The Canadian Commissariat

Although it is thought the first Commissariat of the Holy Land was established in Naples, in the early 14th century, in fact it was only in the 15th century that Pope Martin V permitted the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land to establish commissariats in other regions of the Catholic world. Here in Canada, the Canadian commissariat was established a bit more than 100 years ago. 

Founder of the Commissariat,
Bx Frédéric Jannsoone, OFM

It all began with Father Frederick Janssoone, a Franciscan friar from France, who in 1876 went to Palestine to join the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, where he became the Vicar to the Custos, or superior, of the Franciscans in that part of the world.  

At that time, Abbé Léon Provancher from Cap-Rouge, Quebec, went on pilgrimage, met “Good Father Frederick,” and invited him to come to Canada to raise funds to help the Custody. Shortly thereafter, in August 1881, Fr. Janssoone arrived in Lévis, Quebec.  

He was a fiery preacher, and successful in raising funds until he gave a speech in Quebec City on liberalism, a topic which had been a cause of division between the bishops and politicians of the day.  Seven months later, he was kindly asked by Archbishop Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau to leave the archdiocese temporarily so that peace could be re-established.  

In recompense, Archbishop Taschereau published a pastoral letter which ordered the churches of Quebec to take up a collection every year on Good Friday for the needs of the Holy Land. This practice became established throughout Canada, and more recently throughout the Catholic world.  

Father Frederick returned to Palestine, but he was not forgotten by many French-Canadian Catholics who saw him as the person who could re-establish the Franciscans in Canada since its last friar had died in 1848, because the Order was prevented by Great Britain from seeking vocations.  

At the Orders’ request and with the bishops’ consent, Frederick Janssoone returned to Canada at the end of June 1888, and by August he began to build a friary in Trois-Rivières.  He had been asked by the Bishop of Trois-Rivières, Louis-François Richer Laflèche, to promote the local shrine of Notre-Dame-du-Cap, but he never forgot the needs of the church in the Holy Land.  He travelled throughout Quebec and into New England promoting Cap-de-la-Madeleine as a pilgrim centre and, at the same time, he set up open-air stations of the cross, established fraternities of Secular Franciscans and communities of Poor Clares, and he began fund-raising for the Franciscan family in Canada and for the needs of the Holy Land.  

Père Frédéric came to Canada at a time when Catholic France was suffering from anticlerical laws and when Religious Orders were being supressed and expelled. He worked closely with Pope Leo XIII to regenerate the Catholic Church in France and in Canada; and he was also in constant communication with his exiled Franciscan Provincial Minister who sent exiled friars to join him in Canada.  

In 1903, in union with the Custody of the Holy Land and with Papal approval and the support of numerous Canadian Bishops, Père Frédéric and the Canadian Province of Franciscans officially established the first offices of the Commissariat of the Holy Land in Canada in Trois-Rivières.  

Postcard of the house at 79 Bolton Street, ca. 1920, source: the Franciscans


By 1915, the Commissariat’s work surpassed what could be handled in the small space in rural Trois-Rivières.  It needed a larger space and a more significant location.  The Franciscans decided to move and, asked Archbishop Charles-Hughes Gauthier for permission to move the Commissariat to Ottawa.  After Fr. Janssoone’s death in 1916, Father Mathieu-Marie Daunais continued the work of the Commissariat and, in 1919, he and a small community of friars relocated to 79 Bolton Street and continued to seek support for the Custody of the Holy Land.

Over the years, the Commissariat moved several times. In 1933, the Franciscan community and Commissariat purchased a house at 45 Lady Grey Drive, where they remained there until 1957.  During this time, the Commissariat of the Holy Land became known and supported across Canada thanks to the guidance of the third Commissary, Fr. Marie-Raymond Sifantus, who served until 1948. 

1919 the first occupants arrived at 79 Bolton Street to settle and animate the work and its activities. Source: the Franciscans


Ottawa’s Federal District Commission, later known as the National Capital Commission, informed the Franciscans in 1946 that it would expropriate their land to enlarge Metcalfe Square and build the MacDonald-Cartier bridge.   In 1954 plans were begun to build a new Franciscan friary to house the Commissariat, and in 1957 the friars moved into Holy Saviour friary at 160 Stanley Street where they remained until 1998.  

With the passing of time, changed ways of seeking support, and a fewer available friars, the Commissariat’s presence and activity also changed.  The friary and Commissariat on Stanley Street was larger than needed and too costly to operate.  It was sold and the friars moved elsewhere.  Only one friar remained in Ottawa to operate the Commissariat in offices rented from the Archdiocese of Ottawa at 1247 Kilborn Place.  

In October 2020, with the closure of the Archdiocesan offices, the Commissariat moved to 96 Empress Street.  The Commissary, Fr. Bob Mokry, commutes to Ottawa monthly and otherwise oversees and works from a distance by electronic means, while regularly collaborating with an office administrator and other consultants who see to the daily functioning of the Commissariat of the Holy Land in Canada.



Commissariat of the Holy Land in Canada
96 Empress Avenue
Ottawa, Ontario  K1R 7G3

The Offices of the Commissariat are open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Fridays from 8 a.m. to Noon

PHONE: (613) 737-6972

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