A Great Light: The Effect of Modernisation within the Catholic Church in Quebec on the Development of the Quiet Revolution

Elspeth Gibson


La Grande Noirceur.1 This was the term coined to describe the period of Maurice Duplessis’ premiership in Quebec. During the Duplessis era, though very few clergymen held elected office, the huge number of Quebecois Catholics ensured that they did not need to hold office in order to have a formative influence on policy developed within that province. Many believed that this intimate relationship between the church and the state was responsible for trapping Quebec in a protracted infancy, as it failed to modernise at the same rate as other parts of North-America.2 During the Quiet Revolution of the early 1960s, the Catholic Church was finally forced to release its grip on Quebec, allowing the province to enter the modern world. However, the spark that was to illumine this ‘great darkness’ was being kindled for decades before it finally burst into flame during the 1960s. Many of the ideas fundamental to the Quiet Revolution were first formulated by lay organizations within the Church itself. Furthermore, the changes implemented during the 1960s in Quebec were protected by modernisation within the global Catholic community. These would prevent any possible return to the sort of ultramontanism prevalent in Quebec society prior to the Quiet Revolution. Thus, dynamic transformations within the Catholic Church inspired parallel transformations in the structure of Quebec society.

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