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Cap Haïtien

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Erected by Pius IX, 3 October, 1861, in the ecclesiastical Province of Port au Prince, territorially corresponds to the Department of the North of the French-speaking negro Republic of Haiti. In 1906 the jurisdiction of the See of Cap Haïtien covered some 650,000 Catholics or rather more than one-fourth of the whole population of the Haitian Republic, which forms the western political division (about one-third the area) of the Island of Santo Domingo, the largest but one of the Greater Antilles.


On his second voyage to Santo Domingo, or, as he named it, Hispaniola, Columbus brought with him some religious of the Order of St. Dominic. This was in November, 1493, and since then the Haitian part of the island, at least, has never lacked pastors. A plan of the city of Cap Haïtien still extant, and dating from the year 1600, differs hardly at all in extent from the plan of the present city. In the collection of annals of the "missions catholiques" there are, also, letters of the same period, written from Petite Anse by a Jesuit Father. The parishes of the North were generally served by religious of the Society of Jesus, but there were also at Cap Haïtien some Franciscans whose names have been preserved, and one section of that city is still called "Morne des Capucins". In addition to the work of the parish the Jesuits administered a very large hospital at the gate of the city and another (military) hospital inside. There was also a convent of nuns, very fine, and of very considerable size, to judge by its site, which has remained unoccupied, being now held in reserve by the Government for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, whenever that congregation shall be able to found an establishment there.

From the time when Haiti secured its national independence (1804) to the Concordat (1860) the country was without a hierarchy. After a period of unsuccessful attempts at ecclesiastical reorganization under vicars and prefects Apostolic, negotiations between the Holy See and the administration of President Geffrard resulted (28 March, 1860) in the conclusion of the Concordat, which expired in 1885. Monsignor Monetti, titular Bishop of Lervia, was sent to Haiti in 1861 to settle various points left open in the text of the Concordat, and among these was the establishment of a suffragan see at Cap Haïtien, as well as the amount of the stipends to be paid to bishops and vicars-general. Provision was made for another diocese at Port de la Paix, but it was never formally established, and its territory is administered from Cap Haïtien.

The first Bishop of Cap Haïtien, Monseigneur Constant Mathurin Hillion, took possession of his see 24 May, 1874. There was no cathedral, and the Divine Offices were performed in a miserable chapel which was much too small. To supply this pressing need the bishop set about rebuilding a ruined church which dated from the time of Louis XV. He was able to collect a sum of about 200,000 francs ($40,000), and in the space of three months an American company completed the construction of the actual nave with its aisles, the transept and choir being still (1906) incomplete. The bishop also lost no time in establishing two schools, one for boys and the other for girls, under the Institute of Christian Instruction (Frères La Mennais) and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. The sisters had arrived 9 May, 1872; the Frères La Mennais came 9 November, 1877. At this epoch, through the initiative of Père Bertin, curé and honorary canon, the equipment of the cathedral was rendered complete by the erection of a presbytery. Upon the death of Monseigneur Guillons, Monseigneur Hillion succeeded him as Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, and Monseigneur Kersuzan, titular Bishop of Hippo and coadjutor to the late archbishop, was made Bishop of Cap Haïtien, 10 November, 1886. The Bishop of Cap Haïtien had until then resided in a house too small for the gatherings of all the clergy in their annual retreat. He found means to build a very fine episcopal residence, with a chapel and adequate outbuildings, an edifice undeniable the most considerable in the city after the cathedral. This residence was destroyed by fire, but the construction of a more spacious and equally imposing edifice is now (1906) in progress. The diocesan seminary had been carried on at Pont-Chateau, in Brittany, by the Society of Mary founded by B. René de Montfort. When the French Government outlawed the religious orders, Monseigneur Kersuzan succeeded in installing his present seminary (Saint-Jacques) at Lanpaul, in the Diocese of Quimper, Brittany. It is under the care of secular priests: a director, two administrators, and six professors, with 50 students. The same bishop also founded at Cap Haïtien the College of Notre-Dame de secours perpétuel, which affords Haitian youths the advantages of secondary education without the expense and risks of a sojourn in Europe. This college is administered by a director, two ecclesiastic, and two lay, teachers. Lastly, the hospice owes to Monseigneur Kersuzan the introduction of the sisters, whose ministrations insure disinterested care for the sick with due consideration of their spiritual welfare.

Religious and educational status

Since the establishment of the hierarchy the twenty-one parishes of this diocese have little by little been provided with pastors, and some with assistants. There are altogether sixty-three churches, chapels, and oratories in the diocese. The number of practical Catholics has more than trebled and marriages have multiplied everywhere. There still remains, however, an unconverted majority in the immense parishes, which often contain a population of 30,000, while the smallest always contain several thousands.

In addition to the college already mentioned there is a boys' school, conducted by ten of the Frères La Mennais, with 200 pupils; and three other schools, each employing three religious of the same order, with from 150 to 200 pupils in each. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny carry on six schools, one with 250 pupils under ten sisters, and five, each with 150 pupils under three sisters. The Daughters of Wisdom supply, besides ten religious for the hospice, 22 religious, teaching an aggregate of 750 girls in six schools in as many parishes. The number of Protestants residing in the diocese is extremely small, and is made up almost entirely of strangers from the neighbouring islands. There are three Masonic temples at Cap Haïtien, and probably one in each of the other towns or considerable villages of the diocese. When there was virtually no clergy, it was a fashion in Haiti to join the lodges; but these are now little frequented, except two or three times a year, on festival occasions, when there are receptions or banquets.

About this page

APA citation. Chatté, P.M. (1908). Cap Haïtien. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Chatté, P.M. "Cap Haïtien." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gerald M. Knight.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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