Montreal. After an appropriate site was selected and funds were partially raised by the Irish-Catholic congregation, the church’s cornerstones were laid in September 1843.

The church opened on 17 March 1847 during the height of the Great Famine (Irish Potato Famine). That year, an estimated 110,000 Irish famine migrants traveled to British North America with approximately 90,000 landing at Grosse Île before travelling to other areas. The clergy of Saint Patrick’s Church played an important role in assisting Irish famine migrants in Montreal, many of whom contracted typhus (see Epidemics in Canada). With the help of the congregation, Saint Patrick’s Orphan Asylum was established to assist children whose parents died from the typhus epidemic (see Irish Famine Orphans in Canada).

In 1866, Bishop Ignace Bourget announced plans to re-organize parish boundaries, which would threaten the position of Saint Patrick’s Church as an Irish and English-speaking Catholic church in Montreal. This change was publicly disputed and prominent figures, such as Thomas D’Arcy McGee, even travelled to Rome to contest the plan. A series of decrees officially recognized Saint Patrick’s Church as mother church to English-speaking Catholics in Montreal.

Did you know?
The funeral of Thomas D’Arcy McGee was held at Saint Patrick’s Church in 1868. This was the first state funeral in Canada’s history.

Saint Patrick’s Church was consecrated in 1906, after it finished paying off its mortgage. The Church was elevated to the status of a minor basilica in 1989 by Pope John Paul II. The church was designated a minor basilica in part due to its role as mother church to English-speaking Catholics in Montreal.


Saint Patrick’s Basilica was built on a promontory near present-day René-Lévesque Boulevard and Saint-Alexandre Street in Montreal. The gray stone building was designed by the architect, Pierre-Louis Morin, and the Jesuit priest, Father Félix Martin, in a French Gothic Revival style. (See also Church Architecture.)

Interior of Saint Patrick’s Church, c. 1873.

Various artists and craftsman contributed towards the structure’s interior furnishing and sacred artworks, which were added in phases throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The company Perreault, Paré et Ouellet installed the church’s ornately carved main altar and side altars in the late 19th century. Some of the building’s stained glass windows, as well as its central chandelier, were fabricated by Alexander S. Locke and installed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The original organ was fabricated by Samuel Russell Warren in 1852. It was electrified by the well-known Compagnie Casavant in 1895 (see Casavant Frères). Later, in 1972, the organ was combined with the organ from the former St. Anthony’s Church.

Restorations and Renovations

Interior of Saint Patrick’s Basilica, c. 2011.

The Saint Patrick’s Restoration Foundation was established in 1988 with the goal of restoring and renovating the church, its surrounding buildings and grounds. Donations and financial assistance from the provincial and federal governments have also facilitated multiple restoration and renovation projects in the 20th century. (See also Heritage Conservation.)

Heritage and Significance

In recognition of its history, architecture, and service to the Irish and English-speaking Catholics of Montreal, Saint Patrick’s Basilica was classified a heritage building by Quebec’s Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 1985. (See also Canadian English; Languages in use in Canada; Catholicism in Canada.) Similarly, in 1990, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated the Basilica a national historic site in recognition of its architectural and historical value. (See also Church Architecture.)

The Basilica continues to serve members of its faith community and celebrates mass daily.

Further Reading

External Links