History of the construction of the Cathedral and of the Bishop's Palace of Sherbrooke.
According to the legend and to documents written by Mgr. Maurice O'Bready, Jean Raimbault, parish priest of Nicolet, was the missionary who celebrated the first mass on the territory of the diocese of Sherbrooke, on 1 May 1816. Source : La première messe à Sherbrooke, by Mgr Maurice O'Bready of the Seminary, Le Messager de St-Michel, 1933 (2003-036-14).
The mission was dedicated to St. Colomban. The first chapel was erected in 1826, and a cemetery founded in 1827.
The first church was blessed on 14 January 1855, and dedicated by Mgr. Jean-Charles Prince to St. Michael, its new patron. The mission became a parish on 7 March 1872.
At the time of its erection in 1874, the diocese of Sherbrooke consisted of 30 000 catholics, 32 parishes or outreaches and 29 priests. The present Bishop's Palace and the Pauline Chapel in the basement of the cathedral were built under the episcopate of Mgr. Paul LaRocque. He appointed the architect Louis-Napoléon Audet to draw the plans. Work began in the fall of 1915.
Photographs show the Bishop's Palace being demolished to free space for the cathedral that will be built on the same site facing East. Construction of the cathedral on the site of the old Palace required extended and costly excavating work with limited means of the time.
According to reports dated 30 April 1919, construction costs for the basement of the cathedral amounted to 287 859,42 $ and for the Bishop's Palace, to 335 327,60 $. The first Sunday High Mass was celebrated in the new cathedral on 30 September 1917, although the inside works were not yet completed. Being able to use the new cathedral allowed the demolition of the old one and the building of the Bishop's Palace.
On the occasion of the sumptuous celebrations of the double jubilee of Mgr. LaRocque, 50 years as a priest and 25 years as a bishop, in May 1919, visiting bishops temporarily occupied the Bishop's Palace. On the following 13 September, His Highness and his staff solemnly took possession of the building, as described by Mgr. himself in a letter to the clergy (1 January 1920).
The Bishop's chapel was decorated by the painter Ozias Leduc and work lasted from 1921 to 1932.
Construction was interrupted and the Pauline Chapel was used as a cathedral for the next forty years. In 1956, Louis-Napoléon Audet, then aged 75, came back on site to complete one of the greatest projects in Sherbrooke, St. Michael's Basilica-Cathedral as we know it today. Construction of the present cathedral was started in 1956 and completed in 1957. It was consecrated on 28 September 1957 and raised to the rank of basilica on 31 July 1959.
St. Michael's Basilica-Cathedral is one of the main tourist attractions in the Eastern Townships. Its nobility and uniqueness as well as its gothic style draws thousands of visitors each year. This stately building has been part of the Sherbrooke landscape for the past 100 years.